Monday, August 25, 2014

Fear - Chapter 2, Part 1 - Awakening

Lowry realizes a few things: it's twilight, he's half a block away from Tommy's house, and according to his watch it's a quarter to seven.  Except just last chapter when he was leaving Tommy's house it was a quarter to three, and he has no recollection of what happened in the intervening time.  As foretold by the back of the book, Lowry has lost four hours of his life.

The impact of this is only slightly lessened when the author describes how Lowry's chattering teeth "castaneted" until he got them under control.  If you're trying to build a mood of creeping horror, I'd argue against evoking Spanish folk dance. 

Once his teeth are done doing the zambra, Lowry tries to figure out what went wrong.  He's never been drunk, and he only had that one drink at Tommy's, and that shouldn't have caused a blackout.  He also knows it's not that mildly inconvenient malaria - that might "knock a man out, but even in delirium a man knew where he was, and he certainly had no symptoms of being delirious."  And since it's not the beer or the malaria, it's certainly not the beer and the malaria, so Lowry is pretty stumped.

He began to walk rapidly toward his home.  He had a gnawing ache inside him which he could not define,


and he carried along that miserable sensation of near-memory which goes with words that refuse to come but halfway into consciousness; if he only tried a little harder he would know where he had been.

I'm glad Hubbard grew out of his semicolon phase by the time he was writing thousand-page literary tofurkeys, I have enough reasons to hate Mission Earth as it is.

The night was ominous to him and it was all that he could do to keep his pace sane; every tree and bush was a lurking shape which might at any moment materialize into--into-- in the name of God, what was wrong with him? 


Could it be that he was afraid of the dark?


So Lowry goes home.  Now, he just blacked out for four hours and has no idea why, and if it were me, I might consider paying an emergency visit to the doctor, or maybe even backtrack to the last place I remember being at so I could try to retrace my footsteps.  But Lowry's all shaken up and his mouth is full of Andalusian music, so I guess we can understand why he'd want to go home and make a pillow fort.  Plus he has malaria, which we can use to excuse any action he performs that might not at first glance make a lot of sense.

His house is dark, and just as he sets eyes upon it Lowry hears Mary shriek "Jim!  Oh, my God!  Jim!"  Lowry leaps into action, nearly battering down the door as he rushes inside, but finds nothing but "silence and memory."  Hubbard consistently breaks even here, working to build dread by mentioning the wind moaning around the old house and the furniture lurking like beasts in the darkness, then undermining himself by describing Lowry's fingers as "hungry" as he turns on lights.  Head pounding, sick to his stomach with terror, Jim sits down and concludes that Mary is gone.  He reflects on how much Mary means to him, how horrible he is to leave her alone in this boring college town while he's off in the Yucatán Desert, and reassures himself that nothing bad could happen to her because this is after all a boring college town.

There's a break in the story, and immediately in the next section, Mary walks in the front door.  Well, the unease was fun while it lasted, I guess.

Jim's arms are "almost crushing her" with the force of his relief, to say nothing of ruining her 'do and clothes.  But it's okay, we get some Hubbard Romantic Dialogue.

"You're beautiful," said Lowry.  "You're lovely and grand and if I didn't have you I would walk right out and step off a cliff."

"You better not."

"You're the only woman in the world.  You're sweet and loyal and good!"

I can't help but feel that three magic words in particular are missing from all this.  Oh well, must be the malaria.

Mary asks where he's been, Lowry admits that he doesn't know, but his wife is more worried about his shivering.  She was out looking for him, wondering why he's been taking walks and visiting people instead of in staying in bed to recover from his malaria.  Good question, Mary!

"I'm sorry I worried you."

She shrugged.  "Worry me a little now and then and I'll know how much I worship you.  But here we are gabbing and you haven't had anything to eat.  I'll get you something immediately."

"No!  I'll get it.  Look.  You just sit down there by the fire and I'll light it and-"


"You do as I tell you.  You sit there where I can look at you and be your most beautiful and I'll rustle up my chow.  Now don't argue with me."

She smiled at him as he forced her down into the chair and giggled at him when he dropped the sticks he had picked up from the basket.  "Clumsy old bear."

Well... it was 1940, alright?  Twilight would have been considered a progressive, feminist piece back then.

So this section ends with Lowry slapping together a sandwich, pouring himself a glass of milk instead of making coffee because he's worried that Mary will be gone again if he takes too long.  Nice of him to play caretaker/assert his dominance over his wife like that, but dude.  You've got malaria.  You don't know where you've been for the past four hours.  And nobody else is around to question your masculinity.  It might be okay to be babied a bit.

Next time we'll try to clear up that scream Lowry heard before entering his house.

Back to Chapter 1, part 3

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