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Let Us Quickly Hasten to the Gate of Ivory

Thomas M. Disch committed suicide a few days ago, and I watched all the writer and artist bloggers to whom I subscribe mourn his passing. I hadn’t read anything by Disch until today and, honestly, hadn’t heard of him either.

He was a poet, a short story and novel writer, and critic; he won several major awards, and was nominated for many others. He wrote the novella The Brave Little Toaster, on which the movie of the same name was based.

I was walking by my bookcase and I’m not sure why this particular book caught my eye, but it did. I have a few hundred books in stacks and piles and domino lines across my room, most of them double-stacked in my tallest bookcase, so for any one book to jump out, and for me to pick it out and look at it is fairly odd, especially since my to-read stack of library and friend-borrowed books is 25 high. I rarely browse anymore.  But I noticed quark/#1, a quarterly of short speculative fiction edited by Samuel R. Delany and Marilyn Hacker, picked it up, saw Disch’s name alongside Le Guin and Lafferty, and, because his name has been floating around lately, read the story.

My first thought was, This is the only story I’ve read by Disch, and it’s set in a cemetery.

Let Us Quickly Hasten to the Gate of Ivory is well-crafted; Disch’s characterization is full-orbed, and his description serves its purpose, though it’s fairly mundane and staid for sf.  I think the sedate feel fits well with the sleepy golf course ambiance of the cemetery, and makes the ensuing struggle to find a way out of the graveyard menacing. But it’s not primarily about death or labyrinthine menace; it’s about family, and love, and the fragile, complicated relationships we weave around ourselves like clothing.

It’s a comforting story, in a way.  His characters love each other in deep, complex ways, the way real people do, and we see hints of full relationships throughout. I didn’t get a sense of a malign universe, just an uncaring, complex one that makes us huddle together, our backs against the dark. We have solace in each other when the universe around us is twists into dark shapes or simply exists beyond our ken, as it does here.

And I’m sad a man who wrote a story like this would kill himself in the end.

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