Great episode. Whichever listener that recommended the story has great taste. I actually did recommend it because of the hot dog scene. That's also why I read it to my wife! Your cast really opened up the story for me, thank you.
I've read Ligotti's three most physically accessible books. (I finished one of them just two days ago!) I have a good grasp on his style. The method of his terror, or rather it's setting, is more or less always the same: urban or suburban cities going through decay. He is from Detroit, which is the epicenter of urban decay, the bradycardic heart of the rust belt.
While no where near as bad, my childhood shared a lot of the same grossness of the story. I have been in some really rough places. All terror has origins in our childhood insecurities. Our farm breed forebears were scared of the dark, the wolves at the edge of the fire, the alien. People like Lovecraft wrote about that terror, because that was the terror of his age. The terror of our age is rot, clutter, decay, regret, degeneration, despair. I grew up in a poor family, in the poor part of town, in poor towns, in poor houses. Things weren't that bad, but sometimes things were falling apart or smelt bad. The Pacific Northwest has it's own very unique sort of grossness, probably due to how wet everything is, and how just a few hours drive away is an endless desert wasteland. I certainly relate to the narrator's main complaint, and know why he has such a problem with his parent's smoking. And why all us lost souls only harp on the most about the small things. Because they are controllable. The hole in the closest will take huge resources to fix, which some elective vice takes much less will to fix. The neighborhood will take decades to fix, if ever, while any given family can dig themselves out in a few short years. Maybe. And if the damn parents can stop smoking maybe they can afford to paint the house! Having said all that, even though I don't share in those vices, I still can't find the energy to clean up whatever random mess is around here, or planting my own food which would save me so much money. The terror is we made so much we're drowning in it.
I live in a pretty rural area, across the street from me, swallowed up by the woods, is an abandoned house. It looks to be very old. That conjures up in my mind a crew of men building it, scrutinizing every angle and cut. It must have been a lot of fun putting it up, the builders must have taken a lot of pride in their work. And now it's nothing. The opposite is equally terrible, coats of painting and polish put on a corpse, like make up on a cadaver, people desperate trying to keep a dead thing alive. A forest's canopy choking out new life.
Ligotti's antinatalism is central to understanding his stories. The disease we must be purified of is life itself. Countries, religions, families, all give us reasons to life. Ideas that keep us going. While the only true path to happiness is never being. The whole philosophy is pretty hard to argue against, from the logical perspective. The strategy of opposing it so far seems to be just ignoring it. Which obviously isn't enough. The point made that purity is a negative concept, is brilliant, and weird that I never realized that. So Ligotti the antinatalist sees what the problem is, life, and chooses the equivalent of ignoring the problem, non-life. I'm certainly also guilty of seeing problems while being incapable of purposing solutions. I don't know if I answered any of your questions, or just ranted. I should start making master threads for any given cast, listing questions and writing prompts you dude's purpose.
Firstly… I almost don’t know where to start: this tale is so much layered and raises so much question, and there is so much to say about Ligotti’s style. I already read Songs of a Dead Dreamer/Grimscribe, and now (because of the podcast) I own (not rent) Teatro Grottesco.
Ligotti is (or is at least one of) my favorite writer(s) because he is really really good at setting a weird mood. Unanswered but suggestive questions are one of the characteristics of this style – and, as Brandon says it ‘with only the ghost of a plot lurking in the background’. The tales are suggestive of something supernatural (or as some say: better ‘supranatural’) although the characters are trying to rationalize it or simply dismiss it and the reader will never know how the things are. But that’s not frustrating to me (at least in the negative sense of ‘frustrating’), it’s the core of what weird is. It’s also necessary for the grand themes and philosophical backgrounds for weird tales, in my opinion, like cosmicism (Lovecraft), nihilism, antinatalism, etc., all taking down the arrogance and delusions of grandeur of mankind and humanity. It’s the (fear of seeing) the ‘un-understandable greatness’ that looks down on mankind. And I no at this moment no other writer who can set this mood so effectively as Ligotti.
