I am late in discovering the talent of Thomas Ligotti considering his first collection had been published in 1986. However, I am glad Teatro Grottesco is the first of his books that I read because it is the best collection to date and the most accessible to horror fans. Ligotti is mostly considered an author of strange fiction and weird tales but the end result is always horror no matter what path had been taken to get there. Upon reading the first story in this collection, Purity, I sat in my chair unmoving for several minutes. Then, I turned back to page one and re-read the whole story. Reading this story was like watching a magician perform an exceptional illusion. It was simultaneously bizarre and commonplace, eccentric and familiar, fantastic but low-key. This was not a fluke applicable to this one story. Indeed, I found myself re-reading several of the stories repeatedly as I tackled the book including, The Clown Puppet and Gas Station Carnivals.
Another quality of Ligotti’s style is that he seems to be the exception to every rule. Everything that my teachers and mentors have ever told me about becoming a published fiction writer, about my work, Ligotti embraces in his style. I was told, don’t write in first person if you want to get published; all of his stories are in first person. I am told I have too much exposition; some of his stories are loaded to the gills with exposition. I am told to be succinct, something Ligotti definitely is not. I am told to be careful of block writing; some of Ligotti’s stories have the first paragraph and subsequent paragraphs weighing in at a full page each. Just flip through the book and you will see page after page of text with few paragraph indents. I am told my writing is unduly formal; at times Ligotti seems to be writing a reference book rather than a fictional story. But it all works for him as he weaves interesting, strange, and fantastic tales that are as sincere as they are bizarre and stories that captivate the reader and drag them off to a place they have never been.
If you enjoy reading Lovecraft and Poe, you will most likely embrace Ligotti. If you prefer the streamline style of Dean Koontz, you may find Ligotti a bit overbearing. But try it out for yourself and make your own decision. Teatro Grottesco is a good place to start.