“A Garden of Blackred Roses”

I’ll get back to Byron Craft’s Mythos Project in the next post.

Right now, though, it’s time to look at the weird fiction being discussed this week on LibraryThing.

Review: “A Garden of Blackred Roses”, Charles L. Grant, 1980.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this one. It annoyed me greatly, an annoyance probably aggravated by recently finishing a couple of other anthologies with stories which also annoyed me.

Charles L. Grant is known as a practioner of “quiet horror”. Mumbling horror is what I call this.

The work is four individual stories all linked to a strange man (rumored by some to be a witch) in the neighborhood, Dimmesdale, and his garden. (His name and references to scarlet letters and other things seem pointless allusions to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.) Strange things happen when you steal flowers from this garden.

The first story, “Bouquet”, has Steven stealing some bloodred roses from Dimmesdale’s garden to give to his wife. His beloved cat Tambor dies shortly after. Going to visit Tambor’s grave, Steven sees a shadowy figure with red eyes. What exactly happens is unclear. Perhaps Steven’s wife dies. (No one seems to take care of a crying baby). Perhaps he dies out in the snow. 

The next story, “Corsage”, is about Barney Hawkins who runs, with his wife, a diner he’s proud the local kids like to hang out at. Barney is disappointed in life, his marriage, and having no kids.  It’s turned him into a confirmed anti-romantic dispensing his wisdom to the kids at times. His wife Edna is shocked when he gives her some bloodred roses from Dimmesdale’s garden. Edna has gotten word from the police that Syd, one of the kids in the diner, has been hanging around places at night, recording people in the fog. She asks Barney to kick him out. He also seems to have been hanging around the deserted Yardley place. He even seems to have recorded evidence that it’s haunted. 

Barney, who hasn’t seen any fog lately, confiscates Syd’s recording, goes to the Yardley house and something happens to him there: “shadows of mournful vengeance in the corners and sighed”.

And we are on to Syd’s tale in “Blossom”. He has a thing for Ginny who doesn’t have the time for him despite the chocolates he secretly sends her. She ignores a note he sends her. Spurned, his thoughts turn to mutilating Ginny. But another girl – who (in the way of these things) seems to have a thing for Syd though he only has eyes for Ginny – tells him wishes can come true if they are made with a flower from Dimmesdale’s garden. Flo, the girl, warns him not to take the roses, though. (Actually, he’s already done that but nothing much seems to come of it.) He takes some golden mums from the garden. And his wishes come true. 

His father doesn’t have to be away so much from work. Ginny has the time of day for him and at last expressing interest in him. Even this story ends oddly. Ginny and Syd are together and the last line is “’You’re sweet,’ she whispered as she took the first bite.” (Did she turn into a vampire?) 

The last section, “Thorn”, gives us Dimmesdale himself. We see him practice rites seemingly imbuing his flowers with magic. He seems to object to “too much laughter” in the world and wants to entice someone into his basement garden.

An annoying story it is. Annoyingly vague. Annoyingly unresolved. Annoyingly inconsistent in the significance of the various flowers.

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