May 3rd, 2011


The Cleft and Other Odd Tales

When I did a reading at the KGB Bar back in February, mroctober surprised me with a present, a hardcover edition of an out-of-print book I'd been searching for for a long time: The Cleft and Other Odd Tales by Gahan Wilson.

Wilson is best known for his cartoon work in magazines like The New Yorker and Playboy. (I've also known him for years now as a regular attendee of NECon, and I've been enjoying his sly, macabre sense of humor for a long time now both in cartoon form and in person.) His short stories, as you might imagine, tend to share the same darkly tongue-in-cheek bent as his cartoons. In fact, while reading The Cleft and Other Odd Tales, I was strongly reminded of Edward Gorey and, in a way, the work of Charles Addams made prose. There's a strong hint of Bradbury to be found here too, with many a protagonist being a young boy in a small town, the prose heavily pollinated with nostalgia.

Not every story is tongue-in-cheek, and the ones that approach their subject matter seriously tend to stand out more in my memory. Stories like "Leavings," where the body parts of unsuspecting citizens suddenly go missing; "The Manuscript of Dr. Arness," a vaguely Lovecraftian exploration of science gone awry; "Mr. Ice Cold," a chilling (ha-ha), Bradburyesque tale of childhood terror; and arguably the best story in the collection, "The Sea Was As Wet As Wet Could Be," which is also the most adult and most deeply characterized of them all. (On the tongue-in-cheek side, the story "Them Bleaks," about a very strange little town with a bad history, is my favorite.) Each story in the book is also accompanied by an original Gahan Wilson illustration. Talk about bang for your buck.

It's too bad The Cleft and Other Odd Tales is no longer in print. Wilson's cleverly crafted tales deserve to be read by a wide audience. Some press out there would do well to snatch up the rights and bring it back. Until then, you may just have to scour the secondary market for an affordable copy. But trust me, it's worth the effort. If you love Wilson's cartoons as much as I do, odds are you'll love his stories too.