I’m a big tired bastard, and I feel like flopping face first onto my bed and lying there. But I felt I should write a blog post before I flopped, so in my infinite wisdom, I thought to myself, “Just pick a short story and write about it. That can’t take long, right?”
I’m dazzled by my own idiocy sometimes.
First of all, anyone who’s ever tried to write a short story and write one well—that’s the kicker—knows it’s no frolic through the meadow (any Ligotti fans out there?). To write a great short story, a writer needs the precision of a laser and the word economy of Dirty Harry Callahan. And that’s just to start with. Reading a guy like Joe R. Lansdale or a gal like Joyce Carol Oates, it’s easy to say, “Well that sure looked easy,” and plop down before the keyboard to crack off a short tale like a college freshman cracks off a belch after guzzling his eighth can of Old Milwaukee Light.
The problem is, the story will be about as pleasant as that belch.
David Case is not a household name, and I haven’t read a whole lot of his stuff. The three pieces that still stand out in my memory are a novel called Wolf Tracks (great fun), a gothic novella called Fengriffen (pure awesomeness), and a short story called “The War Is Over.”
See, I haven’t even gotten to the short story yet, and I notice I’m already well over my desired, fatigue-induced word count of, well, ten. So I’m gonna make the rest of this briefer than Mr. Case deserves, and if he wants to take umbrage with me about my brevity he’s welcome to come yell at my snoring, corpselike form.
“The War Is Over” is essentially a prelude followed by a frame story followed by a chilling denouement. That sounds simple enough, but the way Case makes these sections flow and relate and build is nothing short of miraculous. A soldier visits the widow of another soldier and tells her a story. In the course of this story, the soldier will reveal himself to be more than he appears to be, and even more devastatingly, the widow’s deceased husband will prove himself to be less than she thought he was. To share much more would be giving too much away (which is code for “I’m nodding off at the keyboard”), but I will say that the reader becomes the widow as the story builds toward its shattering final moments.
Though the story is incredibly disturbing, and though there is a bit of stomach-churning gore in the narrative, the vast majority of what Case accomplishes, he does so through insinuation. The worst of what happens not only happens off-stage, but the frame-story-telling soldier speaks elliptically at a couple of crucial moments…and because David Case is such a fine writer, this never feels like a cheat or a recoiling from the truth of the tale. To the contrary, “The War Is Over” contains so much truth that you will be disturbed by it long after you’ve placed it back on your nightstand with palsied hands.
The above-pictured Ramsey Campbell is the reason why I know about this story. I’d already read some of Case’s other stuff and loved it, but I don’t know if I would have discovered “The War Is Over” without Campbell’s excellent Fine Frights. So thank you, Mr. Campbell, for editing that book.
And thank you, David Case, for giving me twelve years of nightmares and for convincing me that William Golding had it exactly right in Lord of the Flies.
If you need me, I’ll be drooling on my comforter.