Monday, 21 September 2015

King on Sloane

Over at the New York Review of Books, Stephen King extols the achievement of the little-known American author William M. Sloane. Many years ago the ghost story writer David G. Rowlands told me about Sloane's novel To Walk the Night, and I sought it out. Believe me, it's worth finding, as is Sloane's second horror novel The Edge of Running Water.

I say horror, but as King observes, Sloane was a genre-spanning author. My copy of To Walk the Night blurbs it as 'A terrifying novel of death and the supernatural', but contains a discussion of Einsteinian space-time. And I recall Brian Stableford listing Sloane's horror novels as 'scientific romances', putting them in a tradition that began with H.G. Wells. This is quite reasonable - both stories deal with scientific concerns, but also go over the line into unconventional theorising. They are also notably devoid of 'pulpy' elements in style or content, instead offering careful, understated characterisation and watertight plotting. Writing in the late Thirties, was a man of his time in a good way. He took contemporary and gave them a timeless fictional power.
It’s interesting to note that in 1937 he met Carl Jung and was amazed to discover that the great psychotherapist had read To Walk the Night (in its earlier form, as a play), and felt that the book’s central conceit, of a “traveling mind,” fit perfectly with his, Jung’s, idea of the anima as a free-floating and quasi-supernatural archetype of the unconscious mind. At that same memorable luncheon, Sloane met another idol whose ideas are reflected in his novels: J.B. Rhine, inventor of the famous Rhine ESP cards and pioneer (at Duke University) in the study of extrasensory perception.
One point where I disagree with King is that To Walk the Night is not as good as The Edge of Running Water. I'd say they are both excellent, but that the earlier book is better at evoking the strange, the unearthy, and the unknowable. (It was one of Robert Bloch's favourite horror novels.)

I was going to try and summarise the plots of these excellent novels, but now I think that would be wrong. I'd rather give people the chance to discover them, as I did. Suffice to agree with King that it's a pity Sloane didn't write more, as 'he might have become a master of the genre, or created an entirely new one'.

William Sloane, looking authorial

1 comment:

Aonghus Fallon said...

Read 'To Walk the Night' over the week-end, funnily enough. Very enjoyable.