Saturday, December 08, 2012

A try at a gothic novel, with local colour

Heh. Quite the opposite.

Here is my impression of a house in Riverdrive Park, back in the "Eyes Wide Shut" eighties. It is, uh, fiction.


An exurban gothic novel
by Ivan Prokopchuk

The countryside was hilly and in bloom. It was spring in Riverdrive Park where a neat white cottage was almost hiddent behind a screen of Australian pines. The house number, in its brass calligraphy, read 410. Same as a shotgun.
The Australian pines almost obscured a huge Williamsburg picture window, but you could not see inside, some kind of tinting through which you could see out, but outsiders could not see in.

Inside, a beautiful woman was preparing breakfast for somebody, certainly not her husband. She was especially beautiful because she had made herself up for the stranger. She was very fair, roundfaced, lots of blue on her eyelids, the look of a woman who wanted out, who was attracting somebody, anybody who would rescue her out of her trap.
Trapped indeed she had been, with her Dracula of a husband, lab worker, in fact, who had a penchant for making her drink her own tears and his bestiality in what may be called bed. Then too, there was the complicated accommodation she had to make to arouse the Master's sleeping and complicated sexuality. But to trace the convoluted links of the Master's passion, to also involve his male lover, took some doing, and frankly, she was exasperated by it all, though in her own involved way, she loved the Master all the same.

There was this supreme power he had over her.
The Master had some modern twists. There was that business with the VCR, where afterwards they had watched their romp, and at one point in the replay there was no image of the Master at all, merely some sort of electric
outline as if from some monster out of a vintage B movie like Forbidden Planet. She'd had the first horrid intimation that the Master may not be from this world at all.
It was not the first time she had felt this way.
Kara had been married to Frank for fourteen years. Fourteen years it took her to realize that the world was not at all the way she was compelled to see it through Frank's eyes. Oh yes. Those eyes. Dark. Hypnotic. One night, when the curtains blew, she had had the hollowest, emptiest feeling that she was totally artificial, a total creation of Frank, that she was Frank's novel, Frank's VCR project.
She recalled playing the tapes on her day off, with Frank away at the laboratory. She was examining Frank from all angles. Yes, yes, he was extremely tall, much taller than she. He had a soft voice and a gentle manner. Handsome, a Simon Cowell if Simon Cowell could be made up to be handsome, the same black tee shirts, the confident manner. Quite a catch it had been for her, herself so fine, the envy of the campus.
Until you realized what Frank did for a living. Torturing animals in a laboratory where they ran tests for smear-proof mascara, day after day, the rabbits, the white rats, the monkeys with their eyes red a bleeding.
Come to think of it, she was having trouble with her own eyes lately--she had always had trouble with here eyes, and now tith this thing building up between her and the newfound "friend", her eyes were irritated all the more.

"You can't get everything from one person." Where had she heard this before? Why from Frank, of course. Frank with the dark sensitive eyes who would bring his gay friends to bed with them, here in this neat white cottage, this White Hotel, from out of a book she was reading, this white hotel where everybody was welcome, especially stray men with no obvious family connections, where nobody was selfish "in bed" and where a paradox of life was revealed: That which can be truly possessed was that which was to be shared.

That which you share. How did I ever get these atttitudes? Good God. I am a book keeper and an accountant. I have a regular job like everybody else in my set. Frank works in the laboratory. We are the ideal exurban couple. We are the young professionals, the house the mortgage, my car, Frank's SUV. How did I involve myself in this style of life with Frank, the mammoth parties, the drugs and satanism--all these "friends."

She thought of a couple of the "Friends", their questionable sexuality, their elegance, sometimes one of them disappearing. And that Hungarian gardener Frank had hired. Always trimming the edge of the lawn with what must certainly have been an axe.
The drug den downstairs.

The friend in the kitchen, for whom she was making a very labored and time-consuming breakfast (opening the oven door, sensing that the eggs benedict wer still lukewarm, the toaster seeming to not work at all)--was becoming a little restless and she caught him out of the corner of her irritated eye twiddling with the FM radio on the kitchen table.

...CHARGED WITH KEEPING A COMMON BAWDY HOUSE WAS FRANK...Did she hear that right? Must have been her imagination.
The friend, a touch silver-haired, a very open man, something of a poet, kept twirling the knob until a song came on, an older one by the Eagles, out of California.

She's got a lot of pretty boys

that she calls her friends.

He kept playing with the radio until he settled on some strain of elevator music, all the while lighting a cigarette, his third one since she had begun making breakfast. She had another look at him.
An elegant-appearing chap all right, from the way he held his cigarette, almost European-fashion, with the slim fingers extended, but there was a hint of strength in the hands, the leftovers of hard work, of mines and wars and of other people with hard hands. He came from the aristocracy of war and famine and that was a real aristocracy, Kara knew, perhaps the the only viable aristocracy in this crazy, sexy and druggy age. His eyes were green, and had the tendency to take on the shade of whatever dominant colour was around, and now they were reflecting a read-and-whie tablecloth, a bistro colour, which she had strangely selected this morning.
The tablecloth did not go at all with the danish blond and grey decor of the house with its white walls, its picture groupings of Cezanne and Monet prints, of all the yellow wood.

