Wednesday, 18 May 2016

What Horror Writers Talk About When They Talk About Love: Tim Major

I thought I'd have some guest pieces to celebrate the release of Trying To Be So Quiet, and I wanted to feature some writers that I've not had on the blog before. The theme came to me when Claire, who works for Boo Books, was interviewing me about TTBSQ and said she thought it was a love story as much as a ghost story. So a plan was born: I'd ask some horror writers who I especially admire to write a piece about their favourite love story. It could be a novel, poem, song; it could be happy, sad or despairing. Today's piece is by...

Tim Major is an author and editor from Oxford (appropriately enough, as some key scenes in TTBSQ are set there). The first piece I read of Tim's was his excellent novella Carus & Mitch, which I reviewed for This Is Horror. His time-travel horror novel, You Don’t Belong Here, will be published by Snowbooks in September 2016

Take it away, Tim:
Neither of these men is Tim Major

I have a two-and-a-half-year-old son, and another son due to arrive within the next couple of months. So – with apologies to my wife – right now, when I think about love, it’s often parental love that occurs to me.

Two of my favourite films concern fatherhood. Rebel Without A Cause is more about children than parents, of course, but it contains one of my favourite depictions of a father-son relationship. The pent-up rage of James Dean’s Jim Stark is often aimed at his father, Frank, played by Jim Backus. The reasons are at first unclear – the anger seems arbitrary, and Frank is as well-meaning as parents come. At the one-hour mark of the film, Jim confronts Frank in a scene in which the dialogue is less interesting than the positioning of the characters within the frame. The camera tilts to accommodate the shifting, arguing pair, granting Jim the literal high ground and forcing Frank to peer in from the bottom corner of the frame, becoming all shoulders. It transpires that what Jim really wants from his father is a role model. The moment when Jim says, without even looking at his father, ‘Dad, stand up for me’, is quietly devastating, particularly as it’s then followed by Jim physically yanking Frank to his feet, then wrestling him to the ground. He’s attempting to shake his father up and reveal the real person inside. It’s motivated by love.

At another point in the film, Jim comes home to find somebody on their hands and knees on the landing. At first he assumes thinks it’s his mother, but it’s actually his father, wearing a frilly apron, picking up a dropped plate of food. As a comment on gender roles, it’s a few decades out of date (the gist is that Frank is henpecked and meek, when he ought to be in charge; as well as the frilly apron, he’s trapped behind the bars of the banisters), but the exchange between Jim and Frank is wonderful. There’s real love there, real laughter as they joke about Frank’s clumsiness, then real frustration about Frank’s anxiety over something so trivial. I find it hard to put my finger on what I adore about this scene. I think it’s Jim’s pleading intensity as he wills his father to be something more wonderful than he really is. I find the scene a useful reminder that love goes both ways and that, one day, my sons will be vocal about how they feel about me, too.

The other film is simpler, but stranger. We never find out much about the child in Stalker. We don’t know why she’s called Monkey. We don’t know the nature of her illness or whether it’s linked to her telekinetic powers, which we witness only at the end of the film. We don’t know for sure whether the Stalker keeps re-entering the bewildering and psychologically damaging area known as ‘the Zone’ for the sake of the child, although I suspect that’s the case. Following a bleak, monochrome scene when the travellers return from their ordeal in the Zone, we see Monkey, in jarring, alarming colour, her expression sombre, her hair hidden under a bright yellow shawl and her head bobbing as she walks. Then, slowly, the camera pulls out. As Monkey moves away from us, we see that she’s actually being carried on her father’s shoulders. They plod towards a filthy lake. I don’t know why. But it’s heartbreaking. We can’t see the Stalker, and we don’t need to, to understand that he loves the child more than anything in the world. He carries her, and that’s all.

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