Saturday, February 20, 2016
THE CRAZY CORNER by Jean Richepin
Jean Richepin (1849-1926) was a contributor to the legendary Grand Guignol and to the conte cruel literature of fin-de-siecle France, but his relentless ghoulishness set him apart from the rest, who normally wallowed in mere irony. This collection, translated by Brian Stableford, brings together two of Richepin's short-story collections, with a sprinkling of his other works.
It starts off subtly, with the story "Lilith," in which two students observe a neighbor's strange ritual and slowly piece together a vague idea of a terrible tragedy that might be behind it. It becomes more and more gruesome...in "The Clock" an old man attempts to repair a town's tower clock, but only can do so at a terrible price. Some, like "The Enemy" and "A Duel of Souls," deal with madness and obsession. "The City of Gems" look at the line between madness and sanity, and how seemingly sane people can be coaxed into mad beliefs. Some deal with sexuality, like "Booglottism," in which a man is coaxed into a sexual encounter with a woman who keeps her face hidden....and later find a secret, not quite horrible, but chilling and a bit disgusting. Or "The Ugly Sisters," of two old women who live in a small town....who have a somewhat surprising secret. There's femmes fatale, feckless men, criminals, and sex at its most destructive. One faintly appalling story, "La Morillonne," deals with a beautiful woman who consistently gives birth to monstrously deformed children....and it's her livelihood. And the nasty "Jeroboam," a tale of human deception and manipulation that reads like something from a Jim Thompson tale. There's even a novella, "In Less Time Than It Takes to Write," about a callow youth's adventures in the Paris underworld.
Perhaps the most harrowing tale is "Mademoiselle," a tale of a somewhat not-all-there boy in a small town who dresses as a girl and is accepted as "mademoiselle" by the townsfolk until he tries to dress in male clothes...and disaster results. Cross-dressing was nothing new...but this could be an early example of gender confusion or even transsexualism.
The stories are relatively short, and often lack traditional denouements, so sometimes you'll be left feeling like they cut off too soon sometimes...but then you stop and think and piece them together and then...yikes! That was the art of the conte cruel; it was often short and nasty.
This is a superior collection that is available both in print and as an ebook from the good people at Black Coat Press. Look into it...