I’m turning into quite a fan of Clive Barker and I loved The Yattering and Jack. I love the complexity of the characters, the teasing information about the rest of Hell, its hierarchy, and, its purpose, and the great allusions to the Book of Job.
From the first paragraph, I was charmed. The story, from a demon’s POV, reminded me of a story I loved when I was a kid, The Reluctant Familiar by Nicholas Stuart Gray. In that story, a demon finds himself summoned by a wizard and since it’s a short story for children there’s not as much of the actual Hell in that story. But it had the same lovable turn of expectation. Here we are listening to the other side of the story, understanding the demon’s thoughts on the world, Heaven and stupid, stupid humans.
I’ve read enough of the other Barker short stores in his collections to be used to his shifting point of view tricks, so I thought it was just Barker showing us the story from the monster’s point of view again. And I waited for Jacks’ side.
I waited for a lot longer than I thought I would.
We stayed with this little Yattering fella for so long I started wanting it to win. I didn’t like Jack Polo and his annoying imperturbability. I wanted my little demon friend to drive him insane. I especially felt for the Yattering after it got up the courage to go to the Lord of the Flies and ask for death before continuing with this assignment. It knows its not going to win against Jack and I loved that it was denied and still went back to the task and tried its hardest. As a particularly emotional person, somewhat prone to violence and boredom, I really empathized with this demon and his need to break this cold bastard.
Before I finished reading the story, my initial thoughts were going to be about how Jack J. Polo monstrous in his dispassion. He’s unattached to the world, glib in the face of his loved ones’ pain (even worse than glib, he relies on platitudes) and shows none of the redeeming features of humanity, just a cold dispassion. Also what kind of a monster takes cats into his house and leaves them indoors all day?
Then Barker took us into Jack’s point of view and suddenly his apathy made sense. He was driving the demon insane with his blandness, out Yattering the Yattering. That turn in itself makes the story worth reading.
There’s a lovely complexity to the character’s as well. I’m still not quite convinced that Jack J. Polo is not a monster. For one, he could have saved his wife a lot of agony if he’d let her know, outside of the house, what he was doing and why he didn’t seem to care about anything. I’m also not are certain as the Yattering that Jack is going to Hell; I think, he’ll worm his way out of it like his mother before him and I like the almost hopeful note the story ends on where Jack wonders if he will be able to save the Yattering.