I'm not quite finished with my trip down nostalgia lane. I have one more to go after this (Carrion Comfort is the one following The Other, and then I think I'll be finished, unless I decide I want to re-read Harvest Home, too). When I first read this in graduate school, I had no idea what to expect from it. I had heard that it was a classic horror novel, but a first novel by a B-grade actor written in the 1970s? Pshaw, I said. I didn't expect it to be very good at all. But whoah, nelly, was I wrong about that.
The book is still an impressive piece of horror fiction — moreso now than when I first read it, I think — but it's very dark. I mean, I'm accustomed to reading stuff by King and Straub, but this one is far and above much darker than anything they can create. Tryon manages to create his characters so vividly and precisely that it's impossible not to get inside their heads, and that's where the true horror lies. It's not necessarily the bad things that people do; it's more knowing why they choose to do such things. And The Other is a dark examination of just that.
The book is a little like an M. Night Shyamalan story, where there's a huge build up to a shocking reveal, and I remember, as with The Sixth Sense — just how shocked and surprised I was when I reached that point in the book. Unlike anything that Shyamalan has done, though, The Other continues on, forcing the reader not just to rethink everything that's come before, but to consider what else there is to come, and how much worse it will be, knowing what the secret really is. And I think that's honestly why this book succeeds as well as it does.
The tagline at the top of the book reads, "You have never read a novel like this one," and I have to say, I've read something like this before. But that's like looking back at Citizen Kane and giving Welles crap for borrowing all the tropes that are now common in making movies. I don't even know if the premise of The Other had been done before Tryon wrote is, but he did such a good job of capturing the story, the characters, and the setting that even if this is a tired trope in horror fiction now, the book is still one worth reading. Shoot, it's even worth re-reading, since once you know how the story ends, you can see how well Tryon put together the events to drop little hints for you along the way. It's a little like Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" in that respect, and believe me, that's some fine company to be in. One of the neat things about re-reading this book isn't just that I was able to find the hints and clues along the way; I came across details that I had forgotten about, and which were as surprising to me now as when I had first read the novel. I wonder now if I had forgotten them because I had tried to block them from my memory.
The Other is a brilliant piece of storytelling that suffers a bit from some purply prose, but rest assured, if you want to journey into the darkness of a troubled mind, then this is the book for you. The only other book that I think comes close to capturing that sort of madness is Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. It's definitely not a book for the squeamish, though.