Love a Good Literary Conspiracy?

The Night Ocean

By Paul La Farge

Paul La Farge conjures up a myth regarding the sexual life of weird science writer H. P. Lovecraft.  In best metafiction style, he makes it feel so real that you find yourself wondering and then searching for a copy of the supposed “Erotonomicon,” purported to be Lovecraft’s own account of his love life, particularly his relationship with Robert Barlow, author and anthropologist, when Barlow was a thirteen-year-old boy.

To further the ruse, La Farge has even created a webpage for the reissuing of the volume by fictitious Black Hour Books. Further, he festooned the book with dozens of real science fiction and fantasy writers, most still well known within the genre, and footnotes, all of which lends further veracity to the tale. It’s all quite masterfully done, and educational to boot.

He then couches all this in a mystery concerning a freelance writer, Charlie Willett, who writes a book claiming that Barlow did not commit suicide in 1951 (which he did, of course; La Farge even includes a copy of his death certificate in the novel text, but who wants to believe truth when fantasy is so much more appealing?). In Charlie’s telling, Barlow authored the “Erotonomicon,” which he explains in his book titled “The Book of the Law of Love.” When, after enjoying considerable notoriety, Charlie’s book is exposed as completely wrong. In despair, he kills himself. It’s left to his wife Marina Willett, a psychiatrist, to discover who wrote the “Erotonomicon” and for what purpose.

Here’s where the whole affair gets even more delicious. Enter L. C. Spinks, whom Marina hunts down in Parry Sound, Ontario (yes, a real town). Is the “Erotonomicon” real and witten by Barlow? L. C. Spinks tell his story, the real origin of the “Erotonomicon.” Wait, though, is it real? Is Spinks who he professes to be? Time for yet another unraveling of fact and fiction.

Here’s the thing about The Night Ocean: the fiction about Lovecraft, about the “Erotonomicon,” even about L. C. Spink’s version of how it “truly” came about, all of it proves much more satisfying than the reality revealed at the end. And what are you, the reader, left with at the end? Well, engaged as you become in myth and make-believe, in the concoction of fibs and big lies, you begin to understand the attraction that conspiracies hold for even the most rational among us.  For don’t we all just hate loose ends and voids, not to mention uncomfortable and unsatisfying reality? The experience of The Night Ocean (incidentally, the title of a story filled with a subtext of sexual longing written by Lovecraft and Barlow in the time they shared), in addition to being quite a story, helps us understand the attraction.

(Please note that La Farge’s little subterfuge with Black Hour Books can be maddening. If you are curious, click on Black Hour Books.) w/c


A High-Octane Movie for Your Weekend

Cold in July (Mickle, 2014)

If you overlooked this really good independent film and you like your action with a dose of moral ambiguity, slot Cold in July for weekend viewing.

It’s an American noir film set in a 1980s Texas town containing enough intellectual heft for some and plenty of raw guy emotion and vengeful violence to satisfy most. The moral ambiguity rides along with everyday guy Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall, of Dexter fame), while Ben Russell (Sam Shepard) and Jim Bob Luke (Don Johnson, really terrific), along with Dane, furnish the slaughter.

In the middle of the night, a sound awakens Ann Dane (Vinessa Shaw), who rouses husband Richard. Richard goes to the closet, takes down a box containing a revolver. He loads it with shaking hands, then creeps to the downstairs, where he finds the B&E guy. The fellow shines a flashlight in Richard’s eyes, panicking Richard, who accidentally pulls the trigger. The cops show up and though reassured constantly by Det. Ray Price (Nick Damici) that he fired in self defense, Richard agonizes over the fact that he killed a man. 

Turns out Richard killed Freddy Russell (Wyatt Russell), son of bad guy Ben Russell, who has just been released from prison. Ben’s a man who holds a grudge. So troubled by the shooting, Richard shows up at Freddy’s burial, where Ben threatens him. Later, Ben compounds the terror by breaking into Richard’s house while the police surround it.

Eventually, the cops capture Ben and everything seems resolved. But wait, a twist intrudes, when Richard discovers the cops spiriting Ben from the jail and leaving him unconscious on the railroad tracks minutes before a train appears on the horizon. Richard can’t allow another man to die, even bad to the bone Ben. Also, by this time, Richard suspects he didn’t kill Freddy but a stand-in. Something’s very wrong here, he’s thinking.

After exhuming the substitute Freddy, he convinces Ben he didn’t kill his son. Ben enlists his friends help solving the riddle. Enter Jim Bob Luke in a bright red caddy. This unlikely grouping forms a friendly alliance. Jim Bob’s a pig farmer and private eye, who uncovers the truth. Freddy indeed lives, having turned Fed informer on the Dixie Mafia (apparently a real thing; who knew?). He’s now in the witness protection program, a lowlife now shielded by the cops. Worse, Freddy’s engaged in making snuff movies (unfortunately a reality). This offends Richard, Jim Bob, and especially Ben’s sense of morality, and they take action, bloody action.

So, there you have it, Richard, at first depressed at shooting the fake Freddy, transforming into an avenger, joining Jim Bob and Ben, who already operate on the margins of the law (corrupt in this film), deciding what warrants, morally warrants, extreme intervention. Quite good stuff and thought-provoking, if you step back from the action a bit. w/c