Friday, July 20, 2012

"Obsession", (Samhain Horror), by Ramsey Campbell

Continuing Samhain Horror's line of re-printed Ramsey Campbell novels is "Obsession", a novel hinging on one of the most classic of all cautionary themes, be careful what you wish may just get it.  In this novel, half-hearted, juvenile wishes are granted in horrible, unimaginable ways, but - as always in these tales - there's a price to pay.  A terrible one, which is visited years down the road, after the wishes have long been forgotten.

A group of friends are faced with a fantastic, impossible scenario: wishing away their adolescent problems.  Peter's grandmother has recently moved in, changing he and his family's way of life. Jimmy's father is forever throwing money away at the horse races, even as their little family-run cafe is failing. Steve - a budding communist - faces persecution at school from a teacher because of his beliefs. And Robin's single mother must constantly deal with sexual harassment in the workplace.

These are problems of life. And like all problems, there are no easy answers. Or are there? Because one day, Peter receives in the mail a form and a very simple letter reading the following:
Whatever you most need, I do. The price is something that you do not value and which you may regain.
Thinking the whole matter a hoax, the four friends fill out their forms and make their wishes on a bluff overlooking the coast. However, at an inopportune - and eerie - moment, the forms are all torn from their grasps by the wind and blown out to sea, and they are quick to chalk the whole thing up to exactly what they'd imagined it to be: a prank.

But the wishes come true.  In some ways horrible, in others unexpected, but looming behind them all is the second stipulation of the letter: the price. But of course they are children, flexible and adaptable and very willing to forget, which is exactly what they do.  Forget, separate, grow up and live their own lives.  And, really - could the price be so bad? Especially considering that it would be something that they "do not value"?

However, twenty-five years later, they realize a terrifying truth: that what they value NOW very likely was something they did NOT value when they made the pact.  So what they'd have no fear of losing as adolescents...may now be the most important things to them. 

As always, Campbell mines feelings and emotions from the deep well of the human condition. And, especially in this work, his supernatural touch is very light.  It's there, in the letters and some hauntings, but so much of this novel is about the characters themselves: how their lives may or may not have turned out how they wanted, (Peter's dull, bland life), how they deal with tragedy, (Jimmy's wife's death), adversity, (Steve's marital problems) and illness (Robin's mother slipping deeper into dementia and Alzheimer's).  The real horror in this novel is life and mistakes and failure and desperation, which very much lift it above normal horror fare.

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Kevin Lucia is a Contributing Editor for Shroud Magazine, a blogger for The Midnight Diner, and a podcaster at Tales to Terrify. His short fiction has appeared in several anthologies. He's currently finishing his Creative Writing Masters Degree at Binghamton University, he teaches high school English and lives in Castle Creek, New York with his wife and children. He is the author of Hiram Grange & The Chosen One, Book Four of The Hiram Grange Chronicles, and he's currently working on his first novel. Visit him on the web at

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