Several weeks back, librarian and MetaFilter moderator Jessamyn West contacted me and asked for my mailing address. She wanted to send me a surprise gift. I soon received a copy of a novel by Joseph A. Citro entitled The Gore. Jessamyn was curious as to what I thought of the book, so by way of thanks I thought I’d jot down this review.
First off, I think Jessamyn was aware of my interest in Bigfootery, as the book incorporates Bigfoot into the story, albeit in a somewhat tangential way. Citro is a New England author of both fiction and non-fiction, whose subject matter is largely Fortean or supernatural.
Unfortunately, I may not be the best person to give an incisive analysis of a work of fiction, as I’ve read very little of it during my lifetime! My favorite author of fiction is Joseph Wambaugh, who writes about police work in Southern California. In the late 1990’s I went absolutely ga-ga over his masterpiece of burlesque and tragedy, The Choirboys.
Here I’ll put in the obligatory disclaimer that the following review contains spoilers. I think today’s de facto alert is supposed to look like this:
The book’s title itself is a great teaser, as one naturally thinks of horror fiction as incorporating “gore” in the sense of blood and dismemberment. But Citro works in a clever double entendre, as “gore” can also mean a triangular plot of land that is a sort of irregular leftover from roughly orthogonal land division. Indeed, our story takes place in a forested Vermont gore. The novel was first entitled The Unseen, so the title change worked well.
The story starts tragically, as “Lunker” Lavigne sees something in the gore that so disturbs him he commits suicide. We don’t get to learn the identity of what he saw until the end of the book. A variety of characters intersect socially and geographically to investigate the gore’s goings-on.
Citro incorporates two Fortean elements into the novel to create his boogeyman. Native American legends about the “Wild Man of the Woods” are as varied as there are tribes, but one of the more well known is the “Windigo.” This monster is malevolent to be sure, and fits in well in a horror novel. But some of the human characters in the novel can’t be sure of what they saw, and suggest it’s our old friend Bigfoot.
Citro has managed to glean enough from the subculture of Bigfootery to know that some Bigooters, particularly Kathy Strain, have seriously proposed that Native American Wildman legends such as the Windigo are actually derived from a biologically real Bigfoot. It’s amusing to me as a resident of the Pacific Northwest to have witnessed the steady growth of the putative habitat of the Sasquatch from the late 1960’s until the present. Back in the late 1960’s, the dominant Bigfoot advocate argument was that the forests of the Pacific Northwest offered a habitat sufficiently vast and rugged to allow a cryptid megafauna like Sasquatch to evade human detection. But as time went on, reports from areas outside the Pacific Northwest began to come in. This presented a conundrum for the advocates, as the argument from habitat had to be quietly set aside. As one Sasquatch skeptic who posts as “LTC8K6” on the James Randi Educational Forums succinctly put it: “Bigfoot is everywhere, yet nowhere.” Indeed, anecdotal sightings of Sasquatch are now recorded for the entire North American continent. If Bigfooters dismiss sightings from states like Missouri or Kansas out of hand, then the same logic could be applied to sightings in the Pacific Northwest…
As far as the novel goes, Citro is accurately depicting the current state of affairs; people in places like Vermont or New York occasionally report seeing Bigfoot, despite the ludicrous lack of biological evidence for such an animal.
Citro works in the theme of the Underground Railroad, which is of course an historical reality. But that too is the subject of exaggeration and mythology as well. Like all works of fiction, you start with something real, then augment and fine tune it.
Certain story elements didn’t quite work for me, as numerous human characters survive horrific and violent encounters only to recover and go back for more. For me, this had a bit of a Wylie Coyote feel to it, lacking only the Acme anvil. In real life, even a sprained ankle can be deadly out in the woods, yet Citro’s characters survive much worse injuries.
I’m sorry to report that Citro made a glaring technical error on pages 209 and 211 by including a safety on a snub nosed .38.
The dues ex machina of the novel is that the Wendigos are really humans after all, reduced to living in a feral state. Interesting but implausible; I think I would have enjoyed the monsters remaining Windigos.
An even stranger literary genre than Fortean horror fiction are books about Bigfoot “habituation” in which individuals periodically encounter and interact with Sasquatch. Despite the best efforts of individuals like Jeff Meldrum or the producers of TV’s Monserquest to legitimize the oft-mocked topic of Bigfoot, these books push the envelope of credulity to the outer limits. These accounts often become ripe objects of scorn, even within the subculture of Bigfootery itself.
In the end, I’m probably not the best candidate to review a book like The Gore, as I’ve read so much literature on the subject of Bigfoot that Citro’s novel just doesn’t seem that striking to me. The “fringe” of Bigfootery is so vastly weirder and wilder than Citro’s novel that what’s claimed as fact by some outshines even Citro’s fiction.
Thanks again for the book, Jessamyn, the world needs more spontaneous gift giving!