Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ex Libris: Thomas Disch's The Businessman

With the late, quite-lamented but sorely underrated Thomas Disch, you have to remember where he's pointing the sharp end of the story. Having been part of the Michael Moorcock-New Wave Movement of the '70s, Disch made his own contributions to the field in trying to liberate the genre from its conventions and formula.

I kept this in mind when reviewing Disch's first book of a series* (of what one reviewer called "supernatural satire"), The Businessman: A Tale of Terror. This is because though I enjoyed reading the book, I wondered why I didn't get what it says on the label. I mean, it's called "a tale of terror." But where's the terror here? It's actually more funny than scary. That's when I have to remember Disch's reputation-- and that the natural human reaction to fear is laughter.

Bob Glandier is a perfect specimen of a crummy human being, an overweight executive of a small company who's just murdered his wife in jealous rage and is waiting to reap the benefits of his dying mother-in-law's passage to the next life. Giselle, the wife, was meant to be saint in this world except for the fact that Bob killed her and is now haunting him. But since this is a Disch story, the question remains of who has it worse: Bob or Giselle? Imagine, being stuck with a despicable human even after you're dead!

There's only thing Giselle can do, especially when-- after rotting in a coffin and then being trapped as a ghost in the morass of her husband's mind-- she gets pregnant by Bob: she seeks her mother's help! But what can she do, now that she's already dead? Throw in Disch's view of Heaven (an escalator in Sears), the metaphysics of ghosts, the American poet-suicidee John Berryman, and a demon child born from a dead mother, and you get one roller-coaster crazy horror story.

If my summary of the book sounds strange, that's because it is: think of it as surreal satirical horror. But Disch doesn't forget to keep things real by steeping his story with all too-human characters. For example, Bob is a scumbag but his scummy nature is reminiscent of a character straight out of a Coen brothers movie.

Moreover, as Disch plays around with the horror tropes, he never forgets to give the reader a rollicking good read-- and a metaphysical discussion to boot. As one Amazon reviewer put it, it's hard to peg this book. But I can guarantee you definitely won't forget this biting, terrifyingly unique Thomas Disch experience. (Rating: Four paws out of four.)

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