Thursday, August 15, 2013

Countdown: The Top 20 Joe R. Lansdale Works of Short Fiction--#18

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

#18. "Personality Problem"

This 1983 offering is representative of another tale type Lansdale does so well: the quick and quirky narrative, punctuated by an ironic twist.

The piece is structured as a dramatic monologue in which Frankenstein's Monster vents his existential angst to a psychiatrist.  A large part of the humor here stems from the Monster's sheer verbosity (he's come a long way from the days of Karloffian grunts and moans).  Furthermore, the figure comes across as a chagrined schlub, grousing:
Yeah, I know, doc.  I look terrible and don't smell any better.  But you would, too, if you stayed on the go like I do, had a peg sticking out of either side of your neck and this crazy scar across the forehead.  You'd think they might have told me to use cocoa butter on the place, after they took the stitches out, but naw, no way.  They didn't care if I had a face like a train track.  No meat of their nose.
With sardonic wit, the Monster goes on to describe his "getup" as "Early wino or late drug addict."  He admits to attracting strange stares whenever he walks down the street: "Coat's too small, pants too short.  And these boots, now they get the blue ribbon."  And with his mismatched arms and one shoulder humped higher than the higher, the Monster can forget about ever trying to get fitted for a new suit.

"Personality Problem" pleases with its presentation of a surprise narrator (who never officially names himself, but provides plenty of clues to his identity).  Readers who are fans of the classic Universal horror movies also get to indulge in a bit of nostalgia, as Lansdale's Monster recounts the various mishaps he's suffered.  He has run famously afoul of the mob many times over the years:
"They've trapped me in windmills, castles, and labs.  All sorts of places.  Some guy out there in the crowd always gets the wise idea about the fire, and there we go again--Barbecue City."

In the story's climax, the Monster's lament is cut short by the sudden smell of smoke; the beleaguered speaker is forced to realize that his personality complex ("this feeling that everybody hates me on sight") is well-founded.  His own shrink has shrunk away from him in horror, setting fire to the office and locking the patient inside.  When it comes to this Monster, anyone can turn into an Angry Villager at a moment's notice.  The misbegotten creature is perennially unloved, but that doesn't mean plenty of people don't carry a torch for him.

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