4.02.2012

Reading Richard Laymon



I was driving my wife's Prius the other day when I looked up into the rearview and all I saw were a pair of tires and a huge dented grill. It was a scene straight out of Jeepers Creepers, only this is nothing out of the ordinary for a day on the roads out here in Northeast Florida. 


The rig (for that's what these vehicles become after a certain level of modification and elevation) pulled up alongside us and I saw that it was a lime-green monster Ford Bronco with huge rims. The whole thing was covered in mud and the driver bounced along in his seat, studying me with same level of curiosity a toddler has for a bug just before he or she decides to stomp on it.


The driver tipped me a nod and surged forward, revealing a collection of strange bumper stickers (including a shiny rendition of the stars and bars). The rig barked a cloud of smog onto us and the fellow tore off down the road like he was late for a monster Bronco show.


I tell you, there was glee in the man's driving. 


Might be a weak comparison, but that monster Bronco is a Richard Laymon novel. It's bright and audacious and shiny in places and damned fast. It's amusing and its heart is, for the most part, in a good place.


And I'm also glad that it's a rarity.


Laymon's novels aren't very well written. The man abuses sentence fragments, and his cliffhangers are all-too-often duds. He has an obsession with the word "rump," a term I really don't like. Everything is breathless, which is part of the charm (in small doses). Laymon goes from zero to sixty like that Bronco on A1A, and everyone else needs to either get out of the way or he's just going over them.


I only read his stuff about once a year. Like Tim Dorsey's gonzo stories, that's enough to fill me up. I like the stories, but I have trouble with the characters at times. In most Laymon novels, and in Midnight's Lair, which I finally finished last night (I put it down about four times, but I came back, which is something), we get a clear view of good and evil. The character lines are drawn quickly, and this is usually a direct conflict.


Only everybody in these books--and I mean everybody--shares one trait: all they ever think about, even in the most harrowing moments of their lives, is sex. Read a smattering of reviews of Laymon's works and you'll see it over and over again. Readers think he writes like a fifteen-year-old boy thinks. 


There is some of that.


Laymon presents Darcy as sexually selective in Midnight's Lair, which makes her actions toward Greg unintentionally hilarious. I mean, even as she's about to be skewered by subterranean cannibals, she's so distracted by the urge to rub her breasts on a guy she met ten minutes ago that she forgets to grab the pick axe.


Oh, and the reason she went off into the darkness in the first place was to get the pick axe.


Lynn and Brad (he's a bodybuilder, of course) are the same way. Even poor one-dimensional Carol can't have a meltdown over losing her best friend without dissolving into a sexual frenzy.


It's pretty odd, and more than a little funny to boot.


Like I said, I like Laymon's stuff in tiny doses. And he certainly understands the desires of his niche audience, as a pioneer of a certain horror aesthetic of the 1980s and early 1990s. Give one of his novels a shot for the experience, but be forewarned that some of it can get kind of silly...

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