Thursday, April 4, 2013

An Eldritch Education: "Cool Air"

Spooky Synopsis: There's a reason why the main character of "Cool Air" can't stand the touch of a chill breeze. Back in 1923, he lived for a time in a brownstone on West Fourteenth Street, a dingy yet clean hovel that was all he could afford on a writer's meager salary. The trouble began when a trickle of ammonia began dribbling from the ceiling into his room. The landlady explained that the tenant above him, a Dr. Muñoz, had installed a chemical cooling system in his unit, some unnamed affliction requiring him to stay cool at all times. But what exactly could that malady be, and could it be somehow related to the forbidden experiments that claimed the life of his one-time partner back in Spain?

Lovecraftian Language: "You ask me to explain why I am afraid of a draught of cool air; why I shiver more than others upon entering a cold room, and seem nauseated and repelled when the chill of evening creeps through the heat of a mild autumn day. There are those who say I respond to cold as others do to a bad odour, and I am the last to deny the impression. What I will do is to relate the most horrible circumstance I ever encountered, and leave it to you to judge whether or not this forms a suitable explanation of my peculiarity."

Eerie Evaluation: "Cool Air" unfolds much like "He," hewing close to the structure and style of the traditional horror story. Some might consider that a kind critique, but so far it seems that Lovecraft's at his best when his more outlandish impulses are tempered by traditional form. The tone and pacing of "Cool Air" are nearly perfect, a steady crescendo of unease that peaks with a grim -- if not entirely unexpected -- revelation. It doesn't take a literary genius to know that circumstances will conspire to make the temperature rise in Dr. Muñoz's flat and that he will undergo some terrible transformation due to an ancient transgression. That quotidian conclusion and a strained section in dialect ding the story, but by no means destroy it. There's real punch in reading about a repairman who, upon glimpsing the ailing doctor, suffers an epileptic seizure, and this in a man who "had been through the terrors of the Great War without having incurred any fright so thorough."

Number of Sanity-Shredding Shoggoths (out of five):

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To visit the story index for "An Eldritch Education" (my year spent reading H.P. Lovecraft's work), please click here.

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