Monday, June 29, 2009

"Kitty Litter" by Richard Laymon

I have probably written this before, but I discovered the work of Richard Laymon in the autumn of 2001—I purchased the Leisure release of his novel In the Dark and then went on a spending / reading spree of his work, both in and out of print, over the next few years. I read everything I could get my hands on for several years, but over the past few I haven’t read much Laymon. It’s not that I don’t still enjoy his work when I read it, but rather it is probably that my cyclical appetite for horror is close to the “off” position.

Fortunately I read a Richard Laymon short story over the weekend; a 12-page delight from an unexpected source—the Cat Crimes 2 anthology edited by Martin Greenberg and Ed Gorman. The title: “Kitty Litter”.

“Kitty Litter” is vintage Richard Laymon, with a few minor exceptions—there is no sex and not much violence. It is, however, possessed with all of the adolescent charm, sharp dialogue and twisty—at times wonderfully unbelievable—plotline. And characters that feel like old friends recalled fondly over the passage of time.

Mr Bishop is taking a leisurely afternoon read at the side of his backyard pool when Monica—the neighborhood bully and snob—demands one of the kittens Bishop has been trying to give away for weeks. Monica is a cute girl, but an eccentric monster: “She belonged to the odd tribe that refers to itself in the third person.” To say she demands a kitten isn’t quite strong enough—she literally threatens Bishop that he better give her a kitten and now.

There really shouldn’t be a problem since Bishop wants to get rid of the kittens, and they are reaching the equivalent of their teenage years—the years when they cease being cute and cuddly kittens and become somewhat less endearing and approachable. Unfortunately, there is a problem. Monica doesn’t choose one of the kittens. Instead, she wants to take Bishop’s undersized momma cat; a cat that Bishop has a long, and somewhat strange, history with.

“Kitty Litter” has all of the elements that make Richard Laymon a pleasure to read—see above. It also has the benefit of being an understated and humorous horror story. The characters feel and act like people we know—or in Monica’s case, people we wish we didn’t know—and the ending is sublime justice. Not to mention a smile and laugh.

If you’re one of the many who think Laymon is too brutal or gruesome to read, try “Kitty Litter”. It will probably surprise you. And if you’re one of Mr Laymon’s regular readers, you’ll like it too. I guarantee it.

A NOTE American publishers largely ignored Richard Laymon’s work until the late 1990s when Leisure began to publish both new and older novels in mass market. A good deal of his novels are currently in print, but his short stories, of which there are many, have not been collected in affordable editions, which is a shame. I hope—heck, I challenge—Leisure Books to release a collection or two of Laymon’s short stories. I’ll be the first in line with cash in hand.


Rabid Fox said...

Sounds interesting. I've only read a couple of Laymon novels thus far, and the prospect of his short fiction sounds promising. I'll have to keep an eye out. I also thought he was strictly a novelist. Ah well. Live and learn.

Ben Boulden said...

Laymon was actually an accomplished short story writer. His first published story--the title escapes me at the moment--was published in EQMM, and overall he published somewhere around 60 short stories, I think.

Cemetery Dance released a limited edition Laymon short story collection titled MADMAN STAN AND OTHER STORIES a handful of years ago, but it is long out of print. It is currently going for around $100 on the secondary market.