The Other – Thomas Tryon
Fawcett Crest – 1972 (Originally published 1971)
The only thing I knew about Thomas Tryon’s The Other before I read it was that it was a bestseller in 1971. It was only as I read it that I realised how influential a novel it has been on modern horror.
Niles and Holland are twin 13 year old boys who live on a farm in New England. Niles is quiet and easily led, and Holland is… well, Holland is a real bad kid. Their dad died a few months before the story begins, and from the beginning it seems pretty obvious that Holland had something to do with this. My suspicions ran wild as I was reading it. I suspected there was going to be some big plot twist, and I was trying to figure out what it was, but the story takes its time and Tryon holds on to his details, only ever giving just enough to keep his readers engaged.
The pacing got on my nerves a little bit during the first half of the novel, but when the twist was revealed and things clicked into place, it all felt worthwhile. I’m sure lots of people who haven’t read this book already know how it ends, but I won’t give anything away. I will mention that I was surprised at how unpleasant that part near the end is.
It was that particularly nasty bit that made me realise how influential this book is. I would be very surprised if Brenda Brown Canary’s choice of setting and violence in The Voice of the Clown were not influenced by Tryon’s book.
I didn’t really like the part where the boys’ grandmother, a crazy old Russian woman, teaches them a trick where they can enter the bodies of other creatures. I guess this makes it easier to accept the potentially supernatural goings on, but it was also a bit weird and unnecessary.
I can imagine some readers getting halfway through this book and not bothering to finish it. That would be a mistake. The pacing and all of the mysterious little clues that are offered throughout the book all come together at the end. I thought this was a very effective horror novel. At times I found it mildly shocking and horrifying. Read it if you haven’t already.
Dell – 1987 (First published 1973)
I waited for six months to read another book by Tryon. I didn’t dislike The Other, but it was a bit slow, and I usually prefer things short and snappy. Harvest Home is actually pretty similar in pacing to its predecessor, but I ended up absolutely loving this book.
This novel starts when the Constantine family moves to Cornwall Coombe, a quaint rural village where everybody knows everybody. The new family is settling in and everything is going well until the father stumbles upon a ritual in which a local child with a learning disability is forced to choose the Harvest Lord by studying the entrails of a freshly sacrificed sheep. He sneaks away and pretends he has seen nothing, but after this, he starts to notice other strange goings on in the town. It turns out that there’s some fairly bad stuff happening behind the scenes.
I really, really enjoyed Harvest Home. Again, Tryon holds back details in a masterful way. I found this approach even more enjoyable here than it was in The Other. I think it was because the protagonist in this one was a little bit more relatable to me than the boys in his first novel. The pacing is slow, but the writing and characters are enjoyable enough to keep things entertaining between the big revelations. There was one part where the main character gets really drunk and ruins a party. I had to go back and read this section a second time to make sure I had understood everything that happened. It felt rushed and muddled the first time I read it. Reading back, it became apparent that this was clearly intentional. The author used barely any full stops (periods) in the whole passage. It’s probably a well known trick, but I found it really effective.
Tryon was an interesting guy. He was a relatively successful Hollywood actor before he was a writer. That fact made me assume his books would be trashy, but these two weren’t. They were really good. It seems like Thomas Tryon was a real cool guy.