34. The Books of Blood I-III – Clive Barker
Volume One: “The Book of Blood,” “The Midnight Meat Train,” “The Yattering and Jack,” “Pig Blood Blues,” “Sex, Death, and Starshine,” and “In the Hills, the Cities.”
Now, I love “The Yattering and Jack,” it is definitely my favorite of all of Clive Barker’s short stories. I love how frustrated the Yattering becomes and the little twist. But as I think I’ve established thoroughly, I like writing that is both clever and darkly humorous. This story is a rousing success on both fronts.
I’m fond of “Pig Blood Blues” and “The Book of Blood,” as I mentioned in my review of Shutter Island – “Pig Blood Blues” has a seriously good twist on the old “police officer goes to investigate the inner workings of a boarding school/asylum/island where they harvest apples” story. And “The Book of Blood” is just a good story with some twists on the possibilities of paranormal investigation. Technically “The Book of Blood” is like the thesis statement for the rest of the collections, but as I would say in my grading, it does not effectively provide a guideline for the rest of the collection and there are many contradictions present with that idea on the level of suspension of disbelief alone. I’m glad I don’t have to grade these stories for continuity with the overall concept. I’d have an aneurysm. Granted, I might anyway.
The main thing I took away from “The Midnight Meat Train” is that the story is mildly interesting, but I didn’t feel the pull of what was happening, and I guess that’s because I’ve always known that New York City is controlled by creatures who eat people who stay on trains too long. As for the other two stories, “Sex, Death, and Starshine” has an ending that has always seemed to me to be what “true students of drama” – the kind who won’t stop quoting Shakespeare and won’t leave after rehearsal really want. To endlessly act. Endlessly. That’s fine, but I wish to be far from that span of obsession, just not my thing. “In the Hills, the Cities” has never quite made sense to me. The urge to join a giant made of people has never come upon me. I’m just not a joiner and I’m not looking in to the potential metaphors about collectives, missionaries, vegans, or anything else. Ha. I’d like to keep my positive opinions about the potential for visiting eastern Europe as open as possible.
Volume Two: “Dread,” “Hell’s Event,” “Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament,” “The Skins of the Fathers,” and “New Murders in the Rue Morgue.”
“Dread” stood out to me in this collection more than any of the other stories. I have to say the film version did a good service to it by setting it in the art department instead of psychology. After enough half-assed performance art full of half-assed earnestness in the age of postmodern angst and serious repetition, the possibility of the sort of actions that the students take has a spark to it. Psychology students always have the potential to pull some creepy experiments but art students get more credit. If art affects your mental state or ruins your life as a viewer, it’s successful. If a psychological experiment does, well, you signed the waiver, so it’s your fault.
The first time that I came to the realization that Clive Barker may be scared of vaginas was while reading “Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament” and “The Skins of the Fathers;” it became rather painfully obvious that at least his writing persona is interested in making them seem scary in “Rawhead Rex,” but I’ll get to that. Jacqueline Ess has the unfortunate lot in life of trying to commit suicide and becoming a prostitute that can kill men with her magical vagina of doom that somehow creates the ultimate sexual satisfaction while ripping dudes apart or forcing them to implode. In the end she’s tied up on a bed dealing with the man who’s obsessed with her and they get to die together – sounds awesome, I bet she was happy with that, being an uncontrollable sexual being and all. I mean, who wouldn’t become a prostitute based on that very fact? Anybody seen Teeth? “The Skins of the Fathers” story is about monsters who reminded me of Yo Gabba Gabba’s monsters with a nineties neon color scheme who mated with this woman (I seem to recall that she is somehow indicated as having enjoyed this experience due to dissatisfaction with her home life in the desert, sigh) and then came back to reclaim their child. I can’t remember the exact moment of this story where I went “What is up with the way he’s portraying women in these stories?” but I remember having the feeling that something was not just wrong, but ridiculous. It’s not that all female characters actually have to be super independent or anything, it’s just that their experiences have been taken from them in both of these stories, as though they’re only to be acted upon and have no will of their own and that’s what’s really disturbing in the face of the ultimate sexual experience and birthing monster babies in the desert. Why can’t they choose to do these things? What’s wrong with that, Clive’s persona? It reminds me of viewing Sucker Punch, the most un-empowering of all supposed-to-be-empowering movies. Why did she have to escape into a brothel in order to escape into a violent fantasy world? I think that if one were trapped in an asylum, their first stop on the mental escape bus would be the violent fantasy world, not the brothel. But then again, if their only true power was a magical lap dance….well, I’d say they’re selling themselves short.
I barely remember reading “Hell’s Event” and I really don’t like running, so I shant say more. “New Murders in the Rue Morgue” had an excellent image of the shaved orangutan, which now that I’ve seen Rise of the Planet of the Apes strikes me as a nice place to go for the alternate version of Planet of the Apes, how about instead of 70s future clothes they wear monocles? Who doesn’t love an ape in a monocle? It’d be so much easier to take them seriously when they look so dignified.
Volume Three: “Son of Celluloid,” “Rawhead Rex,” “Confessions of a (Pornographer’s) Shroud,” “Scape-Goats,” and “Human Remains.”
“Rawhead Rex” is really scared of the ladies. He is an ancient humanoid of raw impulse and destruction and his only undoing is a talisman of a pregnant woman. Based on the language used in the story whenever Rawhead Rex came into the presence of a woman I was annoyed. I believe I rolled my eyes several times. But that’s me and I roll my eyes a lot. I guess it’s okay if ancient semi-C.H.U.Ds are scared of women, it makes it easier for women to survive; but considering the other portrayals of women in these stories, even if that’s not what Clive Barker is getting at, it’s still insulting. It’s not like we got to choose whether or not we could have children necessarily and really, that should not make us scary, or should it? Maybe I’m looking at my gender all wrong. Oops. Also, I have this clear memory of almost watching the movie on the Sci-Fi channel way back in the day and deciding not to once I saw the monster, he looked ridiculous. Now I know that Clive Barker disowned the movie and I’m wondering why…was it as ridiculous as it looked? Did it portray female characters in an even worse light?
Moving on, “Son of Celluloid” was gross, there’s no way a sentient tumor could not be, but it was amusing to read. I have no memory of reading “Confessions of a (Pornographer’s) Shroud” or “Scape-Goats.” And as for “Human Remains,” or the “statue in the bathtub” story – that one was pretty good. I have to say, it’s kinda tempting to let a doppelganger take over sometimes. Unless it decided to kill you I guess.