Weirdest story of them all? Or a great mystery with a tragic protagonist?
Summary: Talking cat and weird old man.
This is a very strange story, specifically meant to question your idea of reality. It’s also got a good weird-but-not-scary vibe. That being said, hearing a cat screech morphing into an old Irish woman’s voice is more creepy than you’d expect. Still, I think the plot points and the motivations of the characters are too vague to allow for comfortable story listening. Are we dealing with an unreliable narrator? And more precisely, what in the name of fuck is going on? The characters give no indication of anything from their voices, the only things we kind of know are from each characters’ perceived words and actions by the Grandfather. I’m not as impressed by the audio in this story compared with the others in the collection although I did enjoy the cat purrs. I thought that Minnie was really difficult to hear, even when she was speaking normally. In particular, there’s a behind closed doors conversation between Minnie and her husband Kevin that I think is supposed to give us some big time clues but it is pretty muffled. Obviously the conversation is purposefully difficult to hear from our Grandfather perspective, but it was pretty frustrating because I couldn’t make out anything without cranking it up. The character of the Grandfather, the veteran Angus Scrimm, was superb and conveyed outrage with a dash of dementia very well. Also, is Kevin actually a dog or something? Is this really a world where kids can be put down? Can you imagine how many Asian kids would be put down for not getting a perfect score on their SATs? Also, what happens at the end when everything ‘splodes and there’s tons of rushing water? Is the rushing water supposed to mean something? And who’s banging at the door? Orderlies (Navy Seals?) from the nursing home? And while we’re at it, let’s back it up a bit. Is the kid really going to be put down? And is the Grandfather actually insane? If you pump up the volume on the secret conversation they are talking about putting dear old Grandfather in a home. Did Minnie’s brother really kill the Grandmother who is now embodied in a cat? Did the Grandfather really just straight up kill his daughter and the daughter was a willing participant? Up until the point that Minnie is by the water singing that wack Irish folk song, she didn’t seem like she lost touch with reality. Except that she wouldn’t say what was in the BBQ marinade–is that a sign of insanity? Not wanting to discuss marinade? To be honest, I did like what they were trying to do here. Points are deserved for originality, intrigue and effort. I just didn’t appreciate it enough and it wasn’t satisfying enough to be a great Tale because in the end I was just left with a huge W, T, and F.
Honestly, I didn’t even relisten to this Tale before writing this review, because I remember it being the only Tale that I straight-up didn’t like, and I just didn’t want to hear it again. The cat/wife voice grates on me, I don’t understand the story, and I get annoyed with the “twists” that make it too much. Just, all of it, too much. Like Stephen, I thought the “putting down” of the boy was going to be the main plot, and it was a creepy one. And then the grandma is the cat? And the boy is evil? Or the grandfather is crazypants? If the whole point is just that the grandfather is demented, well, I don’t really think that’s an interesting story. Then it’s just showing/saying/telling weird stuff to be all THIS GUY’S HEAD IS WWWEEIRRRDDD with no real point (see also, why books should never include dream sequences unless they have a really good “clue” into something. I don’t want to just read weirdness for the sake of weirdness. Real life is weird enough).
Part of what annoyed me was that I didn’t know what the “world” was for this story. Was it supposed to be just a twisted version of real life, or more twilight-zone than that? I don’t mind unreliable narrators, usually, but I think it works better if you really KNOW they are unreliable. But then again, I didn’t listen to the Tale more than once, so I am an unreliable reviewer. I hate to dislike any TFBTP because overall they are fantastic, but I wish this had been something a bit more . . . satisfying? It had a vulnerable old man and a creepy kid and a talking cat, so all the pieces were there! They just were put together too haphazardly for me. I read this interview with the author, and he sounds smart and like he was doing something really ambitious with this Tale, so I will end with the caveat that it might just be over my head. But I still dislike it enough to not want to listen to it again and try to figure it out.
At first, The Grandfather leaves a little too much to the imagination. Listening through it a second time, I got the feeling the writer added things as he went along, but never went back to make them fit into the story. The boy is going to the vet to be put down? When I first heard that I loved the absurdity and the straightforward way they presented it. But then they seemed to forget it in favor of some hereditary evil, and the only reasonable conclusion is that the grandfather is an unreliable narrator. Yet that makes the story very unsatisfying, because it loses all meaning (if he is unreliable, we need to know what is really happening or being said for the story to have a purpose). Even without understanding the story, the acting and sound effects are terrific, and help to create a wonderfully ominous atmosphere of confusion and mystery, which is one of the joys of Tales from Beyond the Pale.
Since my initial two times listening to this Tale, however, my opinions have changed.
I realized (on my third or fourth listen) that if you listen to the story with the thought that the grandfather is an unreliable narrator, just a senile old man, it works, and works well. It makes him a tragic figure, you feel bad for how crazy he is. Until the final scene, when the grandson kills the cat (his wife), and you realize that he was not crazy at all… It is chilling, and a wonderful addition to the collection.
Next up: This Oracle Moon