Ligotti, Thomas (Robert) 1953-
LIGOTTI, Thomas (Robert) 1953-
PERSONAL: Born July 9, 1953, in Detroit, MI; son of Gasper C. and Dolores (Mazzola) Ligotti. Education: Attended Macomb County Community College, 1971-73; Wayne State University, B.A., 1977.
ADDRESSES: Home—2367 Bentley Dr., Palm Harbor, FL 34684. Offıce—Thomson Gale, 27500 Drake Rd., Farmington Hills, MI 48331-3535. E-mail—[email protected] tampabay.rr.com.
CAREER: Comprehensive Educational Training Act, Oak Park, MI, teaching assistant, 1977-79; Gale Research Co. (now Thomson Gale), Detroit, MI, editorial assistant, 1979, assistant editor, 1980-81, senior assistant editor, 1981-82, associate editor, 1982—.
AWARDS, HONORS: Award for best author of horror/weird fiction from Small Press Writers and Artists Organization (SPWAO), 1982, for story "The Chymist;" Bram Stoker Award for Best Collection, Horror Writers Association, 1997, for The Nightmare Factory; Bram Stoker Award for Best Novelette, 1997, for Red Tower; Horror Writers Association award, Bram Stoker award, and Horror Writers Guild award, all 2003, all for My Work Is Not Yet Done.
Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1979—, Volume 2 (editorial assistant), Volumes 3 and 4 (assistant editor), Volumes 5 and 6 (senior assistant editor), Volumes 7-60 (associate editor).
Songs of a Dead Dreamer, introduction by Ramsey Campbell, Silver Scarab Press (Albuquerque, NM), 1986, revised edition, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 1989.
Grimscribe: His Lives and Works, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 1991.
Noctuary, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 1994.
The Agonizing Resurrection of Victor Frankenstein and Other Gothic Tales, Silver Salamander Press (Woodinvale, WA), 1994.
The Nightmare Factory (includes novelette "Red Tower"), Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 1996.
My Work Is Not Yet Done: Three Tales of Corporate Horror, Mythos Books (Popular Bluff, MO), 2002.
Sideshow, and Other Stories, Subterranean Press (Flint, MI), 2003.
Contributor of stories to periodicals and anthologies, Grimoire, contributing editor, 1982-85.
SIDELIGHTS: Thomas Ligotti's horror fiction has been critically praised for its richly evocative prose style and its ability to suggest the nightmarish essence of existence itself. Ligotti's stories often focus on those anomalous moments in which a character's perception of his world is shaken and he is forced to confront a frightening and essentially chaotic universe. As Steven J. Mariconda wrote in Necrofile: The Review of Horror Fiction, "At his best Ligotti is resoundingly successful in convincing us that everywhere behind the common facade of life are other, sinister realms of entity more 'real' than that through which we so blithely move." In his introduction to the collection Songs of a Dead Dreamer, Ramsey Campbell called Ligotti "one of the few original voices in contemporary horror fiction."
Reviewers of Songs of a Dead Dreamer, Ligotti's first collection of stories, noted the author's penchant for suggestion and the absence of detailed, graphic accounts of violence. Stefan Dziemianowicz, writing in Dagon, considered "The Frolic" a good example of "the subtle ways in which [Ligotti] brings the certainty of a familiar world into question." "The Frolic" opens with Dr. David Munck, a prison psychologist, telling his wife of a new prisoner referred to as John Doe. Doe has been imprisoned for what he calls "frolicking" with children before murdering them. Doe claims that this frolicking takes place, Munck tells his wife, in a "a place that sounded like the back alleys of some cosmic slum, an inner dimensional dead end [with] a moonlit corridor where mirrors scream and laugh, dark peaks of some kind that won't remain still, [and] a stairway that's 'broken' in a very strange way." Munck explained this place as Doe's demented description of some abandoned building or ghetto neighborhood, but it eventually becomes painfully clear that it is far more than a delusion. Doe is able to enter a netherworld beyond normal dimensions. "By the end of the story," Dziemianowicz wrote, Munck "must confront the fact that his self-assurance has blinded him to many uncertainties, and that in a world where nothing is absolutely certain, the reality of what John Doe says can be doubted, but it can't be ruled out conclusively."
Michael Morrison wrote in Fantasy Review that the stories "Dream of a Mannikin or, The Third Person" and "Drink to Me Only with Labyrinthine Eyes" are particularly successful because they "tickle our subconscious with intimations of 'demonic powers lurking just beyond the threshold of sensory perception.'" Ligotti describes a character in "Alice's Last Adventure"—a story in which an elderly authoress is haunted by one of her own troublesome characters—as a "conjurer of stylish nightmares." Morrison added that this description is equally apt for Ligotti.
Like Morrison, critic Neal Wilgus, writing in Science Fiction Review, was generally positive about the stories in Songs of a Dead Dreamer. Wilgus, however, contended that Ligotti's plots are rather weak, but a weakness more than compensated for by "a unique and arresting style." He wrote that "all of the stories are well done and many are excellent." Writing in Haunted Library Newsletter, Rosemary Pardoe praised the collection's tales for their uniquely eerie effect. She stated, "Ligotti's supernatural fiction invariably features characters who struggle on the edge of a strange and sometimes hideously beautiful madness."
Like its predecessor, Ligotti's second book, Grimscribe: His Lives and Works, has had positive critical reception. This second book presents thirteen new stories in the guise of a novel. Douglas Winter, in the Washington Post Book World, wrote that "its eponymous narrator is a living library of voices—the damned, the demonic, the dreamer, among others—all interwoven in a compelling celebration of the first-person. It is a hypnotic narration; each story is a singular experience, yet each turns on the other, creating what Ligotti rightly calls a 'wheel of terror.'"
Among the stories in this collection are "The Mystics of Muelenburg," in which the residents of a town cease to expend the necessary psychic energy to keep reality alive and ultimately suffer the dissolution of their world, "The Cocoons," the comic story of a demented psychiatrist and his two patients, one of whom is breeding inhuman monsters, and "The Last Feast of Harlequin," the tale of an anthropologist whose investigation of a small town's "Fool's Feast" leads him to uncover an ancient cult. S. T. Joshi noted in Studies in Weird Fiction that the latter story "may perhaps be the very best homage to Lovecraft ever written." Grimscribe, according to Mariconda, "achieves near-classic status."
Noctuary contains not only short fiction, but also nineteen prose poems and an introductory essay in which Ligotti discusses his concept of weird fiction. In this essay Ligotti emphasizes his belief that the experience of the weird is a fundamental and inescapable fact of life. "Like all such facts," he writes, "it eventually finds its way into forms of artistic expression. One of those forms has been termed, of all things, weird fiction."
Noctuary is, according to Edward Bryant in Locus, "a challenging and rewarding experience for the adventurous and eclectic reader." Ligotti, Bryant wrote, "suggests something of a sharper H. P. Lovecraft (with perhaps a strong dash of Clark Ashton Smith and a real undercurrent of Mr. Poe) retooled for the last half of this twentieth century. I frankly feel that Ligotti is a far more exacting stylist than [Lovecraft], even when his dense style flirts with the prolix and embraces the darkly adjectival."
Reviewing the collection for the New York Review of Science Fiction, Dziemianowicz defined how Ligotti approaches horror fiction: "In his literary universe, the occurrence of the inexplicable forces a harsh reassessment of the criteria by which the natural and supernatural, the real and the unreal, the normal and the uncanny are distinguished from one another." Similarly, Joshi, writing in Necrofile, claimed that Ligotti "shows that what we take to be 'real' is itself a sort of mad dream." Dreams play a prominent role in "Mrs. Rinaldi's Angel," the fourth story in Noctuary. The tale tells of a young boy plagued by terrible nightmares who is cured by Mrs. Rinaldi, only to develop instead a hearty appetite for "the absurd and horrible, even the perfectly evil" to take the place of his dreams. In this story Ligotti, according to Dziemianowicz, "proffers dreams as parasitical 'maggots of the mind and soul' that feed vampirically on our personalities and experiences." In "The Prodigy of Dreams," a story Joshi believes "comes very close to realizing Ligotti's goal of presenting the real world as the quintessence of nightmare," mundane events stir within a sensitive scholar a trembling awareness of the underlying chaos of the world.
Both The Nightmare Factory and "Red Tower," a novella among the fifty stories of the collection won Bram Stoker awards. Booklist's Roland Green called the book "a feast."
Joshi reviewed Ligotti's My Work Is Not Yet Done: Three Tale of Corporate Horror on his own Home Page, saying that "one would not wish to read any excessive autobiographical significance in the crazed murderer who is the protagonist of the long title story, but Ligotti's familiarity with the petty office politics that renders work at many companies a living hell is evident on every page." The protagonist of this story is Frank Dominio, a worker at an unnamed company. When Frank is forced to resign, he blames his coworkers and plans to murder them one at a time in revenge. The two shorter stories are titled "I Have a Special Plan for this World" and "The Nightmare Network." Joshi wrote that this book "displays Thomas Ligotti at the height of his form—in imaginative range, in verve of style and precision of language, and in cumulative power and intensity. And it reveals several new sides to Ligotti's work—an ability to draw upon workaday experience, a tart, biting wit that spares no person or object within the range of its jaundiced vision, and, most of all, an expansiveness of plotting and character development that may one day allow us to witness that most anomalous and unexpected of eventualities, a Thomas Ligotti novel."
