When Subterranean Press announced they were going to release a full, 6-volume edition of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood this past year, I had to pounce. Because I remember that when I first began to read the set during my waning (and inauspicious) years of high school, I sensed I was onto something different. These were innovative, literate, and unsafe manifestations of imaginative fiction I’d been seeking in a world of study that had been trying to brainwash me into a contemporary, realist fiction style popularized by Raymond Carver and Ernest Hemingway. Now, I happen to like me some of their stories, especially “Tell the Women We’re Going,” “The Killers,” and “Hills Like White Elephants,” but I don’t live in a contemporary world 100% of the time—my world may occasionally, hopefully more often consist of dream-lands and space-drama. Most of my story ideas come from messed-up but thankfully vivid dream-episodes.
30-years on, I maintain reverence for The Books of Blood because it raised the bar for what may be possible in imaginative fiction, for translating ideas to the page, and perhaps even to the screen. Roughly half of the stories in Books of Blood reach me more than others, but I loved “Jacqueline Ess” so much, I used some passages as examples in a seminar I hosted for younger writers at my high school. There is still so much in the story that resonates with me: depression at boredom/stasis, oppression/condescension at not being the “proper type” of woman, and that actual love may come from the most unexpected places.
But really—how badass is it that not only will former Rue Morgue editor-in-chief Jovanka Yuckovic direct a film adaptation, but Lena Headey, who perhaps most famously portrays the ruthless, depraved, and beautiful Cersei Lannister on HBO’s hit show Game of Thrones.
I can’t think of a more perfect storm, when you consider the power of this particular story.
This is one of the passages I used in my high school presentation. My Hemingway tutor was not pleased. But I felt so gratified when this sort of writing was possible. Takes all kinds, and it’s usually the quiet ones:
Monster he calls me: monster I am. I do this for myself, not for him. Never for him. For myself! He gasped as her will touched him, and the glittering eyes stopped glittering for a moment, the will to die became the will to survive, all too late of course, and he roared. She heard answering shouts, steps, threats on the stairs. They would be in the room in a matter of moments. “You are an animal,” she said. “No,” he said, certain even now that his place was in command.
“You don’t exist,” she said, advancing on him. “They’ll never find the part that was Titus. Titus is gone. The rest is just—” The pain was terrible. It stopped even a voice coming out from him. Or was that her again, changing his throat, his palate, his very head? She was unlocking the plates of his skull, and reorganizing him. No, he wanted to say, this isn’t the subtle ritual I had planned. I wanted to die folded into you, I wanted to go with my mouth clamped to yours, cooling in you as I died. This is not the way I want it. No. No. No. They were at the door, the men who’d kept her here, beating on it. She had no fear of them, of course, except that they might spoil her handiwork before the final touches were added to it. Someone was hurling himself at the door now. Wood splintered: the door was flung open. The two men were both armed. They pointed their weapons at her, steady-handed. “Mr. Pettifer?” said the younger man. In the corner of the room, under the table, Pettifer’s eyes shone. “Mr. Pettifer?” he said again, forgetting the woman. Pettifer shook his snouted head. Don’t come any closer, please, he thought.
The man crouched down and stared under the table at the disgusting beast that was squatting there; bloody from its transformation, but alive. She had killed his nerves: he felt no pain. He just survived, his hands knotted into paws, his legs scooped up around his back, knees broken so he had the look of a four-legged crab, his brain exposed, his eyes lidless, lower jaw broken and swept up over his top jaw like a bulldog, ears torn off, spine snapped, humanity bewitched into another state. “You are an animal,” she’d said. It wasn’t a bad facsimile of beast hood. The man with the gun gagged as he recognized fragments of his master. He stood up, greasy-chinned, and glanced around at the woman. Jacqueline shrugged. “You did this?” Awe mingled with the revulsion. She nodded. “Come, Titus,” she said, clicking her fingers. The beast shook its head, sobbing. “Come, Titus,” she said more forcefully, and Titus Pettifer waddled out of his hiding place, leaving a trail like a punctured meat-sack. The man fired at Pettifer’s remains out of sheer instinct. Anything, anything at all to prevent this disgusting creature from approaching him. Titus stumbled two steps back on his bloody paws, shook himself as if to dislodge the death in him, and failing, died. “Content?” she asked. The gunman looked up from the execution. Was the power talking to him? No; Jacqueline was staring at Pettifer’s corpse, asking the question of him. Content? The gunman dropped his weapon. The other man did the same. “How did this happen?” asked the man at the door. A simple question: a child’s question. “He asked,” said Jacqueline. “It was all I could give him.” The gunman nodded, and fell to his knees.
Barker, Clive (2013-03-19). The Books of Blood – Volume 2 (Crossroad Press. Kindle Edition.)