You’ll take leave of your senses
October 21, 2012
I’m delighted NYRB Classics Series has re-printed the long out-of-print Thomas Tryon novel The Other, newly available again this month. I read the chilling bestseller with complete absorption during my teens in the 1970s. It left me rattled, though, disturbed by how it so successfully lured me into its darkness and twisted my reality. I’ve never forgotten that uncomfortable feeling it gave me, which became a haunting of sorts, apt for the book and this Halloween month. All these years it’s stoked an inner voice telling me to re-read the book and face again what rattled me. Well, here’s my chance.
NYRB writes in its description, “Thomas Tryon’s best-selling novel about a home-grown monster is an eerie examination of the darkness that dwells within everyone.” That home-grown monster refers to identical 13-year-old twins, Holland and Niles Perry, the one evil, the other good. Their relationship is frighteningly close — they know each other’s thoughts in a way that appears supernatural. At their family’s New England farm one summer in the 1930s, their father comes to an accidental death, and then ”…the family–the whole town–is shaken and bewildered by the advent of a horrifying series of inexplicable deaths and disasters.” (That quoted line comes from the dust jacket of the original hardcover edition of the book.)
Writing about this horror novel is challenging because one has to be extraordinarily careful not to reveal too much. Likely that’s why the new NYRB edition has an afterword and not an introduction by Dan Chaon, whose most recent book is story collection Stay Awake. The restraint required in an introduction to The Other, so as not to give away or even suggest the plot’s deepest secret before readers have entered the story, would be too limiting for a creative introductory analysis.
The novel was first published in 1971 (the same year as William Blatty’s The Exorcist), and while it received wide praise, one New York Times critic called The Other implausible, and some readers over the years have complained they were bored in the beginning, i.e. it took a while for them to be hooked. That’s a small minority. I offer the information here, though, to prepare you in case you, too, are not hooked immediately. Stick with it, because millions of readers found this book riveting — it sold more than 3.5 million copies. The Fawcett paperback edition in 1972 alone sold 2,810,000 copies, as reported by the NYT February 11, 1973.
Kirkus Reviews wrote of the novel when it first came out, “Truly extraordinary, truly — it’s one of those books over which everybody will take leave of their senses, all seven of them.”
A final note, regarding 20th-century bestsellers: I found a website related to an English course at the University of Virgina that used best-selling 20th-century American literature as a means of understanding 20th-century America. The course, offered in the fall of 2002, required students to read bestsellers and complete information about them in an online database that includes – and of likely interest to book collectors:
- a bibliographical description of the first edition
- publication history
- reception history
- an analysis of the work in its cultural and literary contexts