The Natural Dissolution of Fleeting-Improvised Men: The Last Letter of H.P. Lovecraft. Edited by Gabriel Blackwell. Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2013. $14.95.
The conceit of this book is that the primary text is the lost, final letter written by H. P. Lovecraft days before his death. Lovecraft is known for his “weird fiction,” a name applied to gothic-style horror and supernatural stories beginning in the Victorian era and extending to Lovecraft, the undisputed master of the genre (with the possible exception of Poe) in the early part of the 20th Century. Lovecraft’s weird fiction is so iconic that not only did he reinvent the genre in many ways, but certain aspects of his fiction have entered into popular culture, for example his use of the vicious elder god Cthulu, which has been appropriated for everything from comic strips to tee-shirts to plush toys. Lovecraft is also known, to devotees, as having written over 100,000 letters in his short life—many of these letters have been collected and published—and so it’s not unusual that his final letter would be the subject of an analytical treatise, which is what Blackwell purports to present.
Structurally, the book contains three sections: an introduction in which Blackwell summarizes his finding of the letter, his “translation” of its difficult-to-read (and quite lengthy) text, his lifestyle and experiences during this, and the final calamity that lead to him losing the original copy of the letter, leaving him only his transcription. The second section is the letter itself, which runs to 137 pages, complete with footnotes which expand on Blackwell’s experiences with the letter and attempt to add insight on possible translation errors. The third section is a kind of afterword in which Blackwell gives broader stroke notes.
Written while Lovecraft lay dying of stomach cancer, the letter deals with a darkness so tangible it becomes sentient in its malevolence, but my simplistic interpretation doesn’t do justice to the story. The darkness attaches itself to Lovecraft’s stomach and seeps out to devour people, places, and any hope Lovecraft has for escape. The darkness allows Lovecraft to glimpse another world, though, or rather to better glimpse our world by giving him some insight into the fifth dimension. It’s disheartening that what he finds with this sight is death and mayhem. As he “translates” Lovecraft’s letter, Blackwell gains insight, as well, or rather slips into the darkness through the letter, but not to the extent of Lovecraft. It’s sort of like Lovecraft sneezed onto the letter and it made Blackwell a little sick, except the “sneeze” is really the ability to sense a dimension beyond space and time which connects us all with its malice-ridden tentacles. So Blackwell simply slips into the darkness, whereas Lovecraft bored full-tilt into it. Blackwell’s trek into darkness is precipitated by a breakup with a long-time girlfriend, which led him to Rhode Island where he found the letter.
The structural comparison to Nabokov’s Pale Fire arises immediately, and it’s warranted. Blackwell’s explanation of finding the letter, from the introduction, is difficult to accept, which Blackwell admits. Blackwell’s footnotes, which mirror the text of the letter in subject matter, if not style, add to the reader’s suspicions. Of course, this is Blackwell’s intent, and what he’s given us is a tongue-in-cheek homage to the master of weird fiction which mirrors his own character’s journey of heartbreak. One of the more enjoyable elements is Blackwell’s explanations about fallout from his first novel, whose authenticity was also challenged. (His first novel was a similar homage to pulp and noir books.) What we have, in the end, is an enjoyable, insightful novel that stretches the limits of what one might think the novel is capable of being.
is the author of five novels including the young adult
novel Sunlight, the novels Last Stand in Zombietown and $7.50/hr
Curses; four poetry collections: Riceland, _____(Want/Need), Anthem,
and Leap Year; and a short story collection, Naming the Animals. A
poetry chapbook, Goodbye to Noise, is available online at Right Hand Pointing / Bledsoe. Another, The Man Who Killed Himself
in My Bathroom, is available here.
He’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize 10 times, had 2 stories
selected as Notable Stories by Story South's Million Writers Award and
2 others nominated, and has been nominated for Best of the Net twice.
He’s also had a flash story selected for the long list of Wigleaf’s 50
Best Flash Stories award. He blogs at Murder Your Darlings.
Bledsoe reviews regularly for Rain Taxi, Coal Hill Review, Prick of
the Spindle, Monkey Bicycle, Book Slut, The Hollins Critic, The
Arkansas Review, American Book Review, The Pedestal Magazine, and
elsewhere. Bledsoe lives with his wife and daughter in Maryland.