Tag Archives: Jon Padgett

Impressions of “The Secret of Ventriloquism,” by Jon Padgett

The papers contained words, mostly filled out in a miniature, spidery longhand, that resembles neither your elegant script nor my careful cursive. These pages seem to be in the form of journal entries, though I question their nonfictional authenticity for reasons that will become obvious. I wonder if you’ll have any insight on who wrote them or how they came to be squirreled away under the mattress that I’ve slept upon for so many years. The following is a transcription of the text.
“Origami Dreams,” in The Secret of Ventriloquism

Let me begin with this: Jon Padgett deserves a place in the philosophical horror pantheon along with H.P. Lovecraft and Thomas Ligotti.

By this I don’t just mean that Jon Padgett is knowledgeable about horror like S.T. Joshi, or can write an interesting story like Colin Wilson. Nor that Jon Padgett is capable of writing a competent Lovecraft or Ligotti pastiche. But rather, he can deconstruct the genre to find the essential elements, and reconstruct it in a way that combines a plausible philosophy of the universe with the horror sensibility.

Both Lovecraft and Ligotti had distinct philosophical voices. For Lovecraft it was materialism, and for Ligotti anti-natalism. Lovecraft to a great extent also pushed the idea of a coherent universe that his stories took place in, while Ligotti largely limited himself to shared elements except in certain books, such as the Nightmare Factory. Padgett combines both of these themes by embracing Realism, and then unfolding the stories that show both in their content and pattern the horror beneath Realism.

“Realism” is the philosophical idea that specific things (that dog, this sign, the person crossing the road in front of me right now) really exist. Another example: you really exist. The you you were yesterday, the you you are today, and the you yo are tomorrow are really and truly the same person.There is only one You.

The horror of Realism is an implication that is not obvious: if the real ‘you’ is continuous across time, the ‘you’ today is just a thin sheet of line of that real you that moves across space and time. Throughout The Secret of Ventriloquism, Podgett uses metaphors like “origami” (the careful unfolding-and-refolding of paper), daddy-longlegs (and their painfully thin legs) or “fog” (uncondensced matter, the phase of matter where everything is potential from one solidity to another).

“These are the remains of the transmuted dead. The tainted air feeds the infusoria, transforming vulnerable Dunnstowners into living skeletons. But the fog itself, it has so many names: the Origami, Daddy Longlegs, Snavley’s Ultimate Ventriloquist. It turns the skeletons into more of itself. That’s the punchline. It’s exponential. Every year more of the non-killed transition, every year blacker fog, and one day all the residents will change. And when that final transformation comes, the whole town — everything in it and below it — will awaken from this borrowed reality into another one.
“The Infusorium,” in The Secret of Ventriloquism

Theists can reject Lovecraft’s horror as simply wrong — materialism has become less plausible the more I live, and I suspect that has been the human experience throughout history. Ligotti is subversive — he recognizes the part of “God is good” that theists really need faith for is “good” — that the unhuman God is not an inhuman God — and his horror reflects that. But Podgett cuts to the core: the horror is an intrinsic property of existence. The unfolding of paper, the razor-sharp legs of a moving object, the fog between solid times, the not-quit-realness while we remember what we were and we hope for what we become. This is as true whether you are a Christian exponent of realism, such as St. Thomas Aquinas or C.S. Lewis, or “Solomon Kroth, Esoterician.”

The genre of The Secret of Ventriloquism is post-modern, approaching only the Bible in the variety of forms it takes. The central story — “20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism” — is a how-to document. The closest we get of an explanation of the document is a stage play, complete with stage direction and a one-act structure: “The Secret of Ventriloquism” The book begins with directions to guided mediation which is arguably not a story at all, and then a trope of horror, the first person confession in a timeless situation (two boys who fight). Later in the volume we gain access to a statement from a police officer where expectations are constantly subverted, a Ligottian tale of a vacation gone wrong, and a beautiful pastiche of gas station carnivals — “The Indoor Swamp.” “Escape to Thin Mountain,” which ties together several stories, is a reworking of a one-page Ligotti story, but far exceeds the original. And my favorite is “Origami Dreams,” which the more you think about it the sadder and more realistic it is.

I cannot recommend The Secret of Ventriloquism enough. I remember where I was when first seriously read Lovecraft, and where I was when I first seriously read Ligotti. Padgett has just begun publishing. I can’t wait for his career to unfold.

I read The Secret of Ventriloquism in the Kindle edition. Jon Padgett has narrated stories both by Thomas Ligotti and himself, maintains Thomas Ligotti Online, and has an  active twitter account.