Started reading Philip Fraccasi‘s Behold the Void last night, and have read the first three stories so far. Have to admit these are less than what I’d expected from the hype. I usually refrain from negative critiques so early, and usually not at all; but these three stories seemed both gratuitous and a form of absolute nihilism of the violent kind which left no sense of double-vision. What I mean by double-vision is the notion of a tale that has both a surface (literal) meaning-story, and a hidden or depth-ridden (figural) meaning-allegorical-didactic. Fraccasi’s seem all surface and pulped, leaving no aftermath other than wondering why all the gratuitous violence, and to what purpose. Obviously there is no purpose in a cosmos that is framed in absolute nihilism, where everything is inexplicable and anything can happen because there is no structure, no law, no reason behind anything; only an absolute contingency in which anything is possible, and anything can happen… and, will more than likely turn bad, real bad at any moment.
In the third tale we have a horse thief, Gambino, whose son Luis recently died, and is hired to steal a famed racing horse: the Widowmaker. The tale goes from incident to incident relating Gambino’s sordid existence along the way until he’s confronted by a boy demon in the desert who is the seventh son of a seventh son. Using this folkloric motif from out of nowhere – like some deus ex machina – we follow Gambino till he meets his boss where a Chinaman is waiting to perform some strange and bewildering suicide ritual requiring a fabled horse. Needless to say things go awry and the boss is killed, the Chinaman is killed by the horse, and Gambino is shot by the Chinaman in the gut… I want spoil the ending, but we’re left with a fake transcendence for a character who for all accounts deserves no redemption but gets it anyway. What bothered me in this story is just that: What was the point of this slip-shod redemption which came plotting in like some strange folkloric interpellation from out of nowhere and nowhen, without rhyme or reason? It just didn’t fit, and for me fell flat. Another tale not worth rereading because it had said all it was going to say.
Do I demand more? Am I being too hard on this tale teller? Maybe so, maybe not; either way it’s my aesthetic honesty that has to speak to it, not my personal vetting or feeling. I’ve always tried to be honest about such things with myself, if not always up front with my readers. There is a definite professionalism in Fracassi’s tales, which on the surface are polished and complete; and, yet, there is just something missing, a core geist-spirit, a certain inner sense to the stories that is lost on me. It could be these tales will talk to others, and I’m just not the person they are meant for; that could be. But with all things I tend to go with my gut feelings in all things concerning horror stories, and my affects tell me that these stories are hollow. Sadly this is my judgment, and one I have to accept as what it is for me…
As far as the tales go, Fracassi does have the knack of telling a tale, of hooking you into the ongoing movement of the various events and incidents; and, yet, as you finish the tales you feel this emptiness, a feeling in the gut that says: “Is that it? What was the point of all this carnage? These characters are absolute puppets in a puppet world, written by a puppet for puppets. But to what effect?” It’s as if there should be a punch line that leaves you guessing, but it’s been elided, and in its place is this sense of absolute meaninglessness. Maybe that is the point after all. Maybe Fracassi unlike many horror writers has no message to give us, has no need to entertain and instruct us in some dark hidden secret about life. Maybe he’s giving us everything up front: life has no meaning and is indifferent to our desires as to our intelligence. Behind the cosmos of Fraccassi’s tales is exactly what his collection’s title states: a Void. Pure emptiness without return, a bleak universe of absolute indifference where even human meaning and thought have no affordance, no traction; a realm where thinking is a mere accident in time, a broken promise that will like everything else slowly turn the lights out… forever.
I really wanted to give Fracassi a chance, had planned on finishing the collection – and, I may at some future time, but for the moment with three strikes down I just can’t force myself to continue pretending this is a writer for me. Fracassi may speak to others, but for my money it just has nothing to say at the moment. I’ll also take a peak at his earlier work as well. I wish it was different but at the moment it just doesn’t click and ring the right notes for me. So it goes onto my back burner… and, I’m off to other collections…
You can visit Philip Fracassi on his site: https://pfracassi.com/
Buy his new collection Behold the Void