Friday, September 25, 2015

Jacob Clark Henneberger on Campus

I received a request from a reader in France for a photograph of Jacob Clark Henneberger (1890-1969), co-founder and publisher of Weird Tales magazine. Here is his senior picture from the yearbook of Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, from 1913. Henneberger was then twenty-three years old. A decade later he published the first issue of Weird Tales, the magazine that--like the past--never dies.

The day before yesterday I had the three hundred thousandth visit to my blog. I figure about half of those are Russian hackers and Chinese spammers, but I want to say thank you to everyone else for reading.

Text and captions copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Undead Past

"The past is never dead. It's not even past."
--from Requiem for a Nun by William Faulkner (1951)

My grandfather, a son of illiterate Irish immigrants, was born in 1891. His older brother Willie drowned in the canal just west of downtown Indianapolis when he was four, leaving my grandfather as the oldest of the brood. He grew up to marry a dark Irish beauty and went to work as a government meat inspector. The two sent their four oldest sons to war. Four more served in the 1950s. Their only daughter, my aunt, died less than a month ago. She was buried in a cemetery plot purchased by her father in 1945. Even now, fifty-six years after his death, he has continued to provide for his family.

I don't know how it happened exactly, but my Irish grandfather--tall, able, hardworking, a natural aristocrat--and his wife--dark, devout, and I imagine long-suffering--carried through them something of the undead past. Forces from long ago lived in their generation and in their children's generation and still yet in their children's children's generation. Now we are like Quentin Compson and his Harvard roommate in another Faulkner novel attempting to solve the mystery of what went on all those years ago that things should be as they are today. The Irish have a sense of fatedness that very often elides into a sense of doom. It would be easy to fall into that and believe that forces from the past are irresistible. To believe in an irresistible fate or doom might be a mistake. But it might also be a mistake to believe that we can escape from or are unaffected by a past that is never dead.

Lamont Buchanan's father, Charles Lamont Buchanan, Sr., was born in 1884 in New York City. His parents were divorced and his mother died when he was a child. There was tussling over guardianship and inheritance which was finally settled by the end of the century. Buchanan eventually became a successful writer and critic. In 1948, he secured an apartment in his native city, an apartment that is--or was until recently--a home for his son, Lamont Buchanan, and his son's wife, Jean Milligan. In 1949, perhaps in some security, Lamont Buchanan left the employ of Weird Tales magazine. For the next seven years, he made a go at being an author of books. Then, with his last book in 1956, he seems to have fallen silent. Like his onetime or then-current friend J.D. Salinger, he retreated into seclusion. Unlike with Salinger, no one seems to have sought him out. No one now wonders about unpublished manuscripts among his papers.

Charles Lamont Buchanan, Sr., died in 1962. That was more than half a century ago. The scandal in his family, if you can call it that, occurred in the last decade of the nineteenth century. The weird story of his ancestor's suicide is from near the beginning of that century, now two hundred years past. All of those events--and countless more--are past and yet seemingly not past. They have shaped the people who came after them, and by that, shaped the history of weird fiction in America. Likewise, whatever trauma or pathology or quirk of personality that made J.D. Salinger the writer and subsequently the recluse that he was also resides in the province of the past. Yet people still read his books, which came out of his personal or familial past. Moreover, Salinger's two children survive. Lamont Buchanan and Jean Milligan may or may not have had a daughter. If there is such a person, then the undead past must live on in her as well, just as it does in all of us.

I don't want to invade the privacy of Lamont Buchanan and his family. That's the reason why I hesitate to tell the whole story as I know it. You might think it silly to consider events from half a century or a century ago to be private, but those things are not dead, and just as I wouldn't want someone unknown to me probing into my family, I won't probe into someone else's. And yet I have. What I have already written may have gone too far. I guess one difference might be that Lamont Buchanan made of himself a person of public interest. Our probing might be excusable. But that's a pretty weak excuse.

I'll close by saying that no, I don't believe J.D. Salinger was Allison V. Harding. That's a ridiculous idea, despite the uncanny similarities between their respective scenes at the carousel. I believe Lamont Buchanan was Allison V. Harding. But I also believe that any connections between the two men ought to be explored to the fullest extent. Scholars of literature are always looking for some new line of research in a world in which all possibilities have been exhausted. Here is something new and unexhausted. Someone should go to it.

Copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, September 19, 2015

J.D. Salinger and Lamont Buchanan

J.D. Salinger was one of the most famous recluses of the twentieth century. Born on January 1, 1919, in New York City, Salinger attended public schools in Manhattan, then the McBurney School, also in Manhattan, and Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Valley Forge in 1936 and attended New York University in 1936-1937, Ursinus College in the fall semester of 1938, and Columbia University beginning in 1939.

Salinger's career as a published author began in March-April 1940 with "The Young Folks," a vignette in Story magazine. The editor of Story was Whit Burnett (1900-1972), who became a mentor to and correspondent of the young writer. Salinger went on, of course, to write The Catcher in the Rye (1951), Nine Stories (1953), Franny and Zooey (1961), and finally Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction (1963). By the early 1960s, he had begun living like a recluse, claiming, "It is my rather subversive opinion that a writer's feelings of anonymity-obscurity are the second most valuable property on loan to him during his working years." (Quoted in Time, Aug. 4, 1961.) His last published story was "Hapworth 16, 1924" in The New Yorker, June 19, 1965. After that, Salinger retreated into Greta Garbo-like seclusion and died in his New Hampshire home on January 27, 2010, at age ninety-one. Curiously, he was involved, though briefly, in Dianetics.

Charles Lamont Buchanan was younger than J.D. Salinger by two months and six days. Born on March 7, 1919, in New York City, Buchanan eventually dropped the "Charles" and became simply Lamont Buchanan, probably to set himself apart from his father. In the late 1930s he was living in New Canaan, Connecticut. He may have graduated from New Canaan High School at about the same time as his future wife, Jean Milligan, but I haven't found any evidence of that. The high school itself doesn't have yearbooks or records from that long ago. I also haven't found anything showing that Lamont Buchanan attended college, but somehow or other he landed a job as associate editor at Weird Tales in September 1942. He was then twenty-three years old. 

Lamont Buchanan remained with Weird Tales until September 1949. He published a number of books on history, sports, politics, and transportation between 1947 and 1956. From that year forward, though, he seems to have become a recluse. If he is still living, Mr. Buchanan is likely at home in his apartment in New York City. His wife, Jean Milligan, died on December 6, 2004, in New York City. The Buchanans may have a daughter, but like everything else in their lives, the facts are lost in secrecy and obscurity.

I didn't find anything to show that Lamont Buchanan attended college until I did find something to show that he attended college. Today (Sept. 16, 2015), I found out that he attended Columbia University. And that he knew J.D. Salinger. And that he is supposed by at least one person to have been a model for Holden Caulfield. And I find all of that to be incredible, not as in unbelievable but as in incredible that only now is this showing up anywhere in the universe. One of the most well-known and intensely studied American authors of the twentieth century, and only now are we hearing about all of this. (Well, in 2012 anyway.) I wonder if it's even true or if it's all just a hoax.

The information comes from an article called "Top Tips for Writers from J.D. Salinger--Advice from Beyond the Grave" by Noel Young, dated January 26, 2012, and posted on the website The Drum. The article tells of how Shirley Ardman, an eighteen-year-old journalism student at Columbia University, who may have been going by the name Louise Brown or Louise Baker at the time, landed an interview with Salinger in 1940. Salinger had only recently entered the fraternity of published authors with his story "The Young Folks." Shirley's assignment was to interview someone from that fraternity. One of her classmates knew Salinger and provided an introduction. The classmate was named Lamont Buchanan.

Shirley met Salinger in a hotel bar where he drank Ballantine's and she had a cocktail. They talked about writing, magazines, and fiction in general. From their talk, Shirley Ardman composed a 1,200-word piece that went unpublished until 2012 and the aforementioned article in The Drum. The piece, called "A Case of Youth," begins as follows:
"People are stupid," Mr. Salinger observed, glancing vacantly at the other occupants of the bar. "Certainly they’re stupid," he repeated, "or they wouldn’t read all the tripe that’s ground out for the pulp and slick magazines. Why, the hacks that write those stories are no better than the people who read them."
There are some things to take away from that paragraph. First is the sophomoric arrogance. Second is the implication that Salinger read pulp magazines. Third is that he doesn't seem to have made much of a distinction between things written for pulps vs. for slicks. Fourth is that the author sounded a little like his future youthful protagonist, Holden Caulfield. And fifth is that he also sounded a little like Lamont Buchanan, who wrote, as Allison V. Harding, the following:
Abernathy wondered if those around him were as miserable as he was, or if their misery was an unrecognized, locked-up something deep inside. For this underground tomb [a subway station] was a place for reflection, although conversely, in its bustle and noisome urgency, humans could take holiday from their consciences, and pushing, wriggling, hurrying off and on these mechanized moles that bore them to and from their tasks, forget, and in the forgetting be complacent. (From "Take the Z-Train" in 100 Wild Little Weird Tales [1994], p. 488)
That's not arrogance exactly, but it also doesn't display a very high opinion of humanity. One difference is that Salinger seems to have placed himself above humanity, while Buchanan's protagonist recognized himself as one among them.

