Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Onward! To Each Their Darkness by Gary A. Braunbeck

I hate Gary A. Braunbeck.

Never met the guy. Almost everything I've read before now has been a short story of his. I hear the legend of him, the stories about him - the kind of super nice but still a little morose guy. (There should be a whole lot more hyphens in that sentence, but I'm kinda too lazy to type them.) Maybe flaky. Maybe not there when you're talking to him. But I've never met him. I can't confirm nor deny these accusations.

What I can confirm is TO EACH THEIR DARKNESS fucked me up. It messed me up like Jeff Strand's PRESSURE, and probably more impact to Mr. Braunbeck, Ketchum's THE GIRL NEXT DOOR.

DARKNESS, as it shall be now known for purposes of this writing, cuz - as stated - I'm lazy and shit, is the first book that actually made me cry. Conlon's THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, is the only book that raised the hair on the back of my neck, a phenomenon I thought but a construct of fiction until I'd experienced it. But, again, Braunbeck fucked me up. Like THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, I know I'll be thinking about this book on a daily basis for the next few months.

It's not fiction, but has fiction in it. Braunbeck's fiction. And one of the reasons I hate him is because it's sooooo damn good. The man who purports to be a reader of elementary understanding, writes literary, beautiful prose like few can, and has received the accolades and awards to prove it. I'm a writing geek. The "I used run-on sentences here for this reason and I used three-word sentences here for this other reason" is the type of thing I could talk to people about for days. I love the ins-and-outs of writing. The craft. The art (more on that to follow). The experience.

Gary, and I shall call him Gary because, again, because I'm a lazy fuck and am tired of making sure I've spelled his last name correctly, breaks down the craft on the nuts-and-bolts level while still showing the macro side of writing.

However, to think this is a book about writing, about horror in all its various media, is to sell it short. What this book is about is a writer, and possibly one of the finest writers of genre fiction in the past fifty years.

There's a section where Gary explains how a character has the benefit of explaining his motivations through dialogue - be it in film or on the page. The Definition of the Self. He gives an example of "The Messiah on Mott Street" from Serling's NIGHT GALLERY, and wrote his passage so well about it that I sought out the episode. Then he spends most of this book defining the DOTS by exposing himself in a rare, touching and emotionally draining fashion.

I cried, yes, like the pussy I am, when he wrote about his sister at the ELP concert. Afterwards, I felt even more like shit when I realized, it was the one episode in his life where things could have, should have, must have went wrong, but everything turned out okay. But the way he conveyed the anxiety over the incident hit me hard. Suffice it to say, I wouldn't wish his life on anybody.

So, for Gary...

When I was nine, I killed my brother.

Not in a way I could be convicted of, nor a way an adult would blame me for, but now that I'm almost forty-five, a way I still will never deny.

Daniel Patrick Anderson was my parent's favorite, and my sister and I would've hated that except we knew he had the right to be. He was the one who gave affection even after we laughed at him. He was the one that was far more outgoing. He was the one that you couldn't help but like.

And I killed him.

My sister and I always had a heated sibling rivalry. A rivalry that in later life, I got my ass handed to me. I struggle to take care of my family, she could take care of mine, hers, and a small city in Nicaragua. Yet, in 1977, I was winning. I was older, stronger, and damnit, Danny liked me better. I made sure of this by taking him to walk with me to school.

That was a no-no.

We lived two miles from the school and had a special city bus designated to take us to and from Spangler Elementary. But I wasn't as cool as Danny. Nor as tough. I was the smallest kid in my class except for my mouth. I got in a lot of fights. I never won one. So, I liked walking to school. I even more liked walking home from school - after a day of bullying and being so quiet that I'd almost rather piss my pants than ask for a bathroom pass. As such, being Danny's older brother, I often, and by often,I mean daily, mocked him for not walking home.

So, on April 20, 1977, my mother was five minutes late picking him up. And he walked. And he ran across Seventeenth Avenue. And he didn't make it. And I killed him.

Well, that's not what I intended when I started this silly blog.

I write, though. I want to write as well as Gary, but probably never will.

Which brings me to Gary's arguement about art. He contends that art can't be created, but it happens as a happy circumstance. The fact he shows his first brush with art as a friend who can fart a song, I believe, kind of underminds his hypothisis. I agree a lot with what he says here. Art is a happy circumstance, BUT, it usually occurs when somebody is trying to create art. Gary writes at length about Van Gogh - well, maybe not at length, but he discusses him. Van Gogh created art that few can deny. He also did so while trying to create art. The idea that art is happenstance doesn't work for me. Most of what artists try doesn't turn out to be art, but almost all art is the result of somebody trying to create it. So there. That's my main bitch.

I just want to express, I read a book that touched me - and not like one of the later passages in the book. For those that write, all we hope to do is hit a nerve - touch an emotion that means something. Gary has succeeded like no other non-fiction book I've ever read.

I hate you, Gary A. Braunbeck. And that's the nicest thing I can say.