(WARNING: THIS POST IS FOR A CLASS ON HORROR FICTION. IT WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS ABOUT THE SHORT STORY “THE YATTERING AND JACK.”)
“The Yattering and Jack” was great fun. It was entertaining to try to figure out why Jack was so unbelievably thick about everything that was happening around him. There were times when I actually felt sorry for the Yattering, awful as it was. In all, I enjoyed this story. There were a few things that tripped me up, though. First, as others have mentioned, was the point of view switch. Second, I had difficulty with some of Jack’s ambivalence. And finally, I closed the story asking, “Why now?”
As usual, Clive Barker’s awesome use of tone-setting words makes the story a winner. He opens with a bizarre use of an obscenity, and that half-horrific, half-ridiculous feeling continues throughout. I like that I know where I’m going when I open up a Clive Barker story. He gives me fair warning, and he sets me up to really be in the mood for his stories.
There was also a fantastic little mystery going on. How could Jack be so obtuse? The irony of watching the Yattering go mad with frustration was fantastic and fun. I even felt that I liked it a bit in the end, for all of its terrible qualities. It couldn’t help it. It is a demon, after all.
The abrupt point of view switch got me. From page 43-50 of a story that is only slightly more than twenty pages long, we were in the Yattering’s head. Then, suddenly, with no transition whatsoever, we went into Jack for the first time. It shook me, and I jumped out of the story for a moment to see whether I had missed something. Once I reached the end, I was glad that we’d seen both points of view, but I did wish we’d been given some kind of transition to ease that changeover.
Jack is possibly more of a monster than the Yattering, though that’s up for debate. He seemed quite beside himself when his daughter was going mad – so much so that he feared he would break down and cry if he faced her – and I think that is meant to be an indication that he is capable of love and other normal human emotions. Everything else, however, suggests otherwise. From what the Yattering can see, Jack didn’t do anything to save his own marriage or his wife from committing suicide. Why couldn’t he have talked to her outside of the house about what was going on? Also, why didn’t he talk to his daughters? He’s gone all day at work – there isn’t a phone? And why-oh-why did he bring his daughters to such a dangerous place? Yes, he rationalized that by saying that the demon would catch on to his plans otherwise, but… really? He brought them there to prove that he’s stupid? To incite and frustrate a demon? His daughters are essentially bait? Wow. What a nice dad.
The biggest issue I had was that I didn’t understand why Christmas was The Time when everything needed to happen. The Yattering suggests that this is going to be its last try, and Jack seems to sense that things are coming to a head. Why? Nothing – from what I can tell – has happened that is out of the ordinary. Jack and the Yattering have gone about their business for at least many months, probably longer, maddening one another in that empty house. Why do things need to get more serious now?
Apart from those questions I had when I closed the story, I thought it was a fun tale. Not scary, but almost funny. Ridiculous and just a little bit thought provoking.
Barker, Clive. Books of Blood, Volumes One to Three. “The Yattering and Jack.” New York: Berkley Books, 1998.