The article by Noel Young tells about Shirley Ardman's meeting with J.D. Salinger and a little about herself. Fans of Weird Tales will be especially interested to read the following words:
A classmate of Shirley's, Lamont Buchanan, who knew Salinger, offered to introduce them, and so the meeting was arranged.
Later, Shirley was to suggest that Lamont was at least in part the model for Holden Caulfield, the central figure in The Catcher in the Rye.
and these:
Shirley, who now suffers from Alzheimer’s, remembered little of the actual interview but she scorned our use of the name "J.D. Salinger." "We called him Jerry," she insisted.
She seemed to remember Lamont Buchanan much better, correcting my [Mr. Young's] Scottish way of pronouncing his first name.
If Lamont Buchanan was the model for Holden Caulfield, this is the first I have heard of it. It may be the first that anybody has heard of it. That's one of the things I find so incredible.

Shirley Baker Ardman died on March 12, 2014, presumably in Swampscott, Massachusetts, at age ninety-two. Born in Weston, West Virginia, she was returned to her native state for burial. Whatever she may have remembered about Lamont Buchanan is now forgotten in her passing. That leaves us to make whatever we can of her account.

So was the Lamont Buchanan she knew the same Lamont Buchanan who worked for Weird Tales? There is good reason to believe that he was, for he was of the right age, in the right place, and engaged in the right field of endeavor. If Mr. Buchanan attended Columbia University until graduating at about age twenty-two (a supposition), and if he was himself connected or connected through friends to the world of magazine publishing in New York, then there can be little wonder how he arrived at Weird Tales in 1942. A biography of Harry Aveline Perkins (1919-?), Lamont Buchanan's predecessor, might be illuminating at this point. Did the two young men know each other before 1942? Did Perkins also attend Columbia? And did Perkins know J.D. Salinger or Shirley Ardman?

The questions continue: Did Lamont Buchanan really know J.D. Salinger? Were they friends? If so, for how long? When I first wrote about Allison V. Harding, I noted a similarity in her writing to that of John Collier (1901-1980), who wrote for the slick magazines of the 1940s, just as Salinger did. (Both contributed to The New Yorker and Esquire.) I wonder now if Lamont Buchanan, if he was Allison V. Harding, had aspirations to writing for the slicks, or at the very least, if he emulated the writing style he saw there. Was he trying to be like John Collier or J.D. Salinger or even Ray Bradbury, who wrote for Weird Tales and other pulps before moving on to slick magazines? But now I'll take the wondering a little further into the realm of the unbelievable if not the impossible: I have supposed that Allison V. Harding was a man based on her stories. Once I made that supposition, the easiest conclusion was that Allison V. Harding was Lamont Buchanan. But what if Allison V. Harding was J.D. Salinger slumming among the pulps with the help of his friend Lamont Buchanan?

     "And at the end, the best of all--the merry-go-round, on the horses that went up and down, up and down, round and round, with the strange, strange wonderful music of the calliope--he would travel miles on his green and yellow horse even as Mother stood outside the world of his racetrack and gestured and seemed to stamp her foot, wanting him to stop and making motioning noises.
* * *
     "It was then--sometime during his umpteenth ride on the bucking green and yellow merry-go-round horse--then so that his seven-year-old mind knew well the whistling sounds of the calliope organ, then that something had come out of another world, it seemed--a thing of crashing noise and blinding light; a thing prefaced only by a little wetness and Mother's anger as she stood, no longer controlling him, already completely outside of his world, under a hastily raised umbrella, stamping her foot and calling to him.
     "Henry was caught up then in that instant by his friend, who took him in this time of greatest joy bursting like the nod of a flower. . . ."
--From "Take the Z-Train" by Allison V. Harding
Weird Tales (Mar. 1950)

