A bolt to the back-brain: an idiosyncratic recollection of Charles L Grant
About 30 years ago I read a story by Charles L Grant, and you know what? I can’t remember in which volume I found it, let alone the tale’s title. But that’s perhaps less important than the impact it had – and still has – upon me.
Let me detail what little I can recall of the plot. It’s about a young adult (what we used to call teenagers, folks, before marketing casually reinvented our language) who’s suffering all the usual existential travails of growing up. But then he makes a disturbing discovery. In his family’s garden shed, he finds his parents conducting secret rituals as a way of controlling his life.
That’s it. That’s my recollection. It’s not much, is it? It might even seem disrespectful to discuss such a shamefully un-researched memory here. But this is actually the point I want to make. With literature, the details are not always that important. It’s the takeaway message, the indelible stamp in one’s mind, which surely matters more.
Grant troubled me with this story. Deeply. I think it’s because, at the time, I was a similar age to his protagonist and beginning to grow aware of how the social world functioned, with parental influence a powerful shaper of how life looks and how one is equipped to handle it habitually. We’re all products of our social milieus, and familial tradition, with all its emotional landscapes, is always a key determinant of character. Of course I can discuss such issues now with this sort of descriptive vocabulary, but back then, in my teens, I had nothing with which to get to grips with them.
Except for literature, that is. And Grant’s powerfully subversive tale of parental manipulation sent a bolt to my back-brain, a wakeup call to my uninformed self, which, after much more reading across a range of fields (including psychology), I eventually came to terms with, and even freed myself from.
I guess what I’m saying is that some writers – and Grant was clearly one – can touch on universal travails with such a clarity of vision and refinement of technique that their work often becomes a route-map for future personal development and self-understanding. I’m not about to say that my own parents conducted occult rituals in our back garden as a way of ensuring that I never embarrassed the family or did what they perceived to be beyond the pale. It was all a lot subtler and more innocent than that. Nevertheless, the horror genre’s capacity to explore such troubling issues in exaggerated, hyper-real ways is one of its central qualities, a way of driving such messages deep down.
Grant was obviously a master of this kind of material, and I’ll always be grateful to him for writing that tale. You, reading this, might even know what the title of the story is and where I can find it, but you know what? I’m not sure I need to know. I have it right here, in my head until I die. And I needn’t ask for any more from any artist.
(C) Gary Fry 2016
Gary Fry has a first-class degree and a PhD in psychology, though his first love is literature. He lives in Dracula’s Whitby, literally around the corner from where Bram Stoker was staying while thinking about that legendary character. Gary has had a number of books published, including short story collections, novellas and novels. His first collection included an introduction by Ramsey Campbell in which Gary was described as a “master”. Find him online HERE.