Henry might grow up to do something really evil like run for political office, if he were destined to grow up at all, which is something I’ll take care of later on.
Steve Erickson has a weird tempo as a writer. He will slip into ponderous longeurs, and then blast you out of your seat with a violent pivot. He doesn’t sustain: RUBICON BEACH has long sections that are hypnotically wonderful and then it’s like he slips below the surface and sinks into ocean mud for what seems like ages. The only one I’ve read that doesn’t do that is THE SEA CAME IN AT MIDNIGHT, which is a thrilling piece of work. TOURS OF THE BLACK CLOCK doesn’t have the wide dead spaces of RUBICON BEACH, but tests the patience here and there. You have to hang in there and wait for Erickson to set off another of his bombs.
The Chinese peasants of Davenhall routinely hung on the graveyard trees the bodies of the Davenhall dead, sometimes days, sometimes weeks, before interment. It was the peasants’ conviction that if one died without speaking his or her name in the final breath, then to seal away the corpse that had been wrenched loose of its identity by death would exile the spirit to some netherbetween place.
At each funeral witnesses would be called forth to verify that, before dying, the dead one had established without doubt his memory of himself. If no witness could attest to such a thing, the body would hang in the graveyard trees until the universe chose to write his or her name in the sky, so that he or she could read it and call the name out.
It has the scent of fable, beginning with the boy who tries to leave the island he was brought up on, after witnessing a terrible act, but ends up as the ferryman taking tourists to and from the island. The island’s dreamy gravity never lets him go. His story launches the second story – the truth about that terrible act, and its victim, and his role in the splitting of timelines.
It’s also about the man who wrote Hitler’s porn.
The most straightforwardly entertaining of the Erickson novels I’ve read, THE SEA CAME IN AT MIDNIGHT, is explicitly about connections. This is less explicitly also about connection, a darker web of mycelial fastenings. It is about the power and fear of names and naming, and the sundering and reforming of life paths.
It has its slow parts: but when it’s moving and inventing, it is magnificent and magnificently strange. Erickson remains, for me, a writer to study.
TOURS OF THE BLACK CLOCK, Steve Erickson (shop)
See also: Destruction’s Motor: RUBICON BEACH, Steve Erickson