Yet it seemed somehow fitting for this man, this "Friend".

Through the large front window, Kara caugh a glimpse of the Hungarian with the axe. " I can not have this man murdered. I love him."
The "friend" seemed to have almost heard her.

The radio was now playing the soundtrack of an old movie called "The Collector".

"I have come to collect you, the friend's eyes seemed to say. "Frank sent you to 'collect' me.

"But I will 'collect' you.

"I will rescue you."

She finished making the coffee at last and picked up two cups, one for herself and the other for the Friend.


Charles Gramlich said...

Intersting character study so far! said...

Thanks Charles.

...But even after what must surely be a half-century of writing, I still fear I haven't achieved bestseller style, that is to say, making every word count, nothing wasted.

Chris Benjamin said...

Ha, have you seen the bestsellers lately? Nothing wasted because nothing is put forward but a thousand pages of action verbs.

Anonymous said...

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The upside is this: they want me to keep up the environmental coverage, doing a short news piece each week instead. So in one sense it de-ghettoizes environment as theme. [So, got any Halifax environmental news? Please send me story ideas and news releases, any time.] But, after five years, I'll greatly miss having the column. Been a tough year for freelances, with cutbacks at CBC and the demise of, two of my main sources of income.

So hey, anyone wanna hire an environmental writer?

While I await your clambering for my services, I'll offer a few links to new work. My third last Sustainable City column is about an old-school topic that is still doing major damage in Nova Scotia: acid rain. It's at

I also took a brief look at the murder of Halifax gay activist Raymond Taavel, and the still-uncertain role of his killer's schizophrenia: That piece also features a plug for the fine work of the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia.

Lastly, here's a piece on some Nova Scotians living off the grid, using solar and other localized renewables to power their homes:

Happy reading,
Chris said...


About bestsellers.

I am constantly humbled by plot-driven spy stories like those written by the amazing John la Carre', who remains great even after a half-century since he's had a big bestseller.

He intervies himself somewhere, and I read the interview with envious eyes. :)

HomeAuthorBooksNewsMovie newsSound & visionAbout John le Carré
An overview of his history and a word on the Author by the Author.

Make sure to follow my personal secretary's notes on Twitter

John le Carré is the nom de plume of David John Moore Cornwell, who was born in 1931 in Poole, Dorset, and was educated at Sherborne School, at the University of Berne (where he studied German literature for a year) and at Lincoln College, Oxford, where he graduated with a first-class honours degree in modern languages.

He taught at Eton from 1956 to 1958 and was a member of the British Foreign Service from 1959 to 1964, serving first as Second Secretary in the British Embassy in Bonn and subsequently as Political Consul in Hamburg. He started writing novels in 1961, and since then has published twenty-one titles.

From the Author
“Let me tell you a few things about myself. Not much, but enough. In the old days it was convenient to bill me as a spy turned writer. I was nothing of the kind. I am a writer who, when I was very young, spent a few ineffectual but extremely formative years in British Intelligence.”

“I never knew my mother till I was 21. I act like a gent but I am wonderfully badly born. My father was a confidence trickster and a gaol bird. Read A Perfect Spy.”

“I hate the telephone. I can’t type. I ply my trade by hand. I live on a Cornish cliff and hate cities. Three days and nights in a city are about my maximum. I don’t see many people. I write and walk and swim and drink.”

“Apart from spying, I have in my time sold bathtowels, got divorced, washed elephants, run away from school, decimated a flock of Welsh sheep with a twenty-five pound shell because I was too stupid to understand the gunnery officer’s instructions, taught children in a special school.”

“I have four sons and thirteen grandchildren. It is forty years since I hung up my cloak and dagger. I wrote my first three books while I was a spook; I wrote the next eighteen after I was at large.”

“A good writer is an expert on nothing except himself. And on that subject, if he is wise, he holds his tongue. Some of you may wonder why I am reluctant to submit to interviews on television and radio and in the press. The answer is that nothing that I write is authentic. It is the stuff of dreams, not reality. Yet I am treated by the media as though I wrote espionage handbooks.”

“And to a point I am flattered that my fabulations are taken so seriously. Yet I also despise myself in the fake role of guru, since it bears no relation to who I am or what I do. Artists, in my experience, have very little centre. They fake. They are not the real thing. They are spies. I am no exception.”

“Thank you for your interest, your support, and kind words. Happily, I am deeply engrossed in a new novel. Sadly, this means that I can no longer devote the time and care necessary to responding to enquiries on this website. Please accept my sincere apologies, and address any professional problems you may have to my agents, Messrs Curtis Brown. With best wishes, John le Carre

Chris Benjamin said...

You're right, many bestsellers are actually very good. But looking at the tops of bestseller lists today I also see a lot of junk.

Regardless, as to your original point to Charles: I believe it was Samuel Beckett who said a writer never stops failing, but only learns to fail better. said...

...Trying to remember a Bob Dylan lyric,

"There's no success in failure,
And that failure is no success at all." said...

Whoops! Misquote.

Should read,

"There's no success like failure.
And that failure is no success at all."