Last week I mentioned Fritz Leiber's novel "Conjure Wife" and how I may have been over-critical of Leiber when I began reading it. I began Leiber's novel by prickling and obsessing over its dated qualities. I took offense to every little sexist thought or remark made by the narrator; I thought it was slow-paced and the characters were boring (yet another story about college professors with perfect lives); I thought, why am I reading this dated crap? (It was originally published in 1943... interesting year). I thought this, that is, until the dragon statue came to life and came a-knocking on the door one rainy night. After that, I was hooked, and read the rest of the novel eagerly.
I picked up "Conjure Wife" because it is on the Horror Writer's Association reading list. It is my goal, after all, if you read the last line of my byline to your right, to become a "master scholar" in horror fiction (whatever that means). This means (here, I'll tell you), I have to read all the greatest horror fiction out there and then read all the crap on top of that. I'll be the first to admit I have a long way to go, but the HWA must have some idea what they're talking about because "Conjure Wife" is an excellent novel of the macabre.
The story itself is engaging and has a lot of twists. Leiber's language is simple and flows easily from page to page. Although Leiber is said to have been inspired by H. P. Lovecraft into his early writing career (which includes "Conjure Wife" as his first novel), he does not concern himself with intricate descriptions of setting or internal soliloquy, as Lovecraft does. He writes simple and convincing dialogue and leaves his description to only the details that stick with you, even after you have put the book down: "A thick lock crossed one eye socket, like a curtain, and curled down towards the throat. One eye stared at him, without recognition. And no hand moved to brush the lock of hair away from the other."
At the beginning of the novel, the tale of Bluebeard and what happens to his wife when she snoops around is mentioned (he cuts her head off, in case you didn't know); a perfect foreshadowing of events to come. The message seems to be that sometimes it is best to live in blissful ignorance of the dark forces around us. As Professor Norman Saylor, our protagonist, learns more and more about the sorceress practices of the woman around him (and perhaps all woman), he learns a great deal about the consequences of actions that may appear insignificant, but are anything but.
I highly recommend "Conjure Wife," written by the guy who wrote the classic Sword and Sorcery series "Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser," which was a main influence for TSR's Dungeons and Dragons game (nerd trivia! had to put it in there). This is a great novel of the macabre. The HWA is right about this one; "Conjure Wife" is a horror classic.