04 December 2011

1. "An Extraordinary Work": A Review of by Tony Williams of Trammel up the Consequence

This novel is an extraordinary work. Far more extraordinary is the fact that it only appeared as a private publication rather than  as one of the fictional offerings of an established press. This does not mean that the book is "not good enough" for publication but rather than it is "too good" for acceptance by an industry that is not prepared to take a risk on a challenging work.

And challenging it is - on many levels. It is a book that would leave a "nasty taste in the mouth" for many readers, the same thing often said about the films of Alfred Hitchcock championed by the author of this novel. It is a book that owes much to its author's interest in cinema encompassing references not only to Hitchcock himself but other areas integral to Robin Wood's critical interests - melodrama, the family horror film, and the changed perspectives concerning Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca, a book initially dismissed but one Robin came to regard in a different light many decades later. Robin recognized Hitchcock as a chronicler of personal entrapment but also saw that there had to be ways beyond the various types of emotional and ideological blockage that characterized his films.

Robin frequently rejected the tenets of "artistic originality" and emphasized that every work, even Shakespeare, is indebted to a particular tradition that it knows and develops. This is something unique to this novel. It knows its traditions and develops them in significant ways, rather than citing them in the appalling manner of a Quentin Tarantino. The heroine is amnesiac, a condition shared by both Marnie Edgar and John Ballantine in two key Hitchcock works. Trammel, like Jane Eyre and Rebecca, is related from the heroine's perspective from the moment that she encounters her version of Mr. Rochester in Grand Central Station, becomes involved with him on a physical and psychological journey very much like a Hollywood road movie until the very epilogue where expectations of the usual ending are overturned in a very unusual and satisfactory manner. Hero and heroine resemble Nicholas Ray's "last romantic couple" and are closer than their cinematic predecessors. Like Ray's characters, they are victimized by family and society, their dilemma resembling many characters in the 70s American family horror film that Robin championed and they are trapped within malevolent worlds that need no supernatural powers, merely the oppressive concerns of everyday family life.

Trammel up the Consequence is a "return of the repressed novel" with a vengeance, indebted to classical literature and popular culture but written in an accessible manner rather than hiding behind the conventions of sophisticated stylistic techniques. Like all major works, it contains personal memories derived from the horrors of its author's early life, horrors that were never as bad as the fictionalized reworkings in this novel, but bad enough.

The novel leads to its conclusion, one that most readers believe will end tragically, but it does not. Like that epochal moment in Larry Cohen's It's Alive!, the "expected" does not happen. Instead acceptance occurs, one not nipped in the bud by the actual climax of Larry Cohen's film but suggesting that moving forward that occurs in the final scene of It's Alive 3 where the reunited family move into unknown territory, one which may be dangerous for them but also representing possibility and survival.

Trammel is far from derivative. It is a novel synthesizing many of the author's personal and critical interests, ones he often expressed in an artistic manner in the hope that he might also be a creator in the manner of those writers he admired. Like them, he weaved his sources, consciously (Hitchcock, DuMaurier) and unconsciously (Cohen?) to create a work that would challenge the dominant ideology of a society he fought for most of his life and create people who society would terms "monsters" but ones we would identify with once we understood the nature of the "personal traps" they were in and the desperate ways they sought to be free.

We must thank the Estate and publishers who brought this book out. Hopefully, other works should appear in the near future, perhaps by direct-to-library presses who may not reach Barnes and Noble and other corporate book chains but which provide alternatives for challenging works to appear.

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