Secondly, when listening to the podcast, many times I had to think of David Lynch. I went to his latest art exhibition (in the Netherlands), which exhibited his visual arts, mostly paintings and video art. The name of the exhibition was ‘Someone is in my house’ – the title itself already unnerving. Although born in Montana, Lynch worked and lived four years in Philidelphia – in his words: ‘a great mood – factories, smoke, railroads, diners, the strangest characters and the darkest nights. The people had stories etched in their faces, and I saw vivid images – plastic curtains held together with band-aids, rags stuffed in broken windows.’
Many of his paintings and photography show decaying houses and suggesting ‘things that could happen there’, suggesting things no one wants to know that happens behind the smiling happy families.
When listening to the podcast the following words of David Lynch haunted me (typically Lynch, known for mixing up a very unnerving mood with everydayness, happiness, resulting in strangeness – better still: weirdness):
‘Being in darkness and confusion is interesting to me. But behind it you can rise out of that and see things the way they really are. That there is some sort of truth to the whole thing, if you could just get to that point where you could see it, and live it, and feel it … I think it is a long, long, way off. In the meantime there’s suffering and darkness and confusion and absurdities, and it’s people kind of going in circles. It’s fantastic. It’s like a strange carnival: it’s a lot of fun, but it’s a lot of pain.’
(I made this quote a motto to one of my own tales.)
Thirdly, this tale and Elder Sign episode really inspired me to use some of the techniques and tropes that Ligotti uses, but of course I understand I will never reach his level to control it. I think of ‘ghosting’ the plot, his manner of teasing the reader, the rationalizing or ‘dismissing’ weird elements by his characters, but also his use of gothic tropes projected into present day, and adding still more disgusting stuff (as in waste, food and indefinable in-betweens) in a proper way.
Fourthly and last, I liked the comments in this thread about the poor neighborhoods falling (quite literally) apart and the mood and feelings and ideas it evokes. I myself come from an poor though educated household (because of my autistic, unemployed father raising four kids on his own), but in the Netherlands this is not as visual as in many other countries. Houses don’t really decay here, because they are mended by the landlords or broken down (it has to do with our environmental laws). I’m a bit ‘jealous’ of our neighbouring country Belgium, where this is not the case. Our country prospers (well, most of the people), but is a bit too clean and regulated. I made it a challenge to myself to look for where the ‘weird’ hides in our country – if not in houses, maybe in people themselves? It’s difficult to project gothic tropes in my land. But I keep looking, because something in me says it has to be visible somewhere.
I don't have much to say compared to either the show or Charles. But I wanted to say that I loved everything about this story except the ending, which was way too abrupt and (seemingly) disconnected from what preceded it. I enjoyed Glenn's and Brandon's reading that made more sense of the connections with the rogue police officer and the theme of family, but for my part I could have done with the story having a bit more time to develop those things a bit more explicitly. I think part of my frustration is that Ligotti promised so much with the themes and imagery of this story, but then didn't really deliver or follow through as much as I was hoping.
Anyway, some thoughts that occurred to me as I was reading/listening.
I didn't think of Daniel's family as squatters. Rather, I think we're supposed to see a contrast between Daniel's father's philosophy of everything being rented and Candy, who has all the same things (albeit lower quality), but doesn't even rent them and has no claim to even rented possession. Since that's Daniel's father's philosophy taken to the extreme, we're supposed to understand that, despite the squalor, Candy lives a "purer" life than Daniel's family.
To me the hermaphrodite police officer represents the physical embodiment of the breakdown of the impurity of family (at least in a biological sense). Again, though, we have this manifesting in what to us seems impure (grotesque), at least as seen through Daniel's reaction.
