I think that it’s likely that I first learned about Thomas Ligotti from one of Laird Barron‘s acknowledgment pages. Since I’m always making lists of new horror writers to explore, I immediately went to Amazon to see what was available and came across Teatro Grottesco. The “look inside” option gave access to the first short story in this collection, and before I had read more than a few pages, I knew I was hooked and had to buy the book.
The narrator of “Purity” is a young boy named Daniel, and the story begins with a scene in which a visitor, a young man, has come to his house to conduct some business with Daniel’s father. Apparently this business will be conducted in the basement.
No doubt my presence — that is, the normality of my presence — was a factor in the young man’s decision to go into the basement. My father would have known that. He would not know, nor would he have cared, that I quietly left the house as soon as he had closed the basement door behind him and his guest. I did consider lingering for a time at the house, if only to gain some idea of what phase my father’s experimentation had now entered, given that I was a participant in the early stages. However, that night I was to see a friend of mine who lived in the neighborhood.
Daniel’s evening continues with further dark adventures, distracting enough that I almost forgot about the quasi-Reanimator activities going on back in the basement at his house. However, the story has an unsettling conclusion, as does all of Ligotti’s work, and the basement definitely has something to do with it.
If I were to compare him to another writer, I would have to say that Ligotti has a Lovecraftian way with his words. There is all of the formality of tone and descriptive storytelling surrounded by the dark, shadowy world that is so very different from the one we inhabit every day, yet also so very familiar. Several of these stories, such as “The Clown Puppet” and “Gas Station Carnivals” carry such a surreal feel to them that they are simply impossible to forget. Many of the other works, though, relate to what I can only describe as a communistic nightmare world of factory and office workers who are caught in Kafkaesque situations. Supervisors are replaced but never come out of their offices. In some cases, retirement from your job is simply not an option. There are many instances where the populace is prescribed medication to help ensure their continuance as productive members of society.
It is hard for me to pick a favorite out of this book, but the story that has stayed with me the most strongly is “The Bungalow House.” In this story, a librarian finds an odd display at an art gallery. It is a tape recording titled The Bungalow House (Plus Silence). The tape includes the observations of a man in a darkened house as he describes the house and some insects and other “verminous creatures” lying about on the floor. It deeply affects the librarian and he can’t stop thinking about it, but when he goes back to listen to it again the tape has been replaced with a different tape. While the tape recording itself is creepy, Ligotti moves past this to focus on the librarian’s increasing obsession with the story and his attempts to locate the tape, and the end of the story is both surprising and disconcerting.
The overall feel of these stories is that of an alienation from others and reality that the characters have to deal with. While there are none of Lovecraft’s old gods in Ligotti’s stories, there are malevolent forces at work — many of which look very much like normal people. There is also a distinct feeling of helplessness and lack of control over anything that happens. Characters are forced into situations that are repetitive without foreseeable end, or come to realizations that they are strangers even to themselves. I have not really read anything else quite like Ligotti and highly recommend him. It appears that he has several other works available, and I am looking forward to picking up the next one.