R.A. Lafferty vol. 1: The Man Who Made Models

by R.A. Lafferty

“A German of the last century stated that the generally bad design of eyes offered irrefutable evidence that God was a bungler.”

Most of the gut-bustingly funny quotes that could be listed here are more so if you have the context from the previous sentence or two, with that context built upon the previous paragraph or two, and suddenly you really need the whole 15 minute story if you want to be rolling on the floor in uncontrollable laughter. And with some of these stories you will curl up into a ball, stomach muscles finding the humor even if your mind is still catching up.

This first book in a planned series of twelve volumes covering Mr. Raphael Aloysius Lafferty’s entire career in short stories consists of 17 tales, Centipede bringing them all back into print. Some of the greatest writers of our time look to this man as an idol of imagination. The volume’s introduction by Michael Swanwick is informative, touching and a bit of hero-worship. The introduction to volume 2 by Harlan Ellison is even more so. This quiet, unassuming, deeply religious man from Tulsa, Oklahoma was a giant to some of the greatest writers of our age like Ellison, Gaiman and Wolfe.

“Whenever he found a stubbornly empty space, he filled it with his imagination.”

We open with a man who carves intricate models of humans and the subjects always disappear as the models are finished. But when the human subjects reappear, the models are gone. A policeman trying to stop a gargantuan theft attempts to pin the crime on the sculptor and has his own way of manipulating carvings.

Near the close is a tale of a man looking for an $85,000 loan and ending up in front of a street peddler who claims to clear profits of only a nickel on a good week. But the potential borrower witnesses the peddler making a loan of 2.5 million to a well known businessman. And in between the two bookends is a series of stories that fall into the category of inexplicable; you’ve never read anything like it.

It’s not horror unless you count a man fighting to be the ultimate hunter while being physically ripped apart. It’s not science fiction unless you count a man building his own, live mice out of plasma. It’s not fantasy unless you count a man casting spells of perception on land to make it nearly invisible so he can avoid paying taxes. And it’s not absurd. Not unless you count a state of the art communications device with serious issues communicating. It’s a highly concentrated dose of allegorical and deep but whimsical storytelling.

If you’ve seen a few photos of the man, read a bit about him from a couple of introductions and have started to form a working knowledge through the stories themselves, it’s likely you’ve begun to form a mental image of R.A. Lafferty in action—something akin to Tolkien’s Tom Bombadil.

If anyone here is unfamiliar with Mr. Lafferty but your interest is piqued you may want to click the following link, scroll down a bit and open “Narrow Valley” which will take around 15 minutes to read.


“And I will tell you something else if you will promise not to tell the monkeys.”

4 stars

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