Classic horror with an evil twin

I was 16 years old when I first read Thomas Tryon’s best-selling debut, The Other. Taking the words from author Dan Chaon, who writes the afterword in the NYRB Classics edition, the story “messed with my head.” No other book in my lifetime of reading left me so unforgettably rattled, and it was not as much over the story as for how Thomas Tryon pulled it off, so effectively shattering my sense of control. All these years I’ve needed to reread the book.

The Other by Thomas Tryon

This creepy story was published in 1971, and according to Tryon’s New York Times obituary, it held the New York Times best-seller list for more than six months and sold more than 3.5 million copies. It became a movie in 1972. Two other famous horror novels/movies of the time likely ring a more familiar bell, Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin published in 1967 (the successful movie starred Mia Farrow as Rosemary) and The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty in 1971 (the movie’s theme song, Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, ever after has heralded a satanic presence).

With Rosemary and The Exorcist’s 11-year-old Regan, we know what we are dealing with, the one witchcraft and the other demonic possession, but not so with The Other‘s twins, Niles and Holland Perry. As I picked up the book for the second time, I didn’t remember their details or the twists and turns in the plot, so the book felt somewhat new; however, like a watchdog in the night, I read with hyper vigilance over the behavior of all the characters, their interactions and Tryon’s narrative complexity. The story takes place over a hot, dry summer on the Perry family farm in a small Connecticut community. Accidents occur much too frequently. Is it all just bad luck? A misplacement of tools? Old age? Too much drinking? Carelessness?

Explanations exist, except it’s unnerving how Holland hovers around the house, the barn and fields with his strange Asiatic smile and cruel, conniving spirit. Meanwhile, kind, thoughtful Niles protects a tobacco tin that holds mysterious treasures: a family ring of a Peregrine hawk given to him by Holland and something special wrapped in blue tissue referred to as The Thing.

“Put that away somewhere,” Holland growled. Niles was sitting and, without thinking, rattling the Prince Albert tin. He considered the contents. Peregrine for Perry. The Thing. The Thing was gruesome; of course it was. He tried not to think about it, tried to put it out of his mind. It was all Holland’s doing. Holland had decried it all. Yet Nile’s was the one who must keep the Secret…

I was also 16 when I read Rosemary’s Baby. I finished it, sitting in bed on a fall evening before being called to come downstairs for dinner. Barely had I read the last word when I furiously threw the book across the room. I couldn’t stand the betrayal and treachery of Rosemary’s neighbors and her husband. As for The Other, the closure way back then was less definitive, but now that’s changed, except this story remains one of the creepiest I’ve ever read.