Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Novel of the White Powder

Short Story by Arthur Machen

A young woman watches her brother be transformed by some early anti-depressants, but it turns out the chemist gave him something that didn't quite match the prescription.

I really like Machen's descriptions and the sense of sinister but unspecified changes in someone's personality. The final description of her brother really makes this story for me. There is also some repeated imagery of the sunset as a burning city that gets increasingly more sinister, and I'm not sure how metaphorically we're meant to take it by the end.

But overall, this story was not all that it could be. There is a nice creepy ending that could have come out of Poe, but then we follow that up with pages worth of a rambling letter from the chemistry researcher and some supernatural and religious mumbo-jumbo. Machen should have taken a page out of Poe and ended with the horror. Instead he makes the Lovecraftian mistake of overexplaining. Which is funny, since Lovecraft's own story inspired by this is much better in that regard and doesn't overexplain the ending.

Machen criticized Lovecraft for not having enough of the spiritual in his fiction, but that is one sense in which I think Lovecraft holds up much better than some of his contemporaries.

3 dark and putrid masses, seething with corruption and hideous rottenness, neither liquid nor solid out of 5.

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