There is another world, but it is in this one.

Paul Eluard. Œuvres complètes, vol. 1, Gallimard, 1968.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Black autumn: The Orangefield Cycle by Al Sarrantonio



HORRORWEEN Book One of the Orangefield Series By Al Sarrantonio (2006)


HALLOWS EVE Book Two of the Orangefield Series By Al Sarrantonio (2004)


HALLOWEENLAND Book Three of the Orangefield Series By Al Sarrantonio (2007)




Sarrantonio has been known to me as an anthologist and a short story writer since the 1990s. His millennial anthology 999 is a keeper, not quite on the level of Dark Forces, but certainly shelf- worthy.


Since summer is ending, and the weather had turned autumnal last weekend (briefly), I decided to read the first Orangefield novel, Horrorween. It's a novel filled with small town and rural fall atmosphere. The plot is episodic, apparently a paste-up of short stories or novellas. But there is real emotional poignancy as notes of loss and existential confusion are struck. 


Orangefield, in bucolic upstate New York, is the world's pumpkin capitol. It is also home to seasonal "weird shit," as strange local events are termed by police detective Bill Grant. Grant becomes central to the trilogy, an older man at low ebb whose mad wife, drinking, and smoking are sending him to an early grave. 


The trilogy, in fact, is in addition to being a tale of apocalypse, a story of Grant's moral and physical reclamation. Grant is no Carnacki or John Silence; the breaks he gets come from doggedness, smarts, and the trust of people who become allies.


Samhain, the "Lord of the Dead" in Sarrantonio's theogony, finds his own brand of salvation in the course of the trilogy. It ultimately takes the form of a kind of self-forgetting. In Horrorween, Samhain is depicted as a local goblin, visiting misfortunes on the locals. By Hallows Eve he has become a pawn of a much darker entity.  In Halloweenland, he chooses to become a traitor to his annihilating overlord, throwing in his lot with humanity.


Sarrantonio employs doubling very effectively. Peter Kerlan in Horrorween is doomed to defeat by the dark forces threatening his sanity. In Hallows Eve, Corrie Phaeder fulfills the same role as protagonist, but achieves a more weighty apotheosis via self-sacrifice.


Doubling also provides mentors for Detective Bill Grant. In Hallows Eve it is pumpkin farmer and retired police chief Riley Gates, who steers Grant into alliance with Corrie Phaeder. In Halloweenland, the mentoring role is taken up by retired detective Tom Malone, now a resident of Ireland.


Librarian Kathy Marks assumes the scholars' role in the first two novels, though she also does her fair share of detecting. The role of local scholar, providing historical background to Orangefield's periods of "weird shit," is eventually taken over by Thomas Robert Reynolds, Jr., who also replaces his own father in the role.


Sarrantonio gives the reader plenty of gore to punctuate the thrills and mystery. There are also psychic children and possessed kids, as well as some grubby criminal catspaws as murderously effective stooges.


The Orangefield novel trilogy is a fitting pendant for the season. It is filled with moods of belatedness and personal vicissitude as the human characters confront exceptional eruptions of the supernatural into the unstable terrain of everyday carnage.


....Here on earth, all of the real supernatural occurrences, the ghost sightings, monsters, poltergeists— all of the things that Halloween has turned into a game— are the result of certain… minor overlaps between your world and mine. When something… supernatural happens here, it is because a momentary, and never permanent, crossing has taken place. We are the source of all your boogie men, detective Grant. Sometimes these crossings are benign, at other times they are less so. You must remember that everyone who dies on Earth crosses to this way station, the good and the bad."




Jay

14 September 2019






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