Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Thomas Ligotti and First Impressions

Finishing a collection from Thomas Ligotti is a strange experience. Firstly, one isn't entirely certain what you have just read. Ligotti is known as a horror writer and an influence of Nic Pizzolatto, creator of True Detective. From those two facts you might imagine that Ligotti takes a bleak look at humanity and its role within the universe. In that respect you would be correct. You might also imagine that Ligotti's stories revolve around monsters, serial killers, and other standard motifs of pulp fiction. Here, you might be surprised.



Ligotti's "Noctuary" begins with a very astute essay on the nature of 'weird fiction,' tracing its power to the observation that the victims of horror fiction tend to meet a 'tailored fate,' a coffin specifically measured and prepared for them. The succeeding stories each sketch a situation where a protagonist meets some 'weird fate.' At times this fate might be horrific, in that it inspires within the reader a sense of futility, revulsion, and terror. At other times, that fate seems merely depressing and obscure. 

Ligotti inspired a current weird fiction writer Laird Barron, whose collection I also read recently, also because I heard it was an influence on 'True Detective.' Both writers focus in on this question of fate, of predestination. But where Barron's tales typically conclude with something visceral and terminal, Ligotti stories tend to trail off. To be sure, in Noctuary, there are stories with a clear resolution, such as 'The Medusa,' or 'Conversations in a Dead Language,' but the bulk of the stories in Noctuary end on a more existential note. The protagonist delivers some essential grim fact about reality and then wanders off into the gloom.

Considering Ligotti's nihilism and anti-natalism, these stories do strike me as reflecting his pessimism without either explaining or expounding upon it. Ligotti is often described as a disciple of Lovecraft, but where HP used his sense of a vast and impersonal universe to fuel an increasingly baroque and intricate mythos, Ligotti would rather sit with that essential and bleak epiphany in Noctuary. Describing no external monsters, the focus then of Ligotti's horror lies within. We are the monsters, it whispers, we are the nightmares.
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