"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Heartland horror: Make Me by Lee Child

In his book The Darkening Garden: A Short Lexicon of Horror, John Clute defines Affect Horror this way:

....Since the 1820s, terror has been defined as an apprehension that something not yet experienced, but deeply to be feared - something horrific, or inhumanly sublime, or vast beyond our frail human capacity to survive the experience of its arrival, or a temblor announcing some deep shift in the grammar of the world - is nigh. Horror, on the other hand, is usually described as exactly not a matter of anticipation; horror is the experience of the atrocity of the thing itself, which can be seen whole. Terror may lie too deep for tears, though FUSTIAN may veil our reluctance to admit that the unsayable is precisely unsayable; horror, which is compounded out of the visceral responses of the appalled protagonist, can be put in words: what you see is what is said. Distinctions of this sort between the two terms have been very erratically applied since Ann Radcliffe first separated them in "On the Supernatural in Poetry" (1826 New Monthly Magazine ); but Radcliffe was as inconsistent in applying her arguments to her own work as any of her fellow Gothic writers, and an ongoing fuzziness over how terror and horror differ may be diagnostic of a general uneasiness about the nature of HORROR (the shorthand use of this one term is very generally accepted) as a genre. But the distinction between the two terms remains suggestive. Horror as Radcliffe defines it is Affect Horror in modern parlance. Terror can still usefully refer to tectonic shifts in the nature of the world too fundamental for our senses to apprehend directly; and, so defined, clearly furthers the declared purpose of this lexicon: which is to understand Horror as a pattern of stories bound to the wheel of fire of the world entire. Something similar to this breakdown is of course adduced by H P Lovecraft in Supernatural Horror in Literature ( 1945 ) when he distinguishes between "the literature of cosmic fear" and "the weird tale", but his readers have tended to understand these promising divisions as varying descriptions of affect. Terror as understood above has not been a major focus of critical attention for some time.

....In 1982, introducing his anthology Prime Evil ( 1982 ), Douglas E Winter, in a passage which has also become famous, effectively translates King's lengthy and personalized explanatory narrative into a generalization: "Horror is not a genre, like the mystery or science fiction or the western. It is not a kind of fiction, meant to be confined to the ghetto … Horror is an emotion." Winter later amplified his argument, suggesting that this emotion of horror was experienced by protagonists, and hence readers, through a powerful need "to confront the unknown": the protagonist of a horror story was himself or herself, therefore, the motor at the heart of the story, whose thrust into the unknown recruited the identification of readers eager for affect. That this can lead to an unhinging of story, and to the kind of escalation of effects almost fatally experienced by the field in the late 1980s and early 1990s, is obvious enough.

....it could be argued that the greatest challenge non-supernatural Affect Horror novels in particular must surmount is the risk of becoming stymied in THICKENING , with no storyable exit into REVEL....

Let's make no mistake. Make Me is a horror novel. Non-supernatural, but horror for all that. This is rural, empty, weird North America horror. Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven, Robert Bloch horror, mean and bloody and black as night.

Reacher asked her, “Why is this town called Mother’s Rest?”

She said, “I’m not supposed to tell you.”


“The farmers don’t like it. They’ve done their best to bury it.” 

“I won’t tell them you told me.” 

“It’s a corruption of the old Arapaho Indian name. One word, but it sounds like two. It means the place where bad things grow.”

Lee Child's thriller Make Me locates horror on the Great Plains.  

Mother's Rest is the name of a small town where a two lane road and a railroad intersect. It is in the middle of hundreds of miles of wheat.  There is no highway and no cell service. There are a few businesses and houses, a diner, and a motel. Mostly there are railway silos.

The locals don't like outsiders. And they really take a disliking to Child's series protagonist, Jack Reacher.

Many novels in this series find the source of crime and evil-doing in the "fly-over states." Child loves a big sky and paints with deft and telling strokes. He loves rail lines and roads heading straight as a ruler to the horizon.

Make Me is a horror novel, as well as a crime novel. The monsters are human. Two hundred people have arrived in Mother's Rest, and have never been seen again.

The two hundred have been conned by a site on the Deep Web. The site promises a humane form of assisted suicide using veterinary tranquilizers and pre catalytic converter carbon monoxide fumes. The site is run by the leading businessmen of Mother's Rest, such as they are. "Not the A team," as Reacher tells his comrade in arms Michelle Chang.

A farm twenty miles south of Mother's Rest, where assisted suicides are supposedly conducted, is actually used to record snuff films and torture porn for internet download. (It beats farming, I guess.)

Those who paid for assisted suicide are murdered.

The business mastermind behind the Mother's Rest scam explains it like this to Reacher and Chang:

“Their lives were forfeit. Surely you see that. They had given their lives away. Their decision was made. They were already gone. They were mine to use. And they got what they wanted anyway. In the end."

This guy gets ten rounds in the neck as a response to his thesis.


May 6, 2017

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