Thomas Ligotti, My Work is Not Yet Done (2002)
October 2, 2011 § Leave a comment
There was only darkness. It flowed like a black river that had no bottom. And it was unconfined by any shores, infinite and turbulent and moving without direction, without any source or destination. There was only darkness flowing in darkness.
Then something felt itself struggling in this black and bottomless and infinite river, something unformed and embryonic swirling within the darkness. It had no eyes, just as the darkness had none. It had no thoughts and no sensations, only the darkness flowing through it and around it in a blind chaos of thrashing agitation. It was something living, something restless and alive in the darkness that flowed relentlessly like a black river in a black world. Yet even without eyes or thoughts or sensations it moved toward the impossible surface of the darkness…and broke through. (p. 63)
Thomas Ligotti, based on the current poll results, seems to be an unknown entity for several readers of this blog. With luck, over the course of October, I plan on writing short(er) reviews of several of his stories and/or collections. A good place to begin is his 2002 short novel (more widely available in the not-pictured 2006 UK edition that includes two related stories, “I Have a Special Plan for This World” and “The Nightmare Network”), My Work is Not Yet Done. This story differs in some regards from others that I have read over the past three years, but its heart is just as disturbing and unsettling as his best works.
My Work is Not Yet Done is set in a nameless, faceless corporate office. Frank Dominio, a long-time, rather fastidious employee who has had to do (for him) some rather unpleasant things to rise to the inglorious ranks of middle management, feels that he is being demeaned and dehumanized by his fellow corporate committee members. He comes to see them as the Seven, sometimes dwarfs but more often as swine whose callousness represents a greater negative force. As the story unfolds, we see Dominio forced out of his position and ultimately out of the company by the Seven, headed by a nefarious manager known as Richard, or the Doctor. Ligotti over the course of the first section’s roughly 60 pages builds upon Dominio’s seething contempt for the Seven, for the vacuousness that they represent, until after his forced resignation he plans how to exterminate them in a blaze of guns and wielded knives.
At this point, the tale follows in the tracks of a homicidal ideation. We see the motives for Dominio’s desires for revenge against those who conspired to keep him from completing his (never fully-revealed) work, his obsessive-compulsive nature, and we sense that we are inside the mind of someone who is somewhat divorced from common perceptions of reality. Ligotti expertly builds upon this perception until just before Part I’s rattling conclusion, when he broadens the scope of the darkness on display with this seemingly off-topic exchange with a banker:
“May I ask why you’ve decided to close your account with us?” asked the gray-suited man to whom the teller had sent me. He was sitting behind a desk in a corner of the great vaulted lobby of the bank.
“Because I despise you,” I replied, looking at him straight in the eye from behind amber-tinted eyeglasses.
“I beg your pardon?”
“I think you heard me. This is a bank. I’d rather carry my money around in my crotch than have it serve the purposes of this institution for another minute.”
The banker, somewhat petulantly, retrieved three forms from the top drawer of his desk and asked me to fill them out. Two of the forms he kept. The third he told me to take to the teller who had sent me to him. “This is a waiver. You understand that the bank can’t be held responsible for cash withdrawals once you’ve taken possession of your funds. Even while you’re still on the bank’s premises, our security guards will not be available for your protection.” As I rose to go back to the teller’s window and have all my money loaded into the shoe box I had brought with me, the gray-suited man added, “We sincerely have enjoyed serving you and hope to do so again in the future.” It occurred to me that all civilization was structured so that such people could make snide remarks like that and get away with it. They had been getting away with it for thousands of years and would continue to get away with it until the end of time. (p. 55-56).
The “problem” that Dominio experiences is not limited to one situation or one group of people, but is rather a perception that it is a system ingrained in human societies that degrades people, corrupts them, makes them less than pure. It is a darkness akin to that described in the opening paragraphs of Part II, one that is perhaps a “black swine” larger and more insidious than any of the Seven could dream up to oppose Dominio. It is this larger issue that Ligotti threads throughout the remainder of his narrative:
As many of you have already realized, I did not give up my intentions of crafting a document that, in an earlier section, I described as my Ultimate Statement. This document, or statement, had merely mutated into a different format – from a ranting declaration into what might be categorized as a paranormal memoir: a work-in-progress of uncertain form, very much like its creator. Among the principal elements to emerge in this latter form was that sinister presence whose sign and symbol had appeared to me as (1) a river of darkness; (2) a constellation of dark stars which filled the darkness behind the darkness of the night sky; (3)”dark spots” that, despite my enhanced perception of the world around me, still obscured certain crucial things from my view, most prominently any knowledge concerning the peculiar – “non living” – state in which I now existed; and (4) stains or smudges of darkness which spread across the sky at all hours and grew increasingly prominent each time I knocked the living daylights out of one of The Seven (plus Chipman). (p. 107-108)
Although Part Two (and the first half of Part Three) is devoted to Dominio executing his ghastly eliminations of the Seven, Ligotti does something here in this section that makes the horror less about how Dominio inflicts his revenge and more about the helplessness in which Dominio and others find themselves. Many horror fictions revolve around the breakdown of societal bonds and structures; there is a sense of transgression. What is surprising in this section is how Ligotti inverts this. The horror is found in the reinforcement of the system, symbolized in the corporate structure headed by Richard. Dominio may be utilizing dark powers to gain revenge, but whence the dark powers? Who is controlling whom? It is around this question that the denouement unfolds and which makes this story exemplary of some of the concerns that Ligotti addressed in prior fictions. It also makes for a story that unsettles its readers long after the final exchange is read and the reader dwells upon what s/he has just finished. Their work, too, is not yet done.