"Come now my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest..." - Kenneth Patchen, "Even So."
THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT STORIES AND STORYTELLING; some are true, some are false, and some are a matter of perspective. Herein the brave traveller shall find dark musings on horror, explorations of the occult, and wild flights of fantasy.
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
IT'S LIKE "TWILIGHT," FOR PEOPLE WITH BRAINS
The middle of the last decade saw the publication of an extraordinary debut novel. Moving, disturbing, and strangely uplifting, it told the improbable tale of emerging love between an adolescent and a vampire. It rocketed to the top of the bestseller list and was soon the basis for an equally amazing film (Rotten Tomatoes rated it 97% Fresh). No, we are definitely NOT talking about Stephanie Myers or Twilight. The book in question is Lat Den Ratte Komma In by Swedish novelist John Ajvide Lindqvist.
Let The Right One In (its English title, taken from Morrisey's "Let the Right One Slip In," is a play on the old vampire tradition of having to invite them in) tells the tale of 12-year-old Oskar. The child of a broken home, he lives in a state apartment housing complex with his mother. Slightly overweight, ostracized and horrifically bullied, the daily abuse by his peers has given him the unpleasant habit of constantly wetting his pants. Worse, he has begun to fantasize about sticking a knife in his tormentors, stealing a hunting knife from a local sporting goods store to stab at trees in the woods, imagining their faces, hurling back the taunts usually yelled at him. He is a boy dangerously about to break, the one Pearl Jam wrote about in Jeremy, the kind of monster manufactured in schools every day.
Enter the new girl, Eli. She and her "father" move into the unit next door to Oskar, but are almost never seen. The windows are covered up, and despite also being 12 the girl doesn't seem to attend school. Oskar, whose habit is to sit alone on the communal play ground in the evenings, encounters her there. Despite the brutal Swedish winter she is barefoot and in a thin pink sweater. Her hair is matted and filthy. She smells bad. She tells him she can't be his friend. And yet his loneliness is reflected in her own, drawing them slowly together. Night after night they meet on the playground, pretending they aren't happy to see the other there.
Then Oskar suffers an particularly brutal assault, whipped by a pack of boys with switches. One blow cuts open his cheek. That night, when he meets Eli, the following transpires;
...she touched his wound and (a) strange thing happened. Someone else, someone much older, became visible under her skin. A cold shiver ran down Oskar's back, as if he had bitten into an ice cream.
"Oskar. Don't let them do it. Do you hear me? Don't let them."
"You have to strike back. You've never done that, have you?"
"So start now. Hit them back. Hard."
"There's three of them."
"Then you have to hit harder. Use a weapon."
"Stones. Sticks. Hit them more than you really dare. Then they'll stop."
"Yes, but what if they..."
"Then I will help you."
"You? But you are..."
"I can do it, Oskar. That ...is something I can do."
Indeed she can. Eli is 200 hundred years old, a vampire trapped in the body of a little girl. The man taking care of her is, sickeningly, a pedophile she snared and forces to watch over her by day. Oskar is the first person to be kind to her in decades, and despite herself and the danger to herself, the exposure, she helps him.
Let the Right One In pulls absolutely no punches. Twilight, written roughly the same time and with a very similar premise, is by comparison comfort food, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. WhereTwilight is fastidiously careful not to challenge or offend, to tell you that beautiful people really do have souls and that abstinence really is the best policy until you graduate from school, Let the Right One In has teeth. Its protagonists are not faux outsiders who both mysteriously look like models, but rough, untidy, unclean. Both of them, including Eli, are pathetic and powerfully human. They fall in love (for anyone who remembers junior high school) in a fumbling, awkward, uncomfortable way, drawn together because no one else would want them.
Make no mistake, the novel terrifies to a degree that Myers' work never comes near, but at the same time Let the Right One In is deeply tragic. It leads, unlike Bella and Edward, are not leads in the ballet version of Romeo & Juliet, but nevertheless far more compelling.
The novel--a bestseller across Europe--is readily available in English. The 2007 film version, equally superb, is also easy to find. The 2010 American version, Let Me In, is surprisingly excellent as well.