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Monday, October 1, 2012

HPL Review: Pickman's Model

I had no idea what to expect when I started reading Pickman's Model. I was afraid it was going to be a dreamlike tale of building a model ship and sailing away to distant esoteric shores and such. I hate that "walking on moonbeams" crap. I'm happy to report, though, without spoiling anything, that it certainly ain't about model ship building and it ain't no boring Dream Cycle story. It's a doozy, too.
This story is told in a different fashion than any other Lovecraft tale I've read as yet, or any other story I've ever read come to think of it. We are told the story through the words of the narrator as he holds a conversation with a business acquaintance whose side of the discussion we are never privy to as readers. Think Bob Newhart's old phone call standup bits, or Clint Eastwood and his chair. I like the way Lovecraft used this style of narrative. It's a nice change of pace from his usual modus operandi.
The narrator is Mr. Thurber, a man nervously relating to his friend the story of why he suddenly and unexpectedly cut ties with a close friend of his who happened to be one of the hottest and well-known painters on the Boston art scene. He was particularly highly regarded for his ghoulish and fanciful pieces that were unlike any other current style in the market.
That painter's name was Richard Upton Pickman. And some time after the narrator cut ties with him, Pickman went missing.
Thurber describes to his friend the happenings of the time when he went to visit Pickman's studio space. He saw canvas upon canvas of very realistic and sometimes serene backgrounds crawling with horrific monstrosities, each one more disturbing and violent than the last.
The descriptions of the paintings made me think of the website dedicated to showing the works of people who procure art prints from rummage sales or thrift stores and then paint over them with foul creatures swarming a pristine farmhouse, squamous tentacles emerging from a placid lake, dead and rotting flesh dripping off the cheek of a previously innocent portrait subject, etc..
The scene in which he describes in detail the various horrible paintings in Pickman's studio, though not the climax, is definitely the highlight of the piece.
The "model" in the story relates to an artist's model. Pickman has a camera in his studio which he says he uses to photograph the backgrounds so he can look at the photos later in his studio and paint them without lookers-on or interruptions.
I will describe no more for fear of revealing spoilers. Please read the story yourself if you are interested. It can easily be consumed in one sitting, and it's worth the short amount of time invested.
This is one of my favorites so far because it skirts the line between simple, creepy dude story and infinitely powerful, cosmic monster from the void story. It doesn't lose itself in lengthy, circuitous descriptions of unimaginable things or places. Any color copy or descriptive text feels completely in place and helpful. And I only had to look up two words:

Parvenu: noun / someone who has recently or suddenly risen to a place of wealth or power but has not yet gained the prestige or manner associated with it. / To witness the true parvenu in action, observe the character Roseanne Conner, post-lottery win, as she orders an armload of greasy burgers at the drive-through window.

Mephitic: adj / Foul-smelling / Two hours after consuming an armload of greasy burgers in her car, the air trapped inside the enclosed vehicle became so mephitic as to throw the cameraman into full-on vomiting convulsions.