Reading the B: A Review of Peter Grandbois’ “Double Monster Feature”: the novellas The Glob Who Girdled Grandville and The Secret Lives of Actors
The Glob Who Girdled Grandville &
The Secret Lives of Actors
by Peter Grandbois
Wordcraft of Oregon, October 2014
There’s both a blessing and a persistent sense of cursed lack to ignorant reading, as when the reader has little or no foothold in the allusionary worlds that propel a given story, but, likewise, when the narrative doesn’t require any specific referential knowledge for engagement. Peter Grandbois’ “Double Monster Feature” of two, short novellas, The Glob Who Girdled Grandville and The Secret Lives of Actors, is such a collection, operating on a parodic platform while also completely rewriting this platform. Grandbois’ two main characters are B movie icons of the 50s—The Blob and The Thing—but rather than relegating these creatures to the shadowy sidelines, Grandbois explores them from the inside out, divulging their confusions, desires, and inchoate pathos. And even for those readers like myself, who are mostly unaware of the works’ cinematic histories, both stories unfold quite nicely on their own, doing so by cluing the reader via references to their filmic origins through tacky tropes and déjà vu moments of cliché, touching on our timeless and cheesy yearn for kitsch, for that passé sentimentality deeply ingrained in some collective pop-culture consciousness. Of course, and necessarily, Grandbois explodes these frameworks even as he builds upon them, breathing a new, complex literary life into both narratives, so that the thrill is one of uncanny insight and surprising tenderness.
A Rilke epigraph lifts the curtain on these features—“Oh, this is the animal that never was…,” which speaks to the troubled paradox of Grandbois’ project—humanizing the monster; as from The Glob:
Let us stand clear now and let the troubling story unfold, as we know it did from the newspaper accounts that came after. Of course, we don’t have all the details. We don’t need them. We know in our hearts what happened, what had to happen given the circumstances … Of course, even with our strong storyteller’s sense of empathy, we’ll never fully understand the mysterious life cycle of such a creature. All we really know is that he arrived here on a meteor, a mere babe of an amoeba fourteen short years before. His first experience of life one of hostility as that old man who discovered him poked him with a stick.
Grandbois’ two protagonists, as Rilke suggests, attempt to fashion the real through the unreal. Instead of letting his monsters remain ineffable, opaque, and struggling against nothing but impulse and base survival, Grandbois rescripts these creatures; even as their forms pervert physical paradigms, they are hyper-effable, all too finite, and this is their doomed struggle: the greatest monstrosity is being unable to grasp, only analytically mimic, human motivation and relationship. In The Secret Lives of Actors,
He walks out of the parking lot and down the street, unaware of where he’s going. Maybe she’s right, he thinks. Maybe I am the fraud. I’ll bet that bastard Hawks made me up for the movie. I’ll bet he invented the whole idea of a walking carrot … Who’s afraid of a giant vegetable, anyway? You can’t even love a vegetable because a vegetable can’t love … He wanders down Sycamore until he stumbles into the community garden … then he stops and sits among the carrots and green beans. “You’re right. I don’t belong here,” he whispers to himself. “I’m nothing but a Hollywood invention. Not even an interesting one. What would Nikki ever see in me, anyway? An actor who can’t feel. It’s like some sort of bad joke” … He spends the rest of the afternoon digging a hole for himself … Anything is better than this. This in between place. This place somewhere between life and death.
October 10th, 2014 / 10:00 am