Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Where Michael McDowell Lies...
I had a dream last night about Michael McDowell, the author of Cold Moon Over Babylon, a book long out of print and virtually forgotten.
Right now, Mr. McDowell lies in the cold, cold ground. He's been there for more than a decade.
Thirty years ago, he was on a roll. The Amulet. Cold Moon... Katie. Gilded Needles. The Elementals. Toplin. Many more, too. Some horror. Some historical. He wrote screenplays before his death (from AIDS), including Beetlejuice, and contributed to Tales From the Darkside.
His publisher, Avon, serialized his Blackwater books. There was one a month for six months. It was a brave idea that didn't succeed, unfortunately.
A few years later, Stephen King's publisher serialized The Green Mile. This time it worked.
King himself said of the writer: "He's the finest writer of paperback originals in America."
My dream was a simple one. I could see McDowell in his grave. He hadn't rotted. He was dressed in handsome Southern garb. He was bearded. He stared without blinking at the coffin lid. I was trying to dig down to him with a long, square shovel, but the ground was too dry to assist me. I don't know what I would have done had I reached him, but I was awfully depressed by the fact that he was dead and his books were dead, too. I guess I'm determined to play some part in resurrecting his reputation and his books.
I despise seeing true talent go to waste, just as I despise seeing the untalented accorded the adoration of easily persuaded morons.
McDowell was the finest of writers. Cold Moon Over Babylon, the first book I read of his, made me uneasy and anxious. It also excited me. That was one of McDowell's talents. He could scare and excite you at the same time. There was a deep sensuality to his language that had nothing to do with sex, but had everything to do with mood, time, and place.
Consider this from the 87th page of Cold Moon...
The slow spin, gentle sway, and smooth inexorable rise continued until the delicate bare feet skimmed the water. Gradually, then, the revolutions subsided and the figure hovered lightly on the surface of the river. It turned deliberately toward the Larkin farmhouse on the northern bank of the Styx. The eyes opened, but behind the gray lids was a flat infinite blackness, blacker far than the muddy Styx in the shadow of the rotting bridge. Those terrible eyes were without surface; the lids opened directly onto noisome void and nonentity, and the black holes were fixed on the darkened window of Evelyn Larkin's bedroom.
While you read these words, Michael McDowell lies beneath us. Still. Prostate. Calcium-depleted. Above him, in a stratosphere of mud and slush, beyond a loamy island of crawling things, his legacy has begun to fade.
That makes me sad.