Friday, February 3, 2012

"Fear was for those who still had a chance of life:

...he had none."
(Clive Barker, Books of Blood: Rawhead Rex. 1998

I have a bias toward Clive Barker. He's a mastermind writer that can do no wrong in my warped opinion (Let us not talk of 'Abarat', for that would be a lengthy discussion...)

Clive Barker has a unique penchant for story telling, and Rawhead Rex highlights his talent beautifully.

( I wanted to see the film for comparison, but the DVD on Amazon it sells for $94.99 used. That's right. $94.99. Used. Needless to say, I didn't pay to see it.)

Still, what an excellent story! I grew up on a farm and so I empathized with the trials and tribulations of the first character, Thomas. This was a man who found rocks, boulders and other soil impediments in the good earth and cleared them away with the (hopeful) goal of planting fruitful seed. As I read, I felt Thomas Garrow's desire to get this huge rock out of the fertile soil bed. His persistence won out over the troublesome boulder. Alas, persistence does not solely reap rewards. Thomas found that out first hand.

The POV switch Barker inserted as Rawhead rose from his prison, was spectacular. I felt as if I WERE  Rawhead, smelling the sky...drinking in a world of sensations I'd been deprived of for eons. Then I was Thomas again, bewildered, amazed... then dropped on my head... dead.

Barker does some things in this piece that writers are told never to do in a story (short or long). He switches POV often, and he introduces multiple characters who have little in common except the thread of their existence in the town of Zeal. All of those things, and he uses the word grimace (or a form of it) at least four times in the short story (OMG: What would author Tim Esaias say? There are no gargoyles in this prose. SHU'ers  you know what I'm talkin 'bout.) A sin in writing, for those of us taught by those who are great.

Regardless of the grimaces, and Barker doing all of the things we are taught NOT to do as new writers...he is the master of the macabre. His language, his 'page turner' ensemble of words is fantastical. I couldn't help but love each grossly detailed, sickening and twisted moment.  Clive Barker is, perhaps, the best (non-personal) writing instructor I've ever had. His is the work I study. His is the prose I most want to capture the idealism behind. He is frank, honest, visual and forthright. He is the mixed martial artist of the writer's arena, practicing with no holds barred. An aberration of the mat, and an opponent never to take for granted. If I were in front of him, I would bow low but I would never, never take my eyes off of him.

Did I find it hard to believe that the 'Venus of Willendorf' was the arch-enemy, the nemesis of Rawhead Rex? It was a bit of a stretch, but the story played on ancient history, and I loved the gender battle. In addition to the story-line, Barker wracked the limits of human endurance in the reader. An innocent  young girl dies, and an intellectual boy (writers might feel for because of his introverted self) dies as well. Granted we don't have enough time to fall in love with the boy too much...still...he was only a child), and we get to see the perspective of Rawhead as he revels in his own renewed greatness. He is God once more. We feel the beast's thirst, we hunger for dominance, we understand the confusion of a different world that meets us after centuries of burial in a prison in the ground. The world is strange. It has changed. And even with the last breath (and final urination), we are convinced that Rawhead's reign has not ended. That he will be back. As the female energy is omnipresent, so is the male, and like a male organ gone temporarily flaccid Rawhead Rex will rise again. All he needs is time.

Rawhead Rex Poster
 by Sibbs00000 (DeviantArt)


  1. I like how you point out that Barker does all the things we are taught not to do as writers; yet, it still worked on some level. The story was still successful, accepted, and even turned into a film for crying out loud. It goes to show that if you do something interesting enough, it will work even if it breaks all the rules. That being said, I wonder if we are too critical of authors because we write a lot ourselves and are aware of the rules. I’m not sure if 10-15 years ago I would have found the same issue with this story that I do today. I found myself enjoying the theme of the story rather than the presentation in this case.

  2. Cody, we are definitely more aware as 'learned' writers, but I don't think that makes us too critical. It lets us see and read with a 'critical' eye, and so we read and know what works, what doesn't work and why. It's also one reason why we understand that some publishers wont take our work while others will. Sometimes it's style other times our writing really does need improvement. In the end, I know I'll never read like I read before. I heard people say that my first residency, and I didn't understand it until I was near my second. And like I said, Barker does what we are told not to do, but he seems to make it work. Perhaps it's experience. Perhaps we as writers have 'trends' and we tend to do the lemming thing just to get published, and Barker breaks the mold. All I know is that, regardless, this story was gory, and visual and extremely visceral and I loved every shocking moment of it. :)

  3. "He is frank, honest, visual and forthright. He is the mixed martial artist of the writer's arena, practicing with no holds barred. An aberration of the mat, and an opponent never to take for granted. If I were in front of him, I would bow low but I would never, never take my eyes off of him."

    This is precisely why I love Barker. He has clearly let go of all those little worries that hold most writer’s back. He just doesn’t care about rules and conventions, he pours out a very dark soul on the page and holds nothing back for fear of judgments or rejection. If all writers could do this, the world would be full of the most amazing stories.

  4. Okay - you had me at your last line. HAR! I, too, found the Venus' power a bit of a stretch - after all, we women couldn't hold on to our matriarchal rule (and isn't the world poorer and more violent for it), but that is my only criticism. Loved the story, too.