     "Then the carrousel started, and I watched her go around and around. There were only about five or six other kids on the ride, and the song the carrousel was playing was 'Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.' It was playing it very jazzy and funny. All the kids kept trying to grab for the gold ring, and so was old Phoebe, and I was sort of afraid she'd fall off the goddam horse, but I didn't say anything or do anything. The thing with kids is, if they want to grab the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything. If they fall off they fall off, but it's bad if you say anything to them.
* * *
     "Boy, it began to rain like a bastard. In buckets, I swear to God. All the parents and mothers and everybody went over and stood right under the roof of the carrousel, so they wouldn't get soaked to the skin or anything, but I stuck around on the bench for quite a while. I got pretty soaking wet, especially my neck and my pants. My hunting hat really gave me quite a lot of protection, in a way; but I got soaked anyway. I didn't care, though. I felt so damn happy all of a sudden, the way old Phoebe kept going around and around. I was damn near bawling, I felt so damn happy, if you want to know the truth. I don't know why. It was just that she looked so damn nice, the way she kept going around and around, in her blue coat and all. God, I wish you could've been there."
--From The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
(1951)

Copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, September 18, 2015

Allison V. Harding-Revelations and Requests

So the Damp Man series by Allison V. Harding had antecedents in stories of water spirits, in "The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall" by John Kendrick Bangs, and in pulp magazines, comic books, and movies. The movie The Ring (2002) may have been drawn from some of those same sources (and the emo girl in The Incredibles [2004] from the emo girl in The Ring). But what about Allison's other stories? Were there also inspirations for those? This is another place where a study of Allison V. Harding's complete stories would be revealing. 

Like I said, I have read only five of Allison's thirty-six stories, the Damp Man series, "Take the Z-Train," and "The Marmot." "The Marmot" tells the story of an animal that has burrowed under a person's skin. I'm almost sure I have read a similar story, possibly by Fritz Leiber, Jr., but I can't place it. Allison also wrote a story called "The Murderous Steam Shovel," which was published in Weird Tales in November 1945. I haven't read the story, but in reading the title I can't help but think of "Killdozer!" by Theodore Sturgeon from Astounding Science-Fiction, November 1944. Were there other, similarly inspired stories by Allison V. Harding? Maybe you can help by reading her stories in the original and comparing them to other tales of fantasy and science fiction that came before them. I look forward to hearing from anyone feeling up to the task.

Copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Origins of the Damp Man

Art reveals something of the artist. It's why so many artists burn their work or wish it to be burned upon their deaths. Luckily, there is a Max Brod for every Franz Kafka--or for almost everyone who would see his work destroyed.

Lamont Buchanan and Jean Milligan seem to have lived hidden away from the world. Was it really such a terrible place? Or were the two not up to confronting it? I don't know. The imagination is like a pitcher used to fill the vessel of the unknown. I would say, though, that a study of Allison V. Harding's stories would likely reveal something of their author or authors. That might be more than the Buchanans would want. In any case, I have read only five of their stories. "The Damp Man Again" and "Take the Z-Train" are especially revealing.

One of the things I see in reading these five stories is that Allison V. Harding seems to have drawn on previous stories for inspiration. The Damp Man series--"The Damp Man" (July 1947), "The Damp Man Returns" (Sept. 1947), and "The Damp Man Again" (May 1949)--have antecedents. Most obviously, these included stories of weird menace, terror, or horror from the 1930s. The Damp Man also seems like a comic book villain to me, and he came along when millions of Americans--children and adults alike--were reading comic books every month. Although he is a man, the Damp Man is also a science-fictional creation. The Scooby-Doo endings of weird menace stories don't work with him. He is more nearly a supernatural creature--a monster--but with a scientific explanation. In Weird Tales and other magazines, Fritz Leiber, Jr., explicated the need for a scientific (and urban) "ghost" for the twentieth century. The Damp Man would seem to fit in that category.

The Damp Man is also a psychopath and a stalker. We're familiar with his type today. He would have been a more novel concept in the 1940s. However, six years before "The Damp Man" was published, the psychopath or stalker showed up in one of the first movies in a new form. The form was film noir. The movie was I Wake Up Screaming (1941) with Victor Mature, Betty Grable, and Carole Landis. Also called Hot Spot, I Wake Up Screaming features a creepy detective played by Laird Cregar. When I saw the movie, I thought of all the real-life and fictional psychos and stalkers of later years, such as John Hinckley, Jr. Moreover, I thought of the Damp Man, and I wondered if Lamont Buchanan had seen I Wake Up Screaming and called upon it when he created his own creepy and obsessive character of the late '40s.

