Book Review: Teatro Grottesco

Teatro GrottescoTeatro Grottesco by Thomas Ligotti
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Individual stories within would range from 4-5 stars down to no worse than 2.

First, the mechanical stuff: Ligotti’s prose is rich without being florid, though his use of repetition to increase the reader’s unease and build dread can wear a little thin in some stories. His tone reflects his influences in the world of weird fiction (more Machen than HPL in that way…HPL’s monsters were too “overt” to bear comparison to the unsettling dread that one will find here).

As far as themes/plot, it’s a difficult thing to read cover-to-cover. Ligotti’s relentless nihilism and Wallander-bleak worldview is deeply unsettling for a story or two, but to me grew a little tiresome if I pressed much further in any one sitting. His characters variously suffer from his own maladies (including several stories that involve his at-the-time undiagnosed diverticulitis…lots of characters of artistic temperament being plagued by maladies of the digestive track — the ultimate bodily betrayal). And they all uniformly share his outlook — that the universe and human existence is entirely pointless. This is sometimes presented as some sort of profound revelatory moment, but didn’t really land with as much punch as the story seemed to think I should feel.

Standout bests in this collection: “The Red Tower” and “In a Foreign Town, a Foreign Land” are both fantastic. Honorable mentions for the (similar to each other in theme) “The Town Manager” and “Our Temporary Supervisor,” which read like Poe or Lovecraft writing Kafka pastiches about the existential horror of bureaucracy and factory work, respectively.

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