Hell or New Jersey?
((WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS))
True story: I once participated in a writing group where one of the members wrote a story set in a space station. Once every twenty-four hours or so the remaining family members would gather at a window and wave at the family patriarch, who died in space and now orbits the station like a small moon. It was at this point that a critique mate quite spontaneously uttered one of the best critiques I’ve ever heard or will hear, capturing the essence of this story in five words.
Here they are: what a fucked up family.
Reading Clive Barker’s short story The Yattering and Jack brought back these words of wisdom. The unspoken point of this story is that the Yattering doesn’t need to claim Jack’s soul for Hell, because Jack’s life sucks so much Hell would be a relief. I’m assuming that Barker is going for Monty Pythonesqe satire or perhaps a parody of Thatcherism here. Unfortunately, my knowledge of British culture isn’t broad enough to know what he’s satirizing.
The Yattering is a minor demon given the task of driving a human crazy and thus claiming his soul for Hell. Jack Polo, the human in question, is a gherkin importer who holds the distinction of being THE MOST BORING MAN ON EARTH. That’s what the Yattering – who’s not exactly Screwtape material – thinks, anyway. The demon, who is invisible, must abide by two rules: it cannot leave Jack’s house and it cannot lay hands on Jack’s person with malicious intent.
Jack has one trick, but it’s a good one. He doesn’t show his emotions. Jack’s wife has an affair and confesses. When he doesn’t react she kills herself, which makes no sense, but whatever. Jack’s daughter comes out as a lesbian and Jack doesn’t react, happily or angrily. The Yattering murders three of Jack’s cats; it kills the last feline by making it explode like a kitty-bomb. Jack doesn’t react.
During the Christmas season the Yattering possesses the turkey while its baking in the oven, makes the Christmas tree spin like a crazy top and drives one of Jack’s daughters insane. Jack doesn’t – well, you get the idea. Turns out that crafty ole’ Jack knew the whole time. Instead of the Yattering driving Jack crazy, Jack drives the Yattering crazy. He wins. Or does he? Barker tells us what Jack wants – he was essentially a man of simple tastes: all he asked for in life was the love of his children, a pleasant home, and a good trading price for gherkins. Jack’s daughter is insane and his home is in shambles, but he has his soul. Since Jack is portrayed as a total asshole, I’m not sure how much that’s worth.
The Yattering and Jack is an entertaining short story. The scenes where the Yattering possesses the turkey and sets the Christmas tree spinning are the highlights of this tale. Reading about the bacon fat bubbling down the crazed bird’s back, I felt impressed and more than a little jealous. Barker excels at description; his weakness is character development. Or maybe that’s unfair, as I am assuming these characters are meant to be parodies.
Like Jack himself, The Yattering and Jack has a single trick. The Yattering is the story’s protagonist and Jack is the villain. And it works. I was rooting for the Yattering.
6 Replies to “The Yattering and Jack: Monty Pythonesque Satire or Thatcherism Parody?”
I love your point about how Jack might already been in his own Hell. I also found the descriptions to be the most effective aspect of the story. I could picture the story really well in my mind. While I agree that the fact that it is a parody might excuse the lack of character development, I would have liked to see how this experience changed Jack–if only in a small way.
I think I’d go crazy if I was as passive as Jack. He doesn’t even believe his own motto, que sera sera. If he did he’d just let The Yattering claim his soul!
You know, I didn’t really get total asshole from Jack. I got that he cared about his family, and it was when the Yattering goes after his daughter that he starts to break his disguise as the most boring man on the planet. There were some things that I did end up questioning about him, if he ever did love his wife for example. And while I did emphasize with the Yattering, it was ultimately Jack that I was rooting for/ I did worry about his daughter being driven insane though. I doubted him walking in with a demon now visible would have helped matters any.
I suppose it was a satire of some kind, I’m not sure. For me it was more of a manual on how to handle trolls, if you really want to make someone mad, just remain calm and keep on. At least that’s what I’ve learned, so Jack and I had that in common and…wait. Does that mean I’m an asshole?
Eh. Que sera sera.
Nah, don’t say that! I agree that Jack’s method is a great way to deal with trolls. I reacted to the trolls by quitting social media (for the most part), so I’m in the same boat. This is a good short story. Unfortunately, there’s four hundred and ninety-four more words to write, so I started looking for stuff to riff on.
The reason I didn’t like Jack was because I thought the way he reacted to The Yattering was the way he reacted to everything. If your wife has an affair to get a rise from you and then kills herself when she doesn’t get one, your family has serious issues. It also occurred to me that if Jack cared so much about his kids, he wouldn’t have used them as chips in his high stakes poker game. Now his daughter’s out of her mind…but he has a pet demon who can clean the house. Couldn’t he have hired a maid?
I kind of agree with you about the wife bit, and then also when his daughter goes crazy. She is the final straw that tips him over and blows his cover, but it definitely took him way too long to do that. I also had questions about his wife. I am guessing that maybe he thought the Yattering was responsible for his wife’s behavior? Whether that is her adulterous actions in the first place, or her lack of a response later, I wondered why he showed no feelings for her at all. I expected this to be covered at the end, once his cover was blown, but I was disappointed. It made me wonder, too, if Jack really was an unfeeling jerk.
I really enjoyed The Yattering. Actually, I am finding I am enjoying most of Barker’s writing so far. This course has been an intro to Clive Barker for me as I’ve never read anything from him before. Absolutely loved when the Yattering possessed the turkey and spun the Christmas tree. I was actually laughing it was pretty darn funny. That little sucker of a demon was using every trick he could muster.
Since my current thorn in the side is character arcs and development, I think I am enjoying the lack of character stuff in these tales. But that is just me probably justifying.
I will say this…I am reading Barker’s Middle-Grade novel at the moment, The Thief of Always, and a cat was just disintegrated! What is it with this guy and cats???