Saturday, December 18, 2010

Quake by Richard Laymon

Richard Laymon was an author whose prolific sensibilities and writing work ethic guaranteed himself a legacy that keeps on giving: even if you’ve managed to slough through the majority of his tomes, chances are a few more lurk in the wings just waiting to be tapped. It was many novels ago during my reading life that I picked up a battered paperback copy of The Stake, and over the years I’ve kept returning to Laymon's work, sampling each novel in turn like a much beloved dish, never rushing the process and spacing them out so I can go on living with the sure knowledge there will always be another on the horizon. In 2001, the world of dark fiction lost a unique and glowing talent that comes along all too seldom.  

With a title like Quake and the accompanying illustration, Laymon enthusiasts will have no trouble envisioning what’s on offer: a gargantuan earthquake has devastated most of down-town Los Angeles. If this isn’t the big one, it’s certainly close to it – and the subsequent havoc wrought might just give Stanley Banks the opportunity he’s been waiting for with neighbor Shelia Banner. Every morning she jogs past his living room window, and every morning he ogles her. With his domineering mother now out of the equation and the streets in ruins, normal suburbia is suddenly transformed into a macabre playground for the depraved.

Racing to get home is Shelia’s daughter Barbara and her friends from school. Her husband Clint is also stranded and pairs with unlikely allies as the city abruptly becomes rife with roving gangs and looters. As the body count rises, Clint and Barbara try to make it home before Stanley catches Shelia, now trapped within her bathtub among the debris.   

One of Laymon’s more ambitious efforts standing at nearly 600 pages, the author never loses stride. Though sometimes small on action, he writes with the uncanny dexterity of making hundreds of pages fly by as though dozens of scenes are transpiring. A lot of this can be attributed to his study of character: rarely have I come across a novelist who can articulate people’s dialogue so accurately. Those familiar with his formula will know it often reads like a drama: narrative simplicity handled so craftily the tale becomes intricate. And it’s never more evidenced than in Quake. Probably the only pitfall is Quake's outdated nature – at the time of publication in 95, hand-held devices were still some time away. Hopefully this doesn’t deter a new generation from embracing Laymon’s oeuvre.  

As a horror writer, Laymon was authentic - someone who wore the genre like a badge of honor and never apologized for it. Years later he would pave the way for others like Brian Keene and Bentley Little to fill a void after his departure. One day, let's hope the world of cinema will pay homage by adapting one of his many visions.