Human Remains taps into some hot button issues with me.
I'm obsessed with physical beauty. There's an argument to be made that I am deeply shallow. I do believe that people who are beautiful lead better lives, which makes me deeply jealous of them. I do also believe that people who are beautiful become commodities to other people. They can never be entirely invisible and they stop entirely belonging to themselves. It's one of the themes in Natsuo Kirino's novel Grotesque, which is a source of heavy inspiration to me.
Gavin, the amoral hustler from Human Remains, is defined by his beauty. He's aware of it, he revels in it, and he is terrified of letting it slip away. There's a lot of fear of aging going on underneath the skin of the story. The people I know who are the most afraid of aging are athletes and the beautiful; the athletic fear losing their abilities and the beautiful fear losing their identities. In the back of my brain, where all my nasty ideas live, I like to think that all aging does is even out the playing field.
This is a doppelganger story that starts out about fucking and ends with identity.
It's not sex. In the immortal words of Dear Coke Talk, the difference between fucking and making love is Hallmark. There's something incredibly narcissistic about the way Gavin approaches his work. Most prostitution stories in the horror genre paint prostitutes as victims, but Gavin isn't really about sex. He commodifies his beauty, and looks down on the people he deigns to share himself with. He's not even particularly straight or gay or bi. He's just an object to be desired.
So, of course, he picks up a man outside an art house cinema. There's something off about the man. He's nervous and the nervousness never lets up even on safe ground. He doesn't give the usual tells. While he's admiring the beautiful but odd collection of antiquities, the mark gets attacked by something. Gavin investigates the bathroom rather stupidly and discovers a statue in a bathtub. Things go pretty wrong for him after that.
The rest of the tale is a fairly simple doppelganger tale, but with one twist. There's not a lot of active malevolence between Gavin and his shadow. He almost embraces the idea of having something else deal with all the sloppy work of presenting his face to the world. He becomes hollowed out, turns to junk, and watches as his twin become a better version of him than he could ever be. Barker has a real gift for creating fine lines between enmity and love, and this story blows me away every time. It's more rich and emotionally complex than the two other stories we've read this semester.
In an interview on his work, Barker echoes a lot of views I have about the horror genre. It's very conservative. It's obsessed with the status quo. It's about destroying the monster. People who've delved deeper into the genre (I'm looking at you, Chris) are there any other writers who successfully celebrate the supernatural with the same intelligence and beauty as Barker?