Monday, January 12, 2009

The Inside Scoop On Happiness


I wasn't a happy camper until I got my hands on "The Happy Man".

After reading a glowing Fangoria review, I set out to snag myself a copy. Unfortunately, its publisher, Paperjacks (long defunct), did a miserable job of distributing the book, so it dropped out of sight. Years went by. Lives changed. TV shows got axed. Nightmares of not ever reading "The Happy Man" plagued me. The book was making me very un-happy.

A chance encounter on-line pointed me to a seller who was holding a mint condition copy. After paying them close to what Paperjacks probably paid Eric C. Higgs to write the damn thing, I became the proud owner of a minor horror classic.

The book hooked me instantly with this: "The Marshes rotted in their house two full days before they were discovered by a delivery man from Sparklett's."

I never looked back. Sick humor and ghastly horror. Perfect.

"The Happy Man" of the title finds a grotesque brand of happiness when he is plunged into a strange, suburban world of perversion, mutilation and murder.

Eric C. Higgs might well be the unsung Albert Camus of horror. His trim little novel, which is perfect at 166 pages, is a masterpiece of humor, horror, subtlety and menace.

Originally published by St. Martin's Press in '85 (hardback, I presume), the Paperjacks edition is April, '86.

It's not speculating too wildly to say that the book's terrible cover may have contributed to its market demise.

Dropping the "C" from his name, Eric Higgs' returned in '87 with "Doppelganger". A St. Martin's Press paperback, it has a stronger supernatural slant and opens with a smart quote from von Schiller: "What the inner voice says will not disappoint the hoping soul."

Higgs' opening paragraph is funny and horrible at the same time: "The shove sent Mr. Sam tripping backward, arms flailing wildly. His ankles hit against the service island's curb and he started going down, right between the pumps for unleaded and unleaded supreme..."

"Doppelganger" was never going to rise to the level of brilliance accorded "The Happy Man", but it's not too shabby, either. Grisly. Grotesque. Odd. It's all that and more.

Where is Eric Higgs now? I don't know. Was he sent to Coventry by his competition? Did he retire with the non-profits of his only two horror novels?

This inquiring mind would like to know.

There is a fresh simplicity in Mr. Higgs' language, a sense that there's no disconnect between what he's thinking and what he's writing. He's giving us the bloodied truth. That makes him important.

I'm very happy that I discovered Eric C. Higgs , but his long absence from the genre is starting to chip away at my happiness.

4 comments:

  1. Wow, I had completely forgot about this book. I also read about it in Fangoria and had to read it. I remember jack squat about it, but I did enjoy it. And I don't know what this says about me, but I love the cover. Thanks for bringing back warm memories.

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  2. guitarbrother -- you're very welcome. The cover is delightfully crass and subversive. The Aussie horror flick, DEADLY BREED, recently copped flack for a similar marketing job.

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  3. I've had "The Happy Man" on my shelves for years (perhaps a decade or so) and each time I go to read it, something else crops up. I picked up "Doppelganger" at a charity stall and started reading it today and, combined with the smooth writing of that and your championing above, "The Happy Man" might finally get read!

    Thanks!

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  4. Thank you, Mark, for dropping by. I really hope you get to finish both books. If i can be slightly instrumental in getting you to embrace them, my day will be made.

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