thechapbookreview

Going Home: A Horror Story, by Lawrence Millman

Going Home: A Horror Story

Chapbook by Lawrence Millman

sunnyoutside, 2009

28 pages. 5″ x 7″, hand-stitched binding

First edition of 200

$8

ISBN-10: 1934513156

ISBN-13: 978-1934513156

Reviewed by Tobias Carroll

The subtitle of Lawrence Millman’s Going Home is a giveaway that the title’s implied homecoming will be an unsettling one. Further confirming that there might be a more unconventional sensibility at work here is the cover’s central image, a trope of Gothic fiction: the bathtub, shower head poised to strike. But is “horror” too strong for what follows? Millman’s story does traffic in horror, albeit of a (mostly) emotional variety, but “terror,” the sort of stomach-wrenching reaction that can only arise from interactions with those closest to you, might be more apt. That Going Home’s protagonist, Peter, is a writer of horror fiction adds a slightly metafictional level to the events described here, that is, a bleakly comic account of a family’s last surviving members meeting, a family whose dysfunction is epic in scale.

Outlining Going Home’s plot is best done in the leanest of fashions. To describe the story’s action any more is inherently problematic. Millman’s construction here is tighter than one might initially expect, and an easily overlooked detail in the first third turns out to factor significantly in the story’s denouement. In terms of its style, Going Home awkwardly straddles between anxiety-ridden psychological realism and a much more stylized sense of dark comedy. This tension works in a section depicting Peter’s football-hero brother’s adversarial relationship with their mother’s parakeet Pretty Boy. But sometimes the stylization seems out of place; the monstrous is rendered in slapstick terms. This is most evident in how Millman fashions Peter’s father, treats his predilections and fate. The stylization seems out of place, rendering the monstrous in slapstick terms.

Later in the story, Peter tells his mother: “I was cut out to be a horror writer almost from the cradle.” Given what we learn of his history, this seems fair—but it’s Peter’s work as a writer that is least explored in this story. We learn of his fears and anxieties, receive thumbnail summaries of a few of his novels, and even, at story’s end, learn a bit about his working methods. But at the same time, the notion of someone with a horrific upbringing channeling that into horrific art seems overly self-conscious, something from which Going Home suffers on occasion. And when the implied wink of Peter’s recurring castration anxiety is considered along with his name, it detracts from the story’s dark tone.

Whether or not Going Home’s overall feel—a sort of cringe humor blended with Brass Eye-style pitch-black comedy—works for the reader will likely vary. Regrettably, some of Millman’s most skillful craft elements are used to set up an ending that utilizes a longstanding horror story cliché. And while Millman’s final words strive to shift the story’s tone from familial dysfunction to psychological confusion, the reversal lacks the space to resonate. The memorably, monstrously, screwed-up mother-son relationship at the core of Going Home deserves a more iconic conclusion than the one Millman ultimately supplies. That said, he does have an assured command of fictional anxiety as well as an unsettling skill at rendering intimate moments in ways to raise gooseflesh, both traits that make me hope that this won’t be Millman’s last foray into horror.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: