Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Countdown: The Top 20 Joe R. Lansdale Works of Short Fiction--#19

[For the previous entry on the Countdown, click here.]

#19. "Big Man: A Fable"

Forty-five-year-old Tim Burke is a prototypical wretch: short, bald, under-endowed, abundantly ugly.  But when he eagerly tries an experimental pill to counteract his various inadequacies, he transforms into an impressive specimen of masculinity: "He stood now at six-two, well-hung, with a head and chest full of black hair you could have used to knit a sweater and a throw rug and maybe one mitten."  The eponymous "Big Man" (story available for online reading in the Summer 2008 issue of Subterranean Press Magazine) is born, brimming with strength and virility.

The problem is, Tim keeps growing, at an exponential rate (alas, those pesky side effects).  He progressively turns into a gargantuan grotesque, in terms of both his towering size and insatiable appetites.  After outgrowing his bed, clothes, car, and home, anything-but-tiny Tim goes on a monstrous global rampage.  The deviant behemoth drinks lakes dry, uses the Eiffel Tower as a toothpick; humans and cows serve as his handy substitutes for toilet paper.  Tim's libido also seems to increase proportionately:
"He fornicated with holes in the sides of mountains; had Kilimanjaro been a woman, she would have been pregnant ten times over."

Lansdale's narrative, however, is not just an exercise in excess, as the story offers satiric commentary on humanity's acts of wanton consumption.  Recklessly and myopically obsessed with self-gratification, the "Big Man" stands as an extreme version of every man.  He pollutes the earth and exhausts its precious resources without an ounce of regret or any sense of responsibility:
Soon the messes he made, the piles of shit he left, the urine he pooled, took their toll.  The world stunk, and he, who merely thought of himself now as Big Man, didn't give a flying fuck through a rolling doughnut about the world, or about himself.  It was all a matter of the now and not the tomorrow.
With his carnivalesque wit and affinity for grotesque imagery, Lansdale could always pass as a latter-day Rabelais.  Never, though, has the resemblance between the two writers been more evident than in this fabulously transgressive tale.

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