Monday, December 20, 2010

Norman Bogner, Snowman (1978)

Bogner, Norman. Snowman. New York: Dell (#18152), February 1978. 221 pages (my copy, right)
. London: New English Library, 1979. (below)

Rating: 4/10

Snowman at ISFdb

Snowman at Goodreads
Snowman at Goodreads

Some differing opinions:

Review at the PorPor Books Blog.
Review at The Groovy Age of Horror.

Dell, 1978
Dissenting opinions are as common as blogs, so I am including links to two reviews that offer assessments very much at odds with mine. While these reviews do mention certain weaknesses in Bogner's novel, they are generally recommending the book, whereas I am surprised not that it is out of print, but that it was ever printed in the first place.

Norman Bogner's 1978 novel Snowman is essentially an adventure story with some elements of horror. The Himalayan Yeti has made its way to the Sierra mountains in California, where he has transformed a brand new ski resort into a self-service snack bar. The snacks decide to rebel, but afraid of turning away potential visitors (i.e. re-stocking the snack bar), the head cheese decides to hire some mercenaries, led by Daniel Bradford and his Sherpa guide, leftovers of the legendary snowman dinner of 1966.

I enjoyed the first six chapters, totalling seventy-four pages of blood and amoral behaviour. When the local ski queen is torn to pieces, her remains left as evidence that she is only the appetizer, small town newspaper mogul Jim Ashby manipulates resort managers and the town sheriff to buy some time and locate former great Daniel Bradford. Our '66 survivor is now an outcast, since popular belief is that the nineteen victims of his tragic expedition to the Lhotse mountain face were disposed of not by the legendary Yeti, but by Bradford's own cowardice. Now Bradford wants revenge, and as soon as Ashby locates him on an Indian reservation somewhere deep in a dusty desert, I quickly lose interest in the entire adventure, and can hope only that the snowman has a healthy appetite.

At first I thought this was because I found Bradford comical, with his pop mysticism complete with peyote-popping and a bearded Yaqui buddy. Yet why should I lose interest over this? Why not instead hope that our famished snow creature uses him as a toothpick? I realized only after finishing the novel that what bothered me more than the badly conceived character was the extreme switch in setting. Bogner managed to get me all cocooned up in the icy mountains of Sierra, boarded in with the colourful resort staff he described at length, only to remove me from that grip and toss me into its complete antithesis: an open, sweltering desert landscape. When I was plopped back into the snow, I just didn't care for it anymore. Gone was the coziness; gone the icy excitement of silliness to come; gone was my interest.

Yet like our wintry hikers I trudged on, only to groan at the ludicrous page-and-a-half love story between Bradford and resort Public Relations officer Cathy Parker. The entire scene was an afterthought, possibly forced onto Bogner by his publishers ("We need a love story here, Normy. What we need is SEX!"). All of a sudden the penetrating cold is again heated up by the penetratingly bad writing and awkward breast fondling. There really isn't any heat here: the sex is dull and brief, yet long enough (pun intended) to inform the curious reader that rugged and manly Bradford is a tender lover, leaving us to wonder what genre we have unknowingly been tricked into reading.

[Tiny spoiler.] Cathy disappears through much of the novel, as do the colourful characters we meet at the still-entertaining beginning. Why should we be made to read about Erich, the German instructor who was hired despite a bad record because the company believed he might give the resort a European flavour? This is a good detail, but we never see the guy again. Additional afterthoughts are the sudden re-introduction of Ashby in the final chapter; he disappears throughout much of the latter novel, only to re-appear briefly in the final pages wallowing in guilt. This is an inappropriate comeuppance for the character: he needs to have been eaten up. Indeed, he should have been a fitting dessert!

NEL 1979
Aside from early-Ashby there are no interesting characters. The mercenaries are stock: the white Vietnam war veteran; the black dude; the tall long-haired American-Indian; the Sherpa guide; the white American loner dude. Cathy Parker, who I initially believed would be the novel's hero, keeps changing personality page-to-page. And the snowman, with his heat-ray vision and animal call mimicry, is not too threatening. There is an early Kodiak-killing scene that is quite good, but I think since some portions of the novel are told through the monster's point of view, it does not appear as threatening to the reader as it does to the characters, who knows less of the creature than we do. And it doesn't help when you're cheering for the beast.

[Some more spoilers.] I am baffled as to why Bradford selected these men in particular for the snowman hunt. They are not terribly resourceful. The Indian is afraid of heights, the black guy won't step inside the cave, while the traumatized war vet rants on and on about being a peon in the war, and they are all actively argumentative. Even their limited talents cannot be utilized on the mountain: the explosives expert, for instance, can't bring along any explosives since it would cause an avalanche. Then why recruit the guy! Each freaks out at some point, and they all get killed. In fact, Bradford doesn't even inform his gang that the snowman can expertly mimic any living animal, so that one guy gets called away because he thinks he can hear someone, only to become a late-night bite. Moreover, Bradford doesn't seem to care about these guys; rather than call in the government he wants to bring these men up against the twenty-five foot monster because he wants vengeance. Yet revenge for what we do not know: the death of nineteen members of his team or the fact that he has since had to live in exile on an Indian reservation, discredited and humiliated? It is unclear what is driving this man, and labelling his drive in terms of "revenge" is too simplistic a way out. Captain Ahab he is not. He isn't even Captain Crunch.

But I must admit the NEL cover is really quite neat.

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