Saturday, October 15, 2011
The Caretaker of Lorne Field - Dave Zeltserman
As I read this unusual novel I couldn’t help but think of the gruesome tales of Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm, Charles Perrault, and even the Arabian Nights. W.W. Jacobs’ supernatural classic “The Monkey’s Paw” a story about the horrific consequences of wishing for too much and itself a story influenced by fairy tales was another that kept popping into my brain. Like the best of fairy tales Zeltserman’s book is so simple and so stripped down that the essential plot can be told in a few sentences. A man is charged with following the rules in a baroque contract outlining the meticulous care of a vast field that daily is overgrown with bothersome weeds. It is his task to remove all the weeds every day. If he doesn’t, the weeds will grow to gigantic proportions, uproot themselves, transform into monsters called Aukowies and take over the world. Each day he removes the weeds and burns them, but during the night they have all grown back. It is a life of endless drudgery. Then someone breaks a rule in the sacred contract. The characters are forced to make decisions they might otherwise not have in trying to make things right but only end up breaking more rules leading to the inevitable disaster. No happy ending here. It's fairy tale noir.
Following rules to the letter for fear of dire consequences is the fundamental rule of many fairy tales notably "Rapunzel" (which coincidentally has a lot to do with gardening as well) and especially "Bluebeard." That story about the wife told never to open the door to a forbidden room has been borrowed and recycled by many writers, even turned into a basic trope of hundreds of horror movies, but it has its origins in a fairy tale. Curiosity gets the better of the Bluebeard's last wife, but it is something more compelling that leads the characters to their destruction in Zeltserman's book.
Loyalty, filial love, and the preservation of the family are in conflict with Jack Durkin's stubbornness. He insists on fulfilling his contract as the caretaker no matter how much misery it brings his family. They live in poverty, eating corn flakes for dinner, and scrimping on their $8000 a year received from the town council for keeping at bay the monsters Durkin promises will show up if he fails at his weeding job. His eldest son Lester, a lazy rebel, hates the fact he is next in line according to the contract but the younger son, Bert, shows devotion to his father and is eager to both believe him and carry on the dreaded job. It is Lydia, his wife, who is fed up with it all and who will in secret take the contract to a lawyer who she hopes will find some loophole that will allow her family to escape its claustrophobic rules thus giving them back a real life.
This is the first book by Dave Zeltserman I have read. I will be looking for his other novels which I see from his website range from tame thrillers to hardcore noir novels of crime and violence. That he is not better known and better celebrated is an utter mystery to me. Based on The Caretaker of Lorne Field alone -- a truly original, imaginative and exciting book -- it is clear to me that he is one of the more accomplished crime writers we have today.
Stainless Steel Dropping, has for the past six years asked bloggers to read (or watch) and review mystery, supernatural, horror, and dark fantasy works (novels, short stories and movies) throughout September and October and share their thoughts with the blogging world. How could I resist taking part in something so obviously up my alley? When you see this eerie logo at the bottom of a post now you'll know what it means.