What’s great about “An Old Man, Looking” is that you have this really frightening image of the man looking in your window, but what’s really much more horrifying in the end is this idea of illness and what you can’t control. Do you play off that a lot, the classic horror tropes with the things in life that are really, truly horrifying?
It’s definitely something that I have in mind when I write. I don’t think I necessarily try to look for ways to embody a metaphor and turn that into the monster or the villain of the piece.
But what tends to interest me about horror is not the things that will kill us, but what happens to us in the course of being alive. It always strikes me that, once your character is dead, they’re dead. The worst thing that could happen to them has happened to them, and that’s it. It’s kind of over. But continuing to live and continuing to go through all the potentially horrible things that exist in all of our lives, absent of the supernatural or anything like that, that seems almost more frightening somehow—and certainly a greater challenge. So when I’m writing, I’m thinking about these larger issues of people’s lives and larger themes, but that death is almost an escape from the horror, not the horror itself.
That’s true. The one that stuck with me was “The Cousin of Death,” where the man has his body stolen. That kept me awake for a while.
I’m not sure whether to apologize or say, “Thank you.” Maybe a little of both. Yeah, that’s a great example. That’s one where the character, in a different version of that story, could die, but that’s not all that scary, actually. The scarier thing to think is not only is this guy stuck in this stasis, this kind of in-between state where he’s still alive and can see everything that’s going on around him, but can’t interact with anyone. That on one hand is horrifying.
But on the other hand, there’s the implication that there could be tons of people in that same situation all over the world, and there’s no way for us to know, and they’re essentially consigned to this ongoing torment, which is, in fact, something totally random that’s been visited upon them. It’s not that they are being punished. It’s not that they did something. It’s just what happened in the world, in the same way that any of us get sick or get in a car accident or whatever else. It’s not something that we did. It’s just the chaos of the world. And that sense that the universe is not inherently moral, that the universe is just this space in which we exist, and that the universe is kind of indifferent to us is the thing that I think is the most scary.