Robert Devereaux, Caliban and Other Tales (Leisure, 2002)
[originally published 13May2002]
Robert Devereaux is one of the modern masters of the horror novel. Here, he turns his twisted eye to shorter fiction (well, for half the book), and we have to ask ourselves the question we have to ask with all novelists working in another genre: is he as good in medium B as he is in medium A? That’s a choice each reader has to make on his own, of course, but as far as I’m concerned, he may actually be better in medium B. “Ridi Bobo” is such a stroke of pure genius that, ten years from now, it may have entered the same space in my head reserved for such once-in-a-lifetime magnum opi as Richard Christian Matheson’s “Red” or Dan Simmons’ “Summer of Monsters.” Yeah, it’s THAT good. [ed. note 2014: twelve years later, it has indeed.] Who in the name of all that’s holy would think to cross a hardboiled detective story with a bunch of clowns? Bob Devereaux, that’s who. (And for those who always say the same things in response to such a comment, the point isn’t that you could have done it; the point is that you never thought to do it. Now go away.)
The rest of the short stories here are just as amusing, gut-churning, and otherwise out-there, as any Devereaux fan would come to expect. However, when you’ve finished this book, what will have stuck with you most is the title novella. Perhaps because it’s actually novel-length, clocking in at almost two hundred pages itself, or perhaps because, while there has certainly been a rash of modern retellings of Shakespeare over the past few decades (two others, in fact, that come to mind just on The Tempest), once again, Devereaux managed to tread the same old ground and cause the new feet to make it look fresh.
“Caliban” is one thing no other Devereaux work to date has been; it is difficult. Whether this was a conscious attempt to write in a more Shakespearean style (don’t worry, you’ll find no sonnets here) or the beginnings of Devereaux going to a more literary style for his work remains to be seen, but “Caliban” isn’t the kind of thing that can be read in one gulp. He story demands, at the very least, being put down now and again between chapters so the reader can reflect on and absorb the events that have just crossed his eyes. This is likely to jar against the heads of some readers, since one of the hallmarks of Devereaux’s writing until now has been its better-than-average accessibility. However, those who are capable of making the transition will be amply rewarded come the end.
There is a writer of great brilliance lurking among us, and as most writers of great brilliance, he has somehow failed to find the audience he deserves. Robert Devereaux remains one of the ten or so best writers working in America today; if you haven’t yet discovered him, by all means do so at your earliest opportunity. ****