Saturday, October 22, 2011

Ray's Vectors: The Black Carousel

[For the previous vector, click here.]

Anyone familiar with the work of the late, great Charles L. Grant knows that strangeness abounds in the small town of Oxrun Station, Connecticut.  Perhaps the only thing that could make this inherently American-Gothic burg any creepier is the arrival of a dark carnival.  And that's just what happens in Grant's 1995 collection of four linked novellas, The Black Carousel (whose very title hearkens back to Ray Bradbury's "The Black Ferris," the short story precursor to Something Wicked This Way Comes).

The itinerant carnival known as "Pilgrim's Travelers" has visited Oxrun Station sporadically over the years, setting up its putative amusements on the grounds of an abandoned farm.  Lurking in its shadowed heart is the eponymous ebon carousel.  But this is no Cooger-and-Dark knock-off: the ride is no time machine causing maturation or rejuvenation based on the direction of its spin.  The black carousel makes a misnomer of the "merry-go-round," as its dizzying spin and haunting music warp reality and deliver passengers to the world of worst nightmares.

It's hard to say whether Pilgrim's Travelers is eerier when it is bustling with activity at night or when it is shut down during daylight hours.  Whichever the case, the narrator of the book's frame story paints an unforgettable image of desolation when ruminating about carnivals and fairs:
Flares themselves, but blinding for a night or a weekend and just as swiftly gone, leaving behind nothing but an empty field, a blowing wind, tracks in the earth, and the smell not of cotton candy and candied apples, not of grease-paint and grease, but of a slow smiling dying.
The way a carousel sounds when the last tune's been played and the animals stop spinning.
Grant seizes upon Bradbury's fair-is-foul motif, but offers no identifiable carnival proprietor, no equivalent to Mr. Dark or Mr. Cooger (nor does any troupe of frightfully freakish underlings make appearance).  This seeming lack of attendants at Pilgrim's Travelers, though, only accentuates the ominousness of the attractions themselves.  For those who like their horror more unnerving than shocking, The Black Carousel provides one helluva ride.


Anonymous said...

I discovered this little gem last summer. SUCH a wonderful book. So unnerving. And sad, too...because I don't he wrote any Oxrun works after this...

Joe Nazare said...

I don't think Grant was ever better than when writing in this quartet-of-linked-novellas mode.(Ahh, if only he had lived to share even more tales of Oxrun Station...)