Friday, April 19, 2013

Short Story Spotlight: Spyder

In conjunction with Horror Hosts Week, this edition of Short Story Spotlight is going retro: back to Norman Partridge's 1996 tale
"Spyder" (collected in The Man with the Barbed-Wire Fists).

The story is a clever fictional riff on the relationship between the ill-fated James Dean and Maila Nurmi (a.k.a. Vampira).  Here the latter is rechristened Layla, who hosts a televised spook show in Los Angeles as "Rigormortia."  The twist, though, is that Layla actually possesses witchy/vampiric powers, and uses her dark arts to help keep the actor narrator's name in bright lights.  Matters get complicated between the two figures, and both engage in a spiteful power play, but initially they were a hell of a team.  At the start of the story, the narrator reminisces (thirty years after the fact) about the wild ride he shared with the enigmatic femme:
The things we did together.  Like the time we drove from Hollywood to the Napa Valley and back, all in one night.  Impossible.  I mean the Spyder was fast, but it wasn't that fast.  Layla knew how to make it move, though.  A couple of drops of her blood in the carb, and that little Porsche sports-car roared like a Saberjet.
Fans familiar with James Dean's biography will appreciate Partridge's sinister revision of the details of the screen legend's life and death.  But the story succeeds on several levels at once.  It is replete with creepy weirdness (including a nocturnal visit to a graveyard to resurrect a corpse).  It's also highly erotic (e.g. "And there was Layla.  Her generous breasts pressed against the other side of the window, and her hands covered the same spots that the columnist's covered, but Layla's fingers were longer, slimmer.  She held the hem of her black dress between white teeth.").  It works as an elegiac memoir, as the narrator reflects upon the wreckage of his stellar career.  And it exhibits literary flair, using Hemingway's Death in the Afternoon as a symbolic touchstone.  In short, the hard-to-pin-down "Spyder" is vintage Partridge, and makes for a terrific read during Horror Hosts Week or at any other time.

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