Thursday, August 13, 2020

"Laura" (1914)

This very short Saki story is not scary, but more like a joke, and no, I'm not referring to the fact that it could well hold the record for fewest characters in an author and title combined (rivaling Keith's "98.6" in pop music). Saki's theme was more human malice, with only little strokes of the uncanny. He stood somewhat to the side of horror. He loved ridiculous situations and this story is that and only gets more so. Once again, brevity saves all. It's practically done before you groan once. It starts with Laura telling her friend Amanda that her doctor says she (Laura) has until Tuesday to live. It is Saturday. It comes across like a tea party game we don't understand but then it seems to be the truth. In Laura's belief system, she says, she hasn't been the best person, and thus she will be reincarnated as a lower creature. She imagines an otter. Then she spins it out further: "If I had been a moderately good otter I suppose I should get back into human shape of some sort; probably something rather primitive—a little brown, unclothed Nubian boy, I should think." (A moment now for the benighted, so many of them in all human history, who never understood the tragedy of racism and colonialism. We're done with the worst of it in this story, and yes, I'm disappointed in Saki too. As an anti-bully, though admittedly with mixed loyalties, you would think he'd know better.) Amanda's husband Egbert comes up in this conversation too. Laura can't stand him and has never been able to. It's one of the sins she's taking to the grave with her. She has often tormented Egbert in irksome passive-aggressive ways, for example harassing his prize hens with her dogs. She knew these things were wrong and did them anyway. That's why her reincarnation points down. Laura dies on Monday. Even before the funeral—in a way I like the willful high-handed ridiculous misconstruing of reincarnation, never close to uncanny but making the story more funny—something very much like an otter is getting into Egbert's hens. You see everything coming but it's so briskly executed you almost don't, partly because it is all at once so impossible and so, well, cheap. The animus of Laura toward Egbert grows more funny with every single iteration. It's senseless, like a sitcom device, like Seinfeld and Newman, but carried off on pure instinct.

The Big Book of the Masters of Horror, Weird and Supernatural Short Stories, pub. Dark Chaos
Read story online.

1 comment:

  1. NPR says horror lit is hot again, not surprising in the middle of a plague. Intersectional reinterpretations of H.P. Lovecraft is, apparently, a thing.