A brief summary of "Pale Realms of Shade," just so you know what I'm talking about -- Matt Flint, a private eye, has been killed and returns as a ghost. He doesn't remember who killed him, and goes on a quest to find out. (If you've read what Wright had to say about Marilyn Monroe in the previous entry you can probably make a good guess who the murderer is. Hint: it's the wife.)
A lot of this murkiness, I think, is the prose. Wright never uses one word when ten or twenty will do. "As I swam, I could feel the tugging, towing, hauling, heaving, wrenching sensation trying to pull me back," he says. Or: "It was not just a bolt of lightning, but an intricate symphony of lightning, of pure light, the divine powers blazing with all the colors of the spectrum, and the million other colors human eyes never see, beyond infrared and ultraviolet, all the way from radio waves to cosmic rays, each one more beautiful than the next." I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to decide which of those words can be cut, but, really, you could probably take out a fourth of them and still keep the sense. Then there's "[W]e acknowledge none to be superior to us, to gainsay our word, nor say us nay," where the last two phrases mean exactly the same thing.
Some of it is the poorly thought out similes and metaphors. Here he is, swimming through the waters of time itself "from America before Columbus, maybe before the Indians, to whatever horrid future was waiting for us -- I could see it all." And what does he compare this mystic, awe-inspiring experience to? "It made me dizzy, like I was a groundhog trapped in the wheel of an airplane during takeoff."
Or what about this: "Her wild mass of gold-red hair was like a waterfall of bright fire tumbling past her shoulders… Atop, like a cherry on strawberry ice-cream, was perched a brimless cap." Okay, let's try to sort this out. Her hair is a waterfall, but the waterfall is also fire. And her hair is also like strawberry ice-cream, and on top of this hair/ waterfall/ fire/ strawberry ice-cream is a cap. Or a cherry.
It all just feels like words thrown at the reader. The story stops dead while the poor befuddled reader tries to figure it out, to pull all these unrelated images together.
And the meaningless mythic names are back: "Turns out the Crow Cousins were Renfrews, playing footsie with the Night Folk of the Blood Feast. And then there was a whole coven of Drowned Ones cooperating with smugglers and Nicors causing all those wrecks up the coast, near the haunted lighthouse the Good Witch uses." The reader has no idea who or what these things are; Wright never says. And since we don't know, the names just slide past. There's nothing to catch hold of, no light in the darkness.
A final reason for all the confusion is that the narrative feels disjointed. Flint visits his partner, goes swimming in the aforementioned waters of time, surfaces at a cathedral, goes back to swimming, meets what seems to be the devil… Well, it goes on. Looking back I guess I can see some reason he has all these experiences, but Wright is in effect saying, Trust me on this, it'll all make sense in the end. There are some writers I would trust without hesitation, but having already read three turgid stories by this same author I have to say that Wright isn't one of them.
And I'm done! (With John C. Wright, at any rate.) And I hereby make this sincere promise to my future self -- you will never, ever, have to read anything by Wright again.