The Damp Man is a science-based monster. His corpulence and turgidity are results of science gone wrong. As a twentieth-century "ghost" (by Leiber's formulation), the Damp Man can also be considered a kind of water spirit or water ghost, a concept that goes back to ancient times and ancient mythologies. I won't go into the history of water spirits and water ghosts, but I'd like to mention one in particular. The fact that the Damp Man is explainable by science (such as it is) sets him apart from others of his kind. His defeat sets him apart as well, for it is by being frozen that the Damp Man is foiled in his obsession (which can be called a kind of haunting). The Damp Man wasn't the first water ghost to suffer his fate, however. In 1891, Harper's Weekly Magazine published "The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall" by John Kendrick Bangs, a humorous story with a twist ending. Unlike ghost stories of old, the spirit in Bangs' story is defeated by a scientific process, freezing, just as the Damp Man was frozen more than half a century later. "The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall" was reprinted many times over the years and four times between Lamont Buchanan's birth in 1919 and the publication of "The Damp Man" in 1947. That's not to say that Mr. Buchanan read the story or was inspired by it. But there was precedence for freezing a water ghost, just as there was precedence in movies, comic books, and pulp fiction for the kind of character Mr. Buchanan developed in his Damp Man stories.

To be concluded . . . 

How has the world gone on without James Flora? I don't know. But at least we have his life's work to sustain us. That work includes his illustrations for A Red Skelton in Your Closet, a collection of ghost stories published by Grosset and Dunlap in 1965. Here is Flora's illustration for "The Water Ghost" by John Kendrick Bangs, previously published as "The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall."

Text and captions copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Wounds

Allison V. Harding wrote thirty-six stories for Weird Tales, more than any of the women and most of the men. Unlike the nine authors ahead of her on the list, Allison has never seen a collection of her stories in print. I doubt that there are many readers clamoring for such a collection, but for the sake of history or completeness there ought to be one. The problem of course--beyond a potentially very limited readership--has to do with copyrights. Who owns the rights to the stories of Allison V. Harding? I don't know. Viacom, the owners of the Weird Tales property, might. Or maybe the author herself or her heirs do. Or if Lamont Buchanan was in fact the author, and if he is still living, then maybe he does. The problems proliferate. I doubt that Jean Milligan (if she was the author) or Lamont Buchanan had or has a literary agent. That would go against the prevailing secrecy and reclusiveness of the Buchanan family. And how would anyone approach Mr. Buchanan or his heirs, if there are any, about reprinting his stories? After publishing his last book, Ships of Steam, in 1956, he seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth. I have his address and possibly his phone number, but Lamont Buchanan remains a mystery, probably by design.

In my research on different authors and artists, I have found that when someone seems to have disappeared from the public record or from society, it was not by accident or because of lost or inadequate records. It was by design. The illustrator Albert A. Matzke went into a hospital for the mentally ill. So did the cartoonist George O. Frink. Illustrator and cartoonist Russell O. Berg went down a different and equally obscure path. Margaret St. Clair successfully concealed her past from biographers and fans. She remained something of a recluse and a mystery throughout her long life. The secrecy, mystery, and obscurity of these people and of many others like them is almost always attributable to psychological and emotional issues, very often from childhood and childhood trauma.

In "Take the Z-Train," Lamont Buchanan told us what he was going to do: "He was going to break clean from the old life" (100 Wild Little Weird Tales [1994], p. 487). In 1949, he left Weird Tales. In 1956, he published his last book. In the sixty years since, he has lived a life unknown and unknowable to the outside world. The bitterness, unhappiness, and hopelessness of the author of "Take the Z-Train" seem to have been connected somehow to his childhood, or perhaps to his father's childhood. Mr. Buchanan's childhood ended nearly eight decades ago, yet the effects of childhood trauma would seem to persist. If the trauma--if there was one--originated in his father's childhood, or even farther back in the history of the Buchanan family, then the question arises: Is healing ever possible? Or do wounds last throughout the generations? I have the same questions about my own family, and the recent death of my ninety-year-old aunt have only brought them to the fore. My aunt had a wound--a physical wound--late in life. She tried to treat it herself. It festered in the darkness of her own treatment and almost killed her. It probably also precipitated her final illness and decline. I guess the lesson is that wounds don't heal in the dark or in secrecy. I wish my aunt had known that. I would say it to Lamont Buchanan and to the world if he or it would listen.

