You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Monday, February 28, 2011


Grim TalesGrim Tales by Norman Lock
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Brothers Grimm get a nod in the first of Norman Lock's Grim Tales.

Each morning when he woke, he found that his papers had been worked on during the night. His affairs were being put in order -- no matter how hard he tried to resist it.

It's the Shoemaker and the Elves. But by the end of the paragraph -- Lock's grim tales range from a paragraph to a single sentence in length -- the protagonist commits suicide rather than allow his life to be taken over by his unseen helpers. This sets the tone for the 150 tales that follow.

I have read two other books by Norman Lock, and this is my least favorite. Perhaps I did not know how to read it. It is only sixty-eight pages long, and my first thought was to spend a couple of hours with it one afternoon. That didn't work. I got burnt out by the suicides, murders, and disappearances that average two per page. I read it over three days, but the notion grew that perhaps one should read a tale per night just before bedtime.

What happens in these tales? People disappear up staircases or more often into the earth and those left behind can hear their screams. Murders occur regularly and spouses are especially lethal. A sooty cloud drifts down from the sky and erases the part of town it lights on. In one story a man dreams each night that he must deflect a comet headed for earth. The last sentence of his story encapsulates much of Lock's vision

So that he would no suffer this most mortal dream, he took an overdose of sleeping pills and died without waking,

Everything there is to admire about Lock's prose is here, unfortunately mentioning them makes all those admirable traits sound like cliches -- it's merciless, lapidary, he wields syntax like a scalpel. The ideal way to encounter this book, like the protagonist in the first tale, would be to find a story or two somewhere in your home each morning when you first got out of bed.

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