I have recently written posts about weird fiction novels such as The Fisherman by Joseph Langan, Borne by Jeff VanderMeer and Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany. This time I decided to take a closer look at Thomas Ligotti’s short story collection – Teatro Grottesco. Is it really a masterpiece of weird literature? Let’s find out.
I think that for starters, we should mention a few words about Teatro Grottesco’s author and also the weird fiction genre itself. As a teenager, Ligotti liked to read horror stories written by famous writers like Algernon Blackwood or M.R. James. He admits though that Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft and Brunon Schulz had a bigger influence on his works. Now he is considered to be one of the leading authors when it comes to philosophical horror, and his stories are slowly beginning to gain recognition also in the eyes of readers, who are not weird fiction passionates. Interestingly, you can find references to Ligotti’s works in top-rated TV series – True Detective.
Nothing belongs to us. Everything is something that is rented out. Our very heads are filled with rented ideas passed on from one generation to the next.
Weird fiction literature
What makes weird fiction different from ordinary horror? Well, the main goal of authors creating in this genre is not to simply frighten the reader, but to evoke in him feeling of anxiety, usually caused by confrontation with the unknown. I think that Ligotti’s works perfectly fit this definition. Their task is to draw the reader into a surreal, nightmare-like world, which will stay in his imagination long after finishing the book. If you would like to learn more about the weird fiction genre, I can recommend, for example, reading this article by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer.
Ligotti’s short stories
The attic is not haunting your head – your head is haunting the attic. Some heads are more haunted than others, whether they are haunted by ghosts or by gods or by creatures from outer space.
Unlike authors such as H.P. Lovecraft or Robert E. Howard, Ligotti did not create one consistent universe for works. While reading, however, you can see some similarities between places mentioned in his stories – they are usually degenerated, fallen towns. The “town near the northern border” and its grotesque inhabitants are a perfect example of this.
While taking a closer look at characters in Ligotti’s stories, it’s easy to notice that we usually don’t get much information about them – only that they suffer from some physical or mental ailments and are social outcasts. Then, suddenly, in one way or another, they are confronted with some distortion of reality – stranger recordings, peculiar amusement park or a mysterious organization hunting artists. If we take under consideration the fact, that Ligotti’s characters are ofter on the verge of madness from the get-go, we can never be really sure whether the encounter with the unknown actually took place or whether it was merely a delusion of sick person. I think, however, that this issue if of marginal importance when it comes to this writer’s works. In his stories, the human psyche and how it reacts when collided with the weird take the spotlight.
There is no way out of the nightmare once you have gone so far into its depths.
I think that it’s also worth to notice, that Ligotti’s character’s mental states, usually correspond with the distortions of reality around them. To some extent, it even reflects their minds.
In this short story collection, we can find some of the author’s most famous works. The first one is Purity – a text, which in my opinion, inspired an excellent browser game My father’s long long legs. A family moves into a fallen town, and the father decides to start using the basement for his mysterious research.
The next story is The Town Manager. Shortly after the official mentioned in the title disappear, which, as it turns out, is nothing new for the local community, residents start to look for his successor. You can quickly notice that each next manager is more degenerated manifestation, brought to life by some unknown force whose one and only goal seems to sow chaos.
One of my favorite short stories included in Teatro Grottesco is definitely The Clown Puppet. The main character has visions of a weird jester-like creature manifestations, and in the end, he has to confront his nightmare in a really disturbing finale. Truly a tremendous weird fiction story.
If asked to name the definitive image in Lovecraft, one might likely say its tentacles flailing from the body of a monster. For me, it would probably be puppets, manikins, and clown-like things, even though these are more often a matter of metaphor than a literal presence of a monstrous type. Nevertheless, if Lovecraft’s tentacle monsters and my puppets and so on fought each other, I think the monsters would win. Thomas Ligotti
However, I was impressed the most by Teatro Grottesco, Gas station carnivals, and The Bungalow House. Each of them is a true masterpiece when it comes to build a nightmarish, disturbing atmosphere. If I had to recommend someone a shorty story capable of showing what’s best in weird fiction, I would probably pick of the texts mentioned above.
I think that it’s also worth to mention that Teatro Grottesco includes stories belonging to sub-genre called corporate horror. The author, for instance, tells us a story about a world which is being slowly taken over by a big pharmaceutical company. Actually the history presented in the text sounds disturbingly probable. All in all – every story included in this collection is definitely worth reading.
Weird fiction stories by Thomas Ligotti are perfect examples showing, that horror, often associated with light entertainment, can be a really ambitious literature. In my opinion, Teatro Grottesco is a masterpiece that I can honestly recommend to any book lover, who is ready to plunge into a disturbing, surreal world of nightmares created by the author.
Have you read any short stories by Thomas Ligotti? Which one is your favorite, and why? Please let me know in the comments section.
You can buy the book here: