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Grimscribe: His Lives and Works
Thomas Ligotti
Subterranean Press, 232 pages

Grimscribe: His Lives and Works
Thomas Ligotti
Thomas Ligotti was born in 1953 in Detroit, MI. His work has appeared regularly in a variety of horror and fantasy magazines, as well as a number of short story collections. He has also collaborated with the musical group Current 93 to produce In a Foreign Town, In a Foreign Land, a book accompanied by a CD containing background sounds and music intended to accompany the reading.

Thomas Ligotti Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

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Grimscribe is an apt title for this Subterranean Press definitive reissue of the 1991 collection of Thomas Ligotti horror stories. There's almost nothing here that is humorous, or uplifting or anything other than, well, grim. The plural subtitle of "His Lives and Works" may refer to the multiple lives and works of characters whose individual stories vary in circumstance, but who are all engaged in the same discovery that our ordinary existence is permeated by nefarious forces of which we are ordinarily only dimly aware. The discoveries are not pleasant.

The first tale here, "The Last Feast of Harlequin" -- about an academic studying clown festivals investigating a particularly odd one previously the object of study by his former mentor, who, like Kurtz in Conrad's "The Heart of Darkness," has gone native -- is the only one expressly dedicated to Lovecraft. But Lovecraft is the governing archetype of all these stories. The narrative crux is always the unfolding realization of the grotesque behind the mundane. The presence of worm-like creatures who feed upon us, or a house with windows that offer a view of the void, or a night school class providing a lesson in black despair, or a movie theater's feature presentation of purple organisms, or a human sacrifice to recover a farm field entrapped in darkness. It's the realization of, as Conrad put it, "The horror! The horror!", even as we try to pretend otherwise.

Were Ligotti a less capable writer, this same theme told in repeated variations and always by a first person narrator would soon get tedious. Even so, unless you're a die-hard Lovecraft fan, you might be advised not to read this straight through, but to sample it one tale at a time at spaced intervals. Sort of like really good chocolate: eat too much at once and you get sick. Also, if you're prone to depression, you might be advised to stay away altogether, as even a little of this isn't going to improve your state of mind.

Here's a sample of Ligotti's confection that should whet your appetite and provide a glimpse of his considerably less-than-optimistic world view:
  If things are not what they seem -- and we are forever reminded that this is the case -- then it must also be observed that enough of us ignore this truth to keep the world from collapsing. Though never exact, always shifting somewhat, the proportion is crucial. For a certain number of minds are fated to depart for realms of delusion, as if in accordance with some hideous timetable, and many will never be returning to us. Even among those who remain, how difficult it can be to hold the focus sharp, to keep the picture of the world from fading, from blurring in selected zones and, on occasion, from sustaining epic deformations over the entire visible scene.
"The Mystics of Muelenburg" p. 21
 

My sense is that Ligotti isn't kidding, he's not indulging in Lovecratian convention for the sake of paying tribute to the form, that he's not an otherwise cheery normal guy who likes to write scary depressing stuff for laughs. Rather, he writes because "[t]here are those who require witnesses to their doom" ("The Dreaming of Nortown" p. 97).

Go forth and bear witness. If, as the cliché goes, you dare.

Copyright © 2011 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.


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