Saturday, April 27, 2013

Mob Scene: "The Thing Too Hideous to Describe"

David J. Schow's 2003 short story "The Thing Too Hideous to Describe" (collected in Havoc Swims Jaded) is a sterling, Serling-esque satire of American values.  The story highlights the illusory nature of the idyllic small town, and censures the "superstitious paranoia and hidebound, inbred fear" that reduces townspeople to a monster-hating/-hunting mob.  For all its serious subtext, though, the narrative is driven by tongue-in-cheek humor.  It is also wonderfully self-aware of the conventions of angry-villager scenes in (Universal) monster movies.  At one point the titular grotesque (who makes for an unusual, but quite useful, viewpoint character) is approached for an interview by a doctoral student whose thesis concerns "the weird crowd behavior of group insanity in small, isolated towns and villages."  In the course of the discussion, the scholar, Steve, deconstructs the familiar filmic event:
"I mean, you've seen some of those movies, right?" said the Steve-creature.  "Who really makes out, every time the besotted Burgomeister decides, you know, to blow up another dam?  Local contractors, funeral directors, hardware stores, the makers of pitchfork and rope, gun dealers and distributors of ammunition, hell... monsters are great for their economy.  They all get shit-faced at the inn until their fizzed enough to see monsters, then they start grabbing for the dynamite.  And who do you think gets first crack at developing the destroyed real estate?  I mean, where's the real problem, here?"
Schow's story (which offers terrifically descriptive prose as well as pointed satire) climaxes with a plot twist that puts the drunken unreason and violent intolerance of the lynch-happy locals on full display.  From start to finish, "The Thing Too Hideous to Describe" forms arguably the greatest work of angry-mob fiction ever written.

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