Sunday, November 17, 2013

Grubbian?

Twelve Tales of Suspense and the Supernatural by Davis Grubb, containing the following stories: Busby's Rat; The Rabbit Prince; Radio; One Foot in the Grave; Moonshine; The Man Who Stole the Moon; Nobody's Watching!; The Horsehair Trunk; The Blue Glass Bottle; Wynken, Blynken and Nod; Return of Verge Likens; and Where the Woodbine Twineth (1964): Davis Grubb was a fine regional writer whose excellent novel The Night of the Hunter had the good fortune to be made into an excellent movie directed by Charles Laughton and starring Robert Mitchum and Lillian Gish. Grubb wasn't exclusively a genre writer, but he did write a lot of stories that could be classified as such, 12 of which are collected here.

The Night of the Hunter's dense, almost Faulknerian prose wasn't Grubb's normal style. The stories here are smooth and flavourful, touched with the rustic and the colloquial but never overpowered by metaphor or the twee the way Bradbury could be. Fantastic horror appears in several stories, though others ("Radio", for example) are psychological suspense that wouldn't have been out of place on an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Stories chronicle rural life in the Midwest and the Southern United States, but are not limited to it. "Radio" is an urban horror; "Nobody's Watching" is a comic bit of science-fiction whimsy set in the broadcasting business; it's the sort of story that Kurt Vonnegut would make his career on. "The Man Who Stole the Moon" also reads like a lost Kurt Vonnegut piece of a gentler sort. Though I compare these stories to the work of others, however, they really are written in a distinctively Grubbian (!) voice, deftly switching among emotional states.

Grubb's flair for combining the horrifying and the absurd stands out in several stories. At times, he resembles the droll John Collier; at others, Ray Bradbury in full nostalgia mode: both contemporaries. "One Foot in the Grave" would have made a great EC Comics horror story. "The Rabbit Prince" is probably the most Bradburyian bit of whimsy here, featuring as it does a magical travelling carnival, a summer vacation, and a young boy as its protagonist. It's a funny story, tinged with a bit of sadness, and should probably be anthologized a lot more often.

So, too, should "Where the Woodbine Twineth" be better known. I've actually seen this story imitated almost verbatim a couple of times, but its own fresh horrors remain singular and oddly disturbing. It's a humdinger. Highly recommended.

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