Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Other by Thomas Tryon

Do you know about the well?  That dark and secret place where the accident happened--one of the accidents, I should say.  The hanging.  No, not that kind, but in its way nearly as horrible.  Can oyu hear it, the noisy grating of the pulley as the rope travels through, spinning the rusty wheel, dropping its burden down, down into the blackness?  The savage cries; terrible, shocked, outraged cries of fury, of horror.  No.  I said it was not that sort of hanging, not one of those state executions--well, yes, execution of sorts, but only because Holland didn't like cats.  Hated them, in fact.  Yes, it was a cat; didn't I mention that?  Trouble, the old woman's animal, her pet.  Got this rope around Trouble's neck--he could make a noose with ease--dragged it through the drive and hanged the cat in the well.  For spite.  The trouble was--excuse the pun--he darn near hanged himself.  Poor Holland.

Holland and Niles Perry are twins, living in the quiet Connecticut town of Pequot Landing.  Niles is the quiet one, the sensitive one.  Holland is the one that murders cats.  Early on in Tom Tryon's The Other, Holland moves from petty cruelties toward animals to straight-up murderousness, leaving a sharp pitchfork hidden in the hayloft where his annoying cousin, Russell, likes to dive into the hay.  Niles struggles to understand his brother with the compulsive attachment of the twin, but Holland is increasingly distant and prone toward evil.

The beginning of The Other is intriguing and mysterious, and the end--spoiler alert--is terrific.  It's not so much the realization that Holland has really been dead for nearly a year (he drowned himself killing the cat), and that Niles has been trying to keep his brother alive by committing horrible deeds in his stead, but the power of a single, final image: Niles' sister's infant child, having disappeared, found finally floating in a cask of wine.  A certain kind of book (or film, which The Other became--Tryon was a middlingly successful actor and turning it into a movie was probably always the goal) might have shied away from that last bit, saving the child at the last minute, but The Other doesn't want to pull that punch.

The middle of The Other, though, is quite a slog.  It's over-stuffed with symbols: a ring, a severed finger, the wine cask, a mysterious cellar, a Chinese magic trick, a pin shaped like a moon, a lamp, a hat, a doll--all of them imported from the tropes and vocabulary of the small town with a dark secret.  It's over-stuffed, too, with characters: a neverending troupe of aunts and uncles and townspeople who are meant to give the novel a sense of life but mostly provide tedium.  Tryon's method is to write long interstitial scenes of Niles' life at home, and to forecast moments of horror, only to pull away at the last minute and let the truly interesting parts happen "off-screen."  In a film, a sense of foreboding might make these scenes work, but I was too frustrated with The Other to really appreciate the pulpy nastiness of the way it ended.

No comments: