Clive Barker’s story, Human Remains, caught my attention in a few different ways, and I’m not exactly sure where to start. I think I’ll begin with what’s eating most at my mind. Recently, numerous Facebook friends reported reading, and concurring with, a Cracked.com article about how men are trained to hate women. I disagreed with a lot of what David Wong says in his article, but one segment stood out me as grossly unfair: in Wong’s final point, he mentions that men are only fascinated with the female body and believe women are, too. Wong uses the supportive example of male writers focusing on a female point of view--however, Barker disproves Wong’s theory.
In his article, Wong brings up George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. I’ll confess, I have not read the series, but I really needn’t have read the books to realize Wong as misjudged his quote and that many writers are unfairly criticized for their depiction on the opposite sex. Just because a male writer describes a female character’s breasts does not mean the character thinks only about breasts or that the writer believes women always think about breasts. Comparatively, just because a male writer describes a male erection does not mean the character only thinks about his penis or that the writer believes all men always think about their penises. Wong’s ideas are ridiculous and a bit fortifying of the stereotypes our society has worked to break free from over the years.
More specifically, Wong quotes Martin writing, “When she went to the stables, she wore faded sandsilk pants and woven grass sandals. Her small breasts moved freely beneath a painted Dothraki vest ...." Compare this to Barker’s line from Human Remains: “Keen for reunion, he slid out from his skin of sheet and duvet. His body turned to a column of gooseflesh as the cold air encased him, his sleep erection hid its head.” Most men don’t always think about their penises, but this detail helps the frigid cold of the story come to life for the reader, just as the nipple irritation of Martin’s quote spoke to me when I read it. As humans, we are all sexual beings, and from time to time, we (male or female) do think about our bodies. To try to pretend women never think about their breasts would be as ludicrous and sexist as thinking they only think about their breasts. Likewise, men only thinking with their penises is a stereotypical joke for a reason--it happens, but not all the time.
I’ve read on other blogs that some readers have problems with the grotesque details in horror stories of urinating out of fear and soiling oneself out of pain. These details aren’t necessary. The story works without them. Not everyone thinks about how dead people defecate themselves. Some do, though. I do. The creators of South Park do. The little girl in the Showtime series Shameless does. The rationalization of the biological ramifications of expiration speaks levels for a character. Either the character is morbidly humorous or completely logical (possible something else, but those are the two character branches that spring to my mind). Similarly, having a character relate to a fascination with his or her sex should speak to that specific character. If the character isn’t one to ever consider his or her genitals, yet the character does, then that’s a fault with the writing--not men’s perception of women or vice versa. A character that admits to herself, if not others, that a wool sweater is killing her nipples will be a character much more outspoken than a character that just mentions she’s wearing a wool sweater. Also, a character that claims he has a “swamp down there” as he sticks his hand down his pants to scratch his festering case of jock itch will be a lot more cocky than a character who is too dignified to really consider the burning between his legs.
Gavin’s character worked. He was as narcissistic of a character as I’ve ever read. He thought he was so beautiful that he humbly sacrificed himself to the creature that admired his looks and life so much. Barker’s homosexuality does not interfere with the almost asexual nature of this character, just as a male writer’s sexuality should not interfere with a female character’s sexuality. Barker sets a shinning example of how a character’s thoughts and concerns should relate to his or her own personality and desires. Gavin thinks about his penis because he’s fascinated with how his own body looks. Maybe if I read the rest of Martin’s work, I’ll find flaws with the characterization, but it’s unfair to criticize Martin’s writing because he is a male writer mentioning a female character thinking about her breasts. Every person and every character is different from everyone else, and as long as the rest of the character fits, Martin has not made any unrealistic assumptions of women or humankind in general.
Okay, so with that rant out of the way, I’d also like to discuss the monster in Human Remains. Fundamentally, this living doll is a golem (forgive me if there’s folklore that predates the Jewish legend for I’m unaware of it). Barker takes a unique and creative spin on the golem. This creature not only protects but also feeds on its master--vampiric, really. To further the originality of this story, Barker has chosen a superficial character in a superficial career, prostitution. The master only cares about his body, and the golem cares only about the master’s body. Everything regards the same theme, so this story works well. I suppose the same story could have been done in Hollywood with supermodels, but the grunginess of a prostitution ring makes this tale so much more delightfully dirty.
The story ends on an ironic tone as the monster becomes more human than the human because it learns how to mourn--how to feel. Ending included, I enjoyed the story thoroughly. I should also point out that I respected the informative scene where the golem describes itself. It claims that it is the only one of its kind that it’s aware of, that it’s done this numerous times before, that sometimes it’s challenged and defeated, that it never dies. This revealing was enough for me to feel satisfied with an explanation yet yearn for a just a bit more, which is a fantastic place to leave readers fixating over a story after reading it.