"My Work Is Not Yet Done rings in an increasingly surreal atmosphere of violence, after-death survival (or at least something strangely similar), and a supernatural vengeance, hard-eyed justice after a fashion," commented Bryant, who called this book "a doozy." A Publishers Weekly contributor described it as a "surreal black comedy" in which each story "resonates with echoes of Kafka and Orwell in its elaboration of the daily work grind as a disturbing metaphor for universal entropy."
Dziemianowicz interviewed Ligotti for Publishers Weekly, asking what inspired him to write his tales of humor-laced workplace horror. Ligotti said they "share the same source of inspiration as Scott Adams's 'Dilbert.' It's uncanny how the world of that comic strip reflected my own work environment, and obviously that of many office workers in companies throughout the civilized world." Ligotti said that "The Nightmare Network" is based on a 1994 "typical Dilbertian reorganization" where he worked. He said that it was followed by other trauma-producing reorganizations, all of which made him more aware of the realities of the working life. Ligotti added, "I can honestly say that I wish I had never been moved to produce this book."
Ligotti's interest in presenting a dreamlike or nightmarish world is evident in many of his stories. When asked by Shawn Ramsey in Deathrealm about his goal as a writer of horror fiction, Ligotti responded: "I suppose my ultimate aspiration as a horror writer would be to compose tales that on the surface would seem to be utter phantasmagoric nonsense, yet would convey all those incredible sensations and meanings that overwhelm us in our dreams."
Horror enthusiasts have praised Ligotti for his elegant prose and his ability to suggest subtle, sometimes philosophical terrors. "For nearly a decade," Winter noted, "while lesser talents have stocked the bookracks with a relentless supply of carbon-copy chills, Ligotti has labored, unheralded and virtually unknown, to create a canon of short stories so idiosyncratic as to defy almost any description save demented." According to Joshi, Ligotti "remains the most refreshing voice in weird fiction, the one writer who can never be mistaken for someone else."
Ligotti once explained his fiction as an attempt to "reflect—however imperfectly—my attachment to a type of horror tale that is no longer practiced to any significant extent. Some of its most obvious traits are: an idiosyncratic prose style, characters who are abnormal in striking ways, an intensely dreamlike atmosphere created primarily by means of visual images, and an ultimately dark view of human existence."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 44, Gale, 1987.
St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost & Gothic Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Schweitzer, Darrell, editor, The Thomas Ligotti Reader, Wildside Press (Holicong, PA), 2003.
Short Story Criticism, Volume 16, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994.
Booklist, February 15, 1994, Mike Tribby, review of Noctuary, p. 1060; August, 1996, Roland Green, review of The Nightmare Factory, p. 1882.
Dagon, September-December, 1988, Stefan Dziemianowicz, review of Songs of a Dead Dreamer, pp. 3-82.
Deathrealm, spring, 1989, Shawn Ramsey, interview with Ligotti.
Fantasy Review, June, 1986, Michael Morrison, review of Songs of a Dead Dreamer, pp. 23-24.
Haunted Library Newsletter, November, 1986, Rosemary Pardoe, review of Songs of a Dead Dreamer.
Library Journal, January, 1994, Stacie Browne Chandler, review of Noctuary, p. 168.
Locus, February, 1992; March, 1994, Edward Bryant, review of Noctuary, pp. 31-32; October, 2002, Edward Bryant, review of My Work Is Not Yet Done: Three Tales of Corporate Horror, p. 25.
Necrofile: The Review of Horror Fiction, spring, 1992, Steven J. Mariconda, review of Grimscribe: His Lives and Works, pp. 1-3; spring, 1994, S. T. Joshi, review of Noctuary, pp. 11-13.
New York Review of Science Fiction, April, 1994, Stefan Dziemianowicz, review of Noctuary, pp. 4-6.
Publishers Weekly, May 11, 1990, Sybil Steinberg, review of Songs of a Dead Dreamer, p. 249; October 18, 1991, review of Grimscribe, p. 50; December 20, 1993, review of Noctuary, p. 51; September 2, 2002, review of My Work Is Not Yet Done, and Stefan Dziemianowicz, "PW Talks with Thomas Ligotti" (interview), p. 59.
Science Fiction Review, August, 1986, Neal Wilgus, review of Songs of a Dead Dreamer, pp. 44-45.
Studies in Weird Fiction, spring, 1991, S. T. Joshi, review of Grimscribe, pp. 27-31.
Washington Post Book World, February 16, 1992, Douglas Winter, review of Grimscribe, p. 9.
Wilson Library Bulletin, March, 1994, Gene LaFaille, review of Noctuary, pp. 102-103.
S. T. Joshi Home Page,http://www.lsu.edu/necrofile/mywork.html (May 13, 2004), review of My Work Is Not Yet Done.*