To be at odds with the status quo of one’s world can be frustrating to the point of madness. Fear, hate, and desperation are just a few of the mental states that fall to those who would have things other than they are. To become unhinged from the majority is to lose that vital link that keeps one complacently within the fold. Set adrift within the forbidden, the outsider remains on a steady course towards utter doom.
So opens the preface to The Spectral Link – the first release of new Ligottian fiction since 2006’s collection Teatro Grottesco. I received my copy in the post last week and the wait for its delivery brought about an impatience that I’ve not experienced since I was a child waiting for Christmas.
The book itself is a very slim volume, only 94 pages, and only contains two stories – Metaphysica Morum and The Small People. Only 94 pages but it is a truly beautiful wee volume. Everything from the quality of the paper through to the silk smooth dust jacket screams quality and we really should expect no less for a work that has been so anticipated since its surprise announcement last year(if I remember right). This is the first book that I’ve ordered from Subterranean Press, due mostly to the price, but if their releases are all to this standard I can see myself buying many more in the future. Bibliophilia is an expensive habit…
In the, very brief, preface Ligotti outlines the core theme of much of his work. That of the outsider who does not merely find himself at odds with society but with reality itself and of the only salvation being insanity.
Of course, the situation is hopeless for those who wish an alteration in affairs that by their very nature are fixed and define the world in which we are all chained. Their dispute is with reality itself, or what passes for reality.
The first of the two stories in this collection is told from the perspective of a person who seeks nothing more than to be “euthanized by anesthesia“, a phrase repeated often throughout the tale. This repetition reinforcing the fragile mindset of the protagonist as he experiences strange phantasmagoric dreams involving a ‘dealer’ who offers him a “all-new-context” and tries to relate these dreams to his therapist come meditation guru; a Doctor O.
There is an unrelenting bleakness to this story that readers of Ligotti will find most familiar but which others may find rather disturbing. Even someone familiar with Ligotti’s previous work may find that this tale really ramps up the horrifying ennui, pessimism and depression that permeates works like My Work is Not Yet Done and Nethescurial. The narrator describes his fragile mental state as being the result of a demoralization he feels when confronted with the world as it is and the strange connection between his dreams and what he perceives as reality.
You could attribute my psychological instability to this fact as well as to the dream occasions that so suspiciously bled into my quotidian life that sometimes I could not tell one from the other, which hypothetically might be attributed to there being no actual distinction between them.
Something that is, no doubt, reinforced by the revelation of his somewhat insalubrious origins as revealed in a partial letter from an estranged family member.
As with Ligotti’s other work; the text drips with a very concisely manifested bleakness and philosophical rejection of all that that others take for granted as being of value.
The Small People
Then I saw the sign just off the right side of the road. It had one of those simple faces on it, and written below were the words: SMALL COUNTRY. My whole body tightened, as it always did when I saw one of those road signs.
The second offering in the volume concerns a young person’s hatred of, and obsession with, the eponymous ‘Small People’. As with Metaphysica Morum the tale involves a doctor which is of note, I feel, as these stories were penned following a brush with death that lead to the author’s hospitalisation. In this story the narrator is directly addressing a doctor as the tale of their childhood unfolds.
The narrator is obsessed with a group of people who live apart from normal, ‘real’ being the distinction the narrator makes, human society. This story is very open to multiple readings and interpretations. The Small People with which the protagonist is obsessed could be read as a representation of a society from which the narrator is alienated or as a section of our society, especially of groups marginalised by race/ethnicity or lifestyle.
Until then, I scarcely had a glimpse of any small people. My strange fear of them originated mostly from the simple face on the road signs that alerted people, real people, of their impending entry into small country. The mere idea of the smalls was enough to make me anxious about something I couldn’t name. And looking into that red plastic toy, I was sorry I hadn’t thrown myself onto the floor of our car, even knowing that my parents would have called me a shameful little bigot for the rest of the vacation.
Again this story is typically Ligottian with it’s focus on things which mimic humanity – in earlier stories marionettes/puppets/clowns all feature heavily. Yet I think that the fear/anxiety elicited in the narrator by the existence of the smalls is a step beyond similar stories by Ligotti which I have read as it is so easily read as a reflection of real world bigotry. Something which, I feel, gives the story a greater depth than it otherwise may reach. It is similar in this manner to my personal favourite Ligotti story Our Temporary Supervisor in the collection Teatro Grottesco which plays with the horrific alienation of work in a capitalist society.
The book, in hardback, is still available via Amazon UK though the Subterranean Press website is listing it as sold out. I would highly recommend picking this up before it disappears into the realms of the overpriced Ligotti collectibles market.
Ligotti Online has an interview with the author where he discusses the background to his writing of the stories and the tales themselves. You can read it here.