Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Other Side of the Curtain - Helen McCloy

First published 1947; cover shown is the November 1965 edition of Argosy, in which the short story features. Cover art by De Gasperi.

One of McCloy's earlier works of fiction, The Other Side of the Curtain features a strong psychological element. Psychology and the supernatural were themes McCloy used often throughout her career, and she was generally successful - as with her masterpiece, Through a Glass, Darkly, a disturbing tale of doppelgängers and the power of suggestion.

In this short story McCloy focuses on dreams - and nightmares. Letty is a newly married young woman who continually dreams of walking towards a curtain, behind which lies something terrifying and unspeakable. She has the ability to wake and remove herself from the dream, but not until she has reached the curtain and feels the terror. When a doctor suggests she continue with the dream and look behind the curtain, she is appalled - to her, this would mean death.

The first wife of Letty's new husband, Ralph, was thought to have died of an accidental overdose, but when a chemist comes forward and identifies Letty as the purchaser of the poison in question, she is arrested and put on trial. It was Ralph who asked Letty to make the purchase, and it was he who murdered his first wife. Naive, trusting Letty doesn't realise she is being framed until it is too late, when Ralph testifies that she made the purchase and is a compulsive liar (thereby negating any contradictory statements she may make).

The story is let down by a weak ending, in which Letty struggles to awaken from what she has been convinced all along was simply a bad dream (a technicolour, weeks-long bad dream...).

"Truth stood before her, whole and hideous, the greatest horror of all. She was awake."

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