Wow. I’ve been reading books for over forty years, have been certified as a Master of Language and Literature by the State of Minnesota, toiled in the new and used book biz for twenty years and have therefore been exposed to a dizzying array of literary talent – but yet, despite all that, every so often I come across a writer I’d never heard of who absolutely blows me away. I don’t feel that abashed about STEFAN GRABINSKI (1887- 1936) however, as, unjust as it may be, he is a fairly obscure author in the States. Sure he has the obligatory devotional website and Wikipedia article but even these are rather meager compared to most every other author you could think of. I’ve read a lot of horror anthologies, but he’s not exactly well represented in those and has exactly one book in print at the moment.
But what a book. THE DARK DOMAIN is yet another of those fantastic European Classics from sainted DAEDALUS press. I read the first story in it Fumes and my jaw dropped at its mind blowing, brilliant brew of dread, sex, folklore and violence. Yowzah! Not every story is as good as that, but there are no clinkers in the collection, and one excellent, unsettling tale follows another in a awe inspiring lineup. Grabinski mines the unsettled, haunted quality of modern life to find a nightmare in consciousness itself. To say he writes about the supernatural is like saying Kafka wrote about bugs. He resembles Arthur Machen and Guy De Maupassant in his unearthing of the horror lurking in the details of everyday existence, and even brings to mind the uber-genius Edgar Poe in exploring the twilight ambiguity of the human mind, the nexus of the supernatural and the insane, where one’s own self is the ultimate bogeyman. He also understands the relationship between the horrific and the erotic in a way that anticipates the very best of Clive Barker and exposes Steven King as the pimply faced forever arrested adolescent he is. My favorite story, Szamota’s Mistress, is at once deeply symbolic, deeply sexy and scary as hell – you could write a thousand essays on it from every conceivable lit-crit angle (some savvy feminist should scarf this one up for a thesis) but you’re better off just reading the darn thing.
And why haven’t I heard of this dude before? Part of it is America’s skittishness to approach authors with funny names from smaller countries who write in not widely spoken languages. Thank heaven for publishers who occasionally make an effort to systematically present work from previously under represented parts of the world. There was a amazing series from Penguin a while back called "Writers from the Other Europe" edited by Philip Roth which, like Daedalus’s European Classics series, showed both what a fertile and productive place for literature countries like Poland and Czechoslovakia were and how many great books are marginalized by Eastern Europe’s unhappy history. This is a real shame, but, selfishly speaking, it always turns UBU on to find a rich, new, relatively undisturbed vein of fantastic writing.
I’m not kidding – Grabinski is the real deal. I keep buying copies of The Dark Domain to give away and stock, and if you like a mind blowing highbrow creep show I’d run out and get one too. Here’s a couple of passages that I particularly liked:
Rastawiecki divided his gaiety among them. Some peculiar blindness threw an even thicker curtain over the duplicitous behavior of his companion, some strange indulgence made him ignore his wife’s deportment. Maybe he never had a reason to be suspicious of Nuna’s flightiness and that’s why he acted thus. Maybe he didn’t yet know the sex demon, suppressed under superficial domesticity, and had never been aware of its corrupting influence and deceitfulness. A fatal spell unfolded these three people in its domain and drove them toward frenzy and abandonment – one saw it in the spasmodic movements of Nuna’s body, the blood-shot eyes of her admirer, the sardonic grimace of the husband’s lips.
And if, indeed, there is nothing beyond the corner? Who can affirm if beyond so-called "reality" anything exists at all? Beyond a reality that I have probably created? As long as I’m steeped in this reality up to my neck, as long as it is sufficient for me – everything is tolerable. But what would happen if I wanted one day to lean out of my safe environment and glance beyond its borders?