Horror Literature and Its Discontents
In tomorrow's Albany, N.Y. Times-Union (not yet online), book critic Donna Liquori talks about Bram Stoker's novel Dracula and its importance in establishing the vampire as a figure of terror. So far, so good. But in recommending the Victorian novel for Halloween, Liquori reassured her readers that Dracula is "surprisingly easy to read." I'm not sure if I am more annoyed that Liquori assumes readers of a book column would be put off by difficult literature, or that she presumes that older work are inherently difficult compared to today's easy-reading pop trash.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, in the New York Times, Glen Duncan imagines a slavering mass of idiot horror readers against which he can take arms. Here is how he imagines a typical American consumer (of course not you, gentle New York Times reader) will react to literary novelist Colson Whitehead's zombie novel, Zone One:
I can see the disgruntled reviews on Amazon already: “I don’t get it. This book’s supposed to be about zombies, but the author spends pages and pages talking about all this other stuff I’m not interested in.” Broad-spectrum marketing will attract readers for whom having to look up “cathected” or “brisant” isn’t just an irritant but a moral affront. These readers will huff and writhe and swear their way through (if they make it through) and feel betrayed and outraged and migrained.
Nice to know that a man with eight novels under his belt--including the genre novel The Last Werewolf (2011)--has such faith in readers. Who, incidentally, does he think buys his books? Aesthetes only? Good luck making money that way. Note, incidentally, that these are not actual readers but illiterate straw men concocted solely for the purpose of tarring readers of horror as something less than literate. I have no doubt that some Amazon customer reviews will be nasty and barely coherent; but this is true for cat food, DVDs, and flannel sheets as much as any book.
It's hard to imagine that in the age when Dracula was written, the horror genre had not yet been cut loose from mainstream literature (1930s pulp magazines would see to that), and horror was not just a respectable mode of literature, but one practiced from time to time by the very best writers--Charles Dickens, Henry James, Edith Wharton, etc.
Now, apparently, so thoroughly did the publishing industry subdivide genres and markets, it is apparently tremendous news when a horror novel is not mindless, or when a genre lover finds a classic to be comprehensible.
We might as well just give up on books altogether.
7/5/2014 07:33:31 pm
"It's hard to imagine that in the age when Dracula was written, the horror genre had not yet been cut loose from mainstream literature (1930s pulp magazines would see to that),"
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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