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The Other - Thomas Tryon ”Twins? With different birthdays? How unusual. Indeed for identical twins, very. Oh yes, there were the mixed signs, on the cusp, as one says--they should have been more alike; nevertheless, the difference. Holland a Pisces, fish-slippery, now one thing, now another. Niles an Aries, a ram blithely butting at obstacles. Growing side by side, but somehow not together. Strange. Time and again Holland would retreat, Niles pursue, Holland withdraw again, reticent, taciturn, a snail in its shell.”

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The Udvarnoky twins play Holland and Niles in the 1972 movie version of the book.

This is yet another entry in my ongoing SALUTE to horror books from the 1970s. For those of you that have traveled these nail biting, shadow ridden, teeth chattering, knee knocking trails with me you are in for a real treat if you DARE to read this book. I’m not going to be able to discuss plot very much because this is a book that the pleasure resides in the building of tension and the twists and turns that slowly reveal the true horror happening at Pequod Landing. I certainly do not want to give away anything that will take away that growing sense of unease you will experience reading this book. The other very pleasant surprise is how well written the book is. It is certainly on par with The Shining and maybe because it has a more gothic bend to the tale the literary value just naturally rises in my eyes. Let me share with you Thomas Tryon’s description of a storm.

”It held off till shortly before eleven. The first-appearing lightning was no more than a snap. Clouds like blue-black ink had spilled out of the west, spreading before the hot wind, now doing violence to the orchard. It hurled apples to the ground like bombs, cracked limbs, scattered leaves in a panic, bowed the long grass as it swept up through the meadow past the barn, shook the tops of the firs, rattled the horse-chestnut tree in a frenzy, punished the grapes in the arbor.

Another flash.

More flashes.

The sound of a shingle splitting, ending with an enormous crack, followed by a low booming roll. Now a lurid light washed the black shapes outside; they glowed eerily. Niles shut his eyes, waiting for the clap to follow. Before it died, the rain came; long shafts like arrows arching down the sky, stinging wet and cold in his face.”

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I love the imagery that Tyron conveys here. It brought back memories of Kansas storms from when I was a kid that used to appear on the horizon as black, boiling, menacing, living creatures that would swoop down on us like wraiths hurling hailstones, battering us with rain, and making us shiver with deep booming thunder that would rattle glass and bone.

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Movie poster from 1972

So the twins are very different from one another, but their actions allow the adults to tell them apart. Holland is more aggressive, more likely to cause trouble, and Niles is more thoughtful and a constant counter-balance to Holland’s more devious plans.

Holland has a blue-black dot on his ring finger that will prove to be an interesting clue in the novel’s plot. He had been stabbed by his cousin Russell with a pencil and some of the graphite had nestled under the skin creating a tattoo, a dot that will never go away. I too have a blue black graphite dot on my wrist. I was stabbed by Dean P. in fifth grade.

My offense?

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My Graphite tattoo from Fifth Grade.

I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Dean was a child of varying mood which ranged from just generally pissed off to downright nasty. He came over and sat down beside me and then with one swift motion plunged his pencil into my wrist. I shoved him open handed in the jaw that knocked him off his chair. We came within a whisker of going to see the principal which would have been my second trip that year. There was an earlier incident involving an errantly thrown snowball that I had, with what eloquence I possessed then, to explain. Interesting part of the story is that both Dean and I made the varsity basketball team our junior year in high school and we both started every game together our senior year as well. It was an uneasy alliance, but one that worked born out of a mutual desire to win.

Niles spends a lot of time in reflection, building his imagination, and honing his view of the world. Water and muck are just what they seem to most people, but to Niles....

”He dropped the cattails in a heap and lay on his belly beside them, head hanging over the platform edge, eyes staring meditatively down a the water. It was pleasant there in the shadows. It smelled of coolness, like a fern garden; like the well once had before they sealed it up. From upside down, one piling, gloved with green algae and slime, and larger than the rest, seemed to rear back as though resisting the gray mud that mired it. He squinted, looked hard, saw: primordial ooze, spawning strange beings down below, a race of quasi-lunged, half-legged creatures dragging themselves along the bottom; a world sunless, gloomy, nocturnal, where sunken logs lay, sodden and heavy, poor dead drowned things, and with them, hidden in the murk, savage bloated creatures, mouths wide as shovels, thick lips nuzzling threads of water-whitened ganglia, picking clean of flesh skeletons through whose empty eye-sockets coldly glowing eels wound like night trains, while overhead through the ruined roof, pterodactyls soared the vacant sky.
He drifted,
and dreamed some more.”

Tryon here reminds me think of the bits of Meryvn Peake I’ve read and certainly I can feel Robert Louis Stevenson lurking in the deepest shadows. The book is so much more than I expected.

The Twins have an addiction to Doc Savage books and comics. I remember when I first found a cache of Kenneth Robeson titles with this bronze skinned hero on the cover always with a tattered shirt and lurid graphics to spur the imagination. I read through scads of them and wish I still had those books. I doubt they would hold up well reading them today, but then they were perfect for a boy who wanted to explore the magic of science and the pure pleasure of rooting for Doc Savage to outsmart a myriad of diabolical villains.

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A sampling of Doc Savage covers

So you may be able to tell that this book worked on many levels for me. Certainly I am encouraged to read more Tryon and can only hope his other work casts the same spell on me as this one. Highly recommended.

”Things cannot ever be the same again. Not for any of us. Not any more. We sometimes reach a point in our lives where we can’t ever go back again, we have to go on from there. All that was before is past now. It went too far. Everything has gone too far. It must stop, do you see? Now--it must--stop.
No more game?
No. No more game.”