My reading of the father's impurities wasn't quite as extreme as Glenn's. Or at least, I didn't understand it as a critique of the extremes of modern twentieth-century dictators as a whole. To me the story had a kind of Brave New World undertone to it. Just like the leaders in that novel, the father wants to get rid of the shackles of traditional society: nationality, religion and family. And he wants to do so via some kind of scientific experimentation. But the story goes out of its way to demonstrate how (horrifically) wrong the father is. So in that sense I thought it was a critique of socialism/communism specifically.
Teatro Grottesco is his best collection for your cast, because all the stories are an appropriate length for an episode. There are all really good, I would suggest "The Town Manager" for an episode. That's good because it shows off his more technical writing style. I was just reminded of a particularly revolting thing that happened to me, when I was 6 or there abouts. My mother, my mother's friend, my sister and I were having a picnic. My mother's friend asked if I wanted a pickle. I did. She then preceded to take the pickle out of the jar, sucked all the juices off of it, putting the whole pickle in her mouth, and than offered it to me. I declined. I don't think my mother was friends with her very long after that.
Laird Barron's stuff is set in Washington, a lot of it. Though I haven't read enough of his stuff to quite know if he hits that Yakima/Renton aesthetic correctly.
yes! Thank you for getting us to read more Ligotti. I got into him back when True Detective s1 was a hit and I was reading about the influences on that show. Ligotti came up specifically with regard to Rust Cole's antinatalist views. I think that show also got his first collection back in print from Penguin, which was cool, so I picked it up.
I was reading it on the train the day that I got it and some guy on the subway talked for a bit with me about it. I think we would have gotten a beer and talked books if we were getting off at the same stop. Purity was just so uncanny and strange. I loved everything about it. There's a particular skill that only a few authors possess that, when I come across it, I'm in awe of their ability. The skill is the ability to keep a story hanging together purely with providing a sequence of events with only the ghost of a plot lurking in the background. Even the themes are spectral. Ligotti nailed this in Purity.
While I'm sympathetic to the antinatalist views, it's tough to philosophically hold that position because it's like, even if it is true that it is better to have not been born, we were, and so now what? But you can see how Ligotti is trying to work this issue in Purity. He wants to expose, as you put it Charles, the despair of living in these rotted out and forgotten neighborhoods, and the fragility of families put under those circumstances. But I love the way he's able to leave questions lingering and haunt you with visceral imagery, like, of course, the hot dogs.
Haha, well, you definitely got me with the hot dog. I wasn't exaggerating when I said that Elizabeth came rushing in from the other room to see if I was okay. And I wasn't. But what a great story -- I'm so glad you suggested it, and now we've got Teatro Grottesco, so we'll be able to work our way through it. Ligotti has probably been the biggest surprise for me as we get near the end of Elder Sign's first year on the air, and I'm really grateful for being introduced to him.
I hadn't realized that Ligotti is from Detroit, but it makes perfect sense to me now. My great-grandmother lived in Detroit her whole life, and she lived in a neighborhood that had largely imploded but couldn't afford to move (at least not by the time she realized she should), and it was always a genuinely weird experience to go visit her as a kid. I've also seen some of the Pacific Northwest you describe and it made a huge impression on me -- it was a different kind of rot and depression than the kind I'd mostly only otherwise seen in the Rust Belt and Northern England. We'd be really eager to read some weird fiction taking place in the PNW, by the way, so if you've got any suggestions, please send them our way.
It is vastly easier to point out problems than to offer solutions, and even Wolfe mostly is just critiquing corporate capitalism in the stories we're covering now without really suggesting specific and practical solutions. But offering solutions is kind of a trap for speculative-fiction writers because that's the moment you become "political." While I enjoyed Operation Ares far more than I was expecting to, it still feels vastly different than Hour of Trust or Forlesen (or even V.R.T.) because Wolfe advocates a specific policy. The same is true with Kim Stanley Robinson or Heinlein -- it's impossible to have a conversation about their (often excellent) work without someone complaining about how "political" they are (at least not on the Internet), while I think Ligotti is able to get away with it here (and largely Wolfe, too).