R. W. Rasband writes with a strong recommendation for Brock Brower’s 1971 novel, The Late Great Creature: “In a time when both Stephen King and satirical comedy are so popular, I don’t understand why this novel isn’t more well known.”
In his review on Amazon.com, Rasband wrote of the novel:
The movie documentary “Stone Reader” is about great books that have been lost to public memory or somehow never gotten the attention they deserve. My nomination for a “great lost book” is Brock Brower’s The Late Great Creature, an amazing 1971 novel that needs to be resurrected for a certain-to-be large, appreciative audience. The title character is Simon Moro, the greatest horror movie star of the 1920’s and ’30’s (he’s like Lon Chaney Sr. to the nth degree.) We learn of his fall from fame, and his attempted comeback in the phantasmagorical year of 1968. In his prime he made “Ghoulgantua”, the most terrifying film ever made (about a combination Frankenstein’s monster/vampire.) He created the famous monster “Gila Man” (a sort of werewolf lizard) during the war. Later he was blacklisted for political reasons, went to Germany to make a legendary, unreleased horror movie about the Nazi concentration camps that was supressed by both West and East Germany, and gradually sank into obscurity. Then low-budget Hollywood came calling with an offer to make a cheap Roger Corman-style Edgar Allen Poe rip-off titled “Raven!”
The novel has an amazing storytelling virtuosity that suggests, as one critic put it, a younger Nabokov raised on creepy old horror movies. There are three narrators: Warner Williams, a terminally-slick magazine writer who provides the basic back story of Moro’s amazing career. There’s also Terry Cowan, the amoral, cynical director of “Raven!” And there’s Moro himself, who drops some pretty big surprises in his narration that make you question all that has gone before. Like Bela Lugosi, Moro struggled with demons (including drugs and poverty) but Moro developed some real heroism and hard-won insight. As he says, “Where there is no spine, there is no tingle.” He looks out at the corrupt America of the 1960’s and decides to shock it back to its moral senses by scaring the country to death during the publicity tour for his new movie. He does this in grotesque, hilarious ways that you have to read for yourself.
The book is wonderfully satrical about celebrity culture and is also a loving tribute to the horror genre. It’s stunningly verbally agile. There are lines that will stick in your head forever. It’s also got a thrillingly intricate plot, that as you unravel it through the three narrators, will amaze and delight you. In a way it reminds me of Michael Chabon’s “Wonder Boys” in its compassionate yet blisteringly funny and painstakingly accurate portrait of artistic losers run amok. I read this in high school and it remains one of my very favorite books. You should get hold of a copy immediately, any way you can.
Time magazine’s reviewer was equally enthusiastic when the book first came out:
If this were all Brower had done, The Late Great Creature would be only one of the funniest tours de force of the past few years. But he has done more. With few illusions of ever returning to the great days of Saturday matinee catharsis, he illustrates the salutary nature of terrorâ€”its ability to exorcise fears of evil and death. He also toys gracefully with the paradox that fiction is capable of more truth than journalism. The truth about Brock Brower, an experienced freelance journalist, is that he must now be reckoned with as an extraordinarily capable novelist.
As recounted in an article in Publisher’s Weekly back in 2005, however, such positive reviews and even a National Book Award nomination couldn’t get Brower the time of day or a publisher. It was nearly 30 years before he attempted fiction again. The result, Blue Dog, Green River, a somewhat mystical tale of Blue Dog, a one-time chicken thief, was published by the admirable David R. Godine Press and is still in print.