Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Every Horror Plot

The following is the first paragraph of Caleb Crain's review of Hearts in Atlantis by Stephen King, which appeared in The New York Times Literary Review on September 12, 1999. I've always been impressed with its insight and accuracy about what brings a horror story to life.
Every horror plot hinges on at least one moment of grand imprudence. You really shouldn't buy that 1958 Plymouth Fury. You really shouldn't take that job as the hotel's winter caretaker. And you really shouldn't dig up your dead son and re-inter him in the enchanted Indian burial ground. But of course the hero acts unwisely, because in some dark cellar of his personality he wants the bad thing. And the reader, with a lesser, merely voyeuristic rashness, wants to see him do it. In the efficient economy of the horror novel -- too efficient for the psychologically fastidious -- the resulting nightmare delivers both a thrill surreptitiously longed for and a punishment for having indulged.

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