My reading of "The Bell Ringer" last week (see the previous post) put me on a short story bender of sorts. In addition to slowly working on a story of my own that has been in the mental drafting stages for awhile, I went back to my bookshelves to find some story collections. This was a good idea, because in the process, I re-read what is probably my favorite story, H.P. Lovecraft's "Pickman's Model."
In literature and academia, horror fiction doesn't get a lot of love, unless the author's name is Edgar Allan Poe. During my senior year at UIC, this led me to write a final paper for an American Literature class trying to prove that Lovecraft was equal to Poe. I ended up with a B on the essay, but my beliefs didn't waver. Granted, the essay probably bashed Poe a bit more than necessary, not a smart move when the professor featured him prominently on the syllabus. That is not to say that I dislike Poe; the opposite is true. However, reading H.P. Lovecraft is an excellent exercise in genres, and he deserves more attention. "Pickman's Model" is a great example: along with horror, the reader gets a balanced mix of regional histories, colorful characters (ones that are developed just enough for the story at hand), and a sort of gothic pulp fiction. A few years back, I took offense at a New York Times anthology review that suggested that Lovecraft's stories were funny because they were ridiculous. Sure, you might find yourself laughing, but it's more out of the sheer horror that Lovecraft attempts to convey, guiding the story to the big climax.
I can think of dozens of writers who have a better grasp of language and structure, but few can match Lovecraft's determination to simply scare the reader. If he had penned "The Tell-Tale Heart," there would have been no need for the beating heart to drive the killer insane; the dead body would have simply emerged from the floorboards to take care of business itself.