“The Button Molder”

This week’s piece of weird fiction being discussed by LibraryThing’s Deep Ones is a return to an old favorite, Fritz Leiber.

Review: “The Button Molder”, Fritz Leiber, 1979.

This is a tale more interesting for its autobiographical elements than any weird element.

Our narrator is an author of fiction living in San Francisco. He has done some non-fiction writing and editing for science magazines and encyclopedias. He is an astronomy buff, and he likes chess. So far, so Leiber.

The story opens with him living in a crappy apartment with riotous and violent neighbors, so he finally overcomes his inertia and moves to a better apartment building in the city.

He spends a lot of time on the building’s rooftop in astronomical pursuits.

He says right at the beginning his odd experience only lasted about 10 seconds. He’s going to tell us about it, but first he needs to set things up.

We get a long and meandering prelude to the climax.

Unsure what his next project should be, he decides to do an autobiographical piece on the insights he’s gained through his many years.

The atmosphere is well done. Garbage trucks making their pre-dawn rounds seem like great and noisy beasts. The author is amused by a fashion mannequin in the window of the fabric store on the building’s ground floor. She (that’s how he thinks of it) reminds him of the Henrik Ibsen’s Button Molder in Peer Gynt, the old man who melts down Peer into his raw materials because of his evil life.

The uncanniness slowly creeps in. The author sees a strange a strange shadow moving in his apartment when he returns from the roof and hears odd, attenuated sounds. One night he sees a violet star, seemingly moving in the sky and descending to ground.

At last we hear about those 10 seconds when he sees some kind of figure, looking much like that mannequin but with violet eyes like that star, in his apartment. Space alien? Waking dream? Ghost? He offers multiple explanations.

It’s about a 40 page long story, but Leiber is skillful enough to keep your interest – if you’re interested in Leiber, and the narrator occasionally adds asides about how he really hasn’t forgotten about the ghost he promised.

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