Monday, September 15, 2014

"He Is Unequal to the Point of Eccentricity"

By Tod Robbins (1888-1949).
Boni and Liveright.
1920. 256 pages.
Collection: 4 stories.
Online HERE.
1. "Silent, White and Beautiful"
2. "Who Wants a Green Bottle?"
3. "Wild Wullie, the Waster" (also online HERE)
4. "For Art's Sake"

Clarence Aaron Robbins had a penchant for the eerie and macabre which Hollywood, for one, exploited to the full (see HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE for screen adaptations); in spite of or perhaps because of this, in his lifetime Robbins went through five wives.

Contemporary literary critics, however, weren't too impressed with the early Robbins:
[Full review] Mr. Tod Robbins, who is an American, is also a dealer in horrors. He is less adroit than his British colleagues, but he works in a better tradition. Their master was Conan Doyle or even Gaboriau; his was Poe. And there is no doubt that he has an eerie fancy, great fertility of invention, and not a little psychological insight. But he is unequal to the point of eccentricity.
Two of his four narratives, Wild Wullie, the Waster and Who Wants a Green Bottle?, are simply inept. Silent, White and Beautiful, on the other hand, has an original and strangely vivid central idea. If the aim of this sort of story is to stun the reader for a moment, that aim is here achieved. The impulse of the protagonist, moreover, wild as the form it assumes, is well grounded in human nature.
For Art's Sake is below Silent, White and Beautiful in merit. But it, too, with all its monstrous details, is based on powerful and familiar motives. It is a fantastic reductio ad absurdum of the dehumanized cult of art and throws about well-known New York localities an air of lurking terror.
Thus, in his own kind, Mr. Robbins is no ordinary writer. If he is young he may have, in his peculiar manner, rather brilliant possiblities. But he must learn to exercise self-criticism or have his manuscripts edited by an honest friend. — "Real Terror and False," THE NATION (November 24, 1920)
[Full review] The introduction wags the book. It is written by Robert H. Davis. Having read these first pages, which are an amusing conversation with an elderly man on Boston common, you are so violently prejudiced in favor of the stories, that it seems almost unfair to turn critic. However, in spite of one of the cleverest of sponsors, the horror of murder, suicide, neurosis, and what not does not always seem sufficiently to convince. If these grotesque and morbid tales were just a bit better, they might even be great! But failing of greatness, they are so "horrible" as to be occasionally funny. — "Brief Reviews of New Books," THE BOOKMAN (February 1921)
- A Wikipedia article about Robbins that includes information about his imprisonment by the Nazis is HERE.
- The Robbins page at A GUIDE TO SUPERNATURAL FICTION is HERE and the ISFDb is HEREwhile the FANTASTIC FICTION page is HERE.

Category: Eerie fiction

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