To be continued . . .

Copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Take the Z-Train

PulpFest took place a month ago, but I still haven't finished writing about it and the topics that came up because of it. I'll begin again with this one.

At PulpFest, I talked to a publisher about ideas for collections of stories that have never before been collected. The stories of Allison V. Harding are obvious candidates. Allison V. Harding is supposed to have been Jean Milligan (1919-2004). That supposition is based entirely (I think) on Sam Moskowitz's memory of seeing correspondence between Weird Tales magazine and Ms. Milligan before that correspondence was destroyed in the early 1970s while in the possession of editor Leo Margulies. In addition to being a supposed author, Jean Milligan was married to Lamont Buchanan (b. 1919), associate editor and art editor of Weird Tales from September 1942 to September 1949. He succeeded Harry Aveline Perkins.

Allison V. Harding's first story for Weird Tales was "The Unfriendly World" from July 1943. Her last was "Scope" from January 1951. We might call "Scope" an outlier, as it was published almost a year after the second to last, "Take the Z-Train," from March 1950. Note the dates for the first and the second to last: "The Unfriendly World" was published nine months after Buchanan started work for Weird Tales. "Take the Z-Train" came just six months after he finished there. That story may very well have been lined up for publication before he left. From the beginning almost to the end of her career, Allison V. Harding had Lamont Buchanan to guide her stories into publication. I don't think that's any coincidence.

I don't think Jean Milligan was Allison V. Harding. I think Lamont Buchanan was, and I think he used a double layer of cover to hide his identity: first, his wife's maiden name as the name of his pseudonymous author, and second, the address of an attorney--possibly someone in her family--as her address. The address of the attorney may have been why Sam Moskowitz believed Jean Milligan herself to have been an attorney. I haven't found any evidence that she was, but that's not to say that she wasn't.

So what evidence do I have that Lamont Buchanan was Allison V. Harding? Not much. But when I read the last Damp Man story, "The Damp Man Again," from May 1949, it came to me that this was not the writing of a woman but of a man. Not just a man, but a bitter or disaffected man, possibly a man in despair. "Take the Z-Train" is perhaps not so intensely bitter or despairing, but it is a story of a man who has, nonetheless, reached his end. The man is Henry Abernathy, an aging "Junior Assistant Supervisor of Transportation"--a title not unlike Buchanan's own at Weird Tales--and one ready to make a new start in his otherwise gloomy, boring, monotonous, and oppressive life. On his way home from work one evening, Abernathy mistakenly boards the Z train, a conveyance that carries him to what a few years later Rod Serling would call the Twilight Zone.

Like all of the Allison V. Harding stories I have read, the protagonist in "Take the Z-Train" is a man, and the story is told from a man's point of view and in a man's voice. This story is near hopeless, again, the work of a bitter person or one in despair. It closes with a memory or vision from Abernathy's childhood, a vision that is so strange and personal that it is almost incomprehensible to the reader. I sense that this vision was from Lamont Buchanan's own childhood and that it had significance to him that he could only suggest in story form. There may very well have been trauma in his childhood, almost certainly in the childhood of his father, whose name was attached to a scandal among the previous generation. Further back in the Buchanan family--in its mysterious Scottish past--there was yet more deep and strange despair. But those are tales for another time. For now I'll say that "Take the Z-Train," with its meditation on time and age, was a fitting valediction for the writing career of Allison V. Harding.

A cartoon without a caption by Charles Addams depicting the Z train, from the book Creature Comforts and originally published in The New Yorker in the late 1970s or early 1980s. Would Lamont Buchanan, also a New Yorker, have seen this cartoon? If so, would he have remembered the story by Allison V. Harding of many years before?

Text and caption copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Intermission

I have been away for two weeks. We had a death in our family, a not unexpected death, but a sad occasion nevertheless. My aunt lived a long life. She loved holidays. Halloween was one of her favorites, and her two houses became a study in Gothicism. My uncle, a Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown fan, told me that he would buy paperback novels for her. His implication was that they were the cheap, "trashy" kind of books from the 1950s and '60s, something he would not have touched but that she liked. They grew up in the pulp era and I wonder if they read mysteries or fantasy or even science fiction. In any event, I would like to say R.I.P. if saying that is not in bad taste these days. And in any event, I'm back and ready to begin writing again.

Copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley