UNITED BY DREAD: A Journey Beyond Genre
by Joshua Chaplinsky
April 6th saw the release of my debut novel, The Paradox Twins, courtesy of CLASH Books. Based on the famous thought experiment, it’s an epistolary work comprised of excerpts from various memoirs, novels, screenplay adaptations, and documents of public record. These conflicting sources combine to tell the story of estranged twin brothers who reunite at their father’s funeral to discover they have aged differently and no longer look alike. They move into their father’s house to settle his affairs, only to reignite old rivalries and uncover long-hidden secrets. Then shit gets weird.
Full disclosure: The Paradox Twins, is not technically a horror novel, even though I am promoting it through a number of horror venues. It contains elements of horror, mostly of the cosmic variety, but leans more towards the sci-fi end of the genre spectrum. Still, I don’t feel it would be disingenuous to call the book horror adjacent. In fact, I’m pretty confident it’s a book most horror fans will enjoy.
Maybe it would be more accurate to say The Paradox Twins occupies a space on the Venn diagram where horror, sci-fi, and weird fiction overlap. All three genres deal with the unknown, and for my money, there is nothing scarier than not knowing. This fear plays a major role in the narrative of the novel, whether the unknown quantity is a closely guarded family secret or a more literal type of ghost.
Because once you identify a thing, it starts losing some of its power. Why do you think so many horror movies hide the monster until the last possible second? Why do slashers keep the killer’s identity shrouded in secrecy? Why didn’t Lovecraft ever actually describe anything? Filmmaker David Lynch, who is known for occasionally unsettling the bejeezus out of people, is quoted as saying, “The more unknowable the mystery, the more beautiful it is.” Am I implying there’s a beauty in being scared? Within the controlled environment of a story, there absolutely is.
And within that environment, once a mystery is solved it becomes benign. Once the protagonist understands what they are up against, they can figure out how to defeat it. But until then, the possible outcomes are endless. One might even describe the situation as existential. This makes withholding information an excellent way to build tension in a story. It plays on the very human fear of confronting the unknown.
And what’s more unknowable than family? Especially a fucked up one. Not Texas Chainsaw fucked up, more like August, Osage County or Running With Scissors fucked up. So maybe I need to add another section to my Venn diagram, because despite its genre trappings, The Paradox Twins is, at its core, a family drama. The Langley’s come from a long line of literary dysfunction. Dysfunctional families are what turned psychology into a cottage industry, and almost single-handedly created a new genre of book: the memoir. Therefore it’s fitting I use memoir—and how it deviates from “the truth”— as the basis for my family drama.
For many writers, memoir is cathartic, a release on the pressure valve of familial trauma. As intimate as they may be with the events and the players involved, people often maintain an emotional distance from their past. The act of putting pen to paper can be a journey of discovery, much like an expedition in a science fiction story. Good science fiction uses the vastness of space to explore the human interior. What does it all mean? Why do we exist? The truth is out there as much as it is in here (taps chest).
Take the Twins Paradox. It is a thought experiment in which one twin boards a rocket ship and takes a near-lightspeed journey into space, while the other remains on Earth. When the first twin returns home, he finds that the twin that stayed behind appears to have aged more. When I first read about this, I immediately saw its potential as a metaphor for sibling rivalry, a catalyst for conflict. It’s a great setup for a story.
In addition, it brought to mind the scene at the end of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, where Bowman sees his older self in the white room. Putting aside the debate over the meaning of the film’s ending, I can’t help but feel a touch of existential dread in this confrontation of mortality, even if it does take place on the cusp of rebirth. What lies “beyond the infinite”? Enlightenment? Or the gilded cage of the great unknown? Bowman’s journey to Jupiter is both terrifying and beautiful, thanks in part to the colorful visual effects by Douglas Trumbo and the accompanying fugue of György Ligeti’s Requiem. But perhaps even scarier is the eerie quiet that settles over the film after his arrival.
Then there’s the famous monolith. In The Paradox Twins it functions as a version of Donald Barthelme’s Dead Father, looming over the Langley twins, guiding their development. Paul Langley’s memory is a weight his sons must drag around their entire adult life. Because dead fathers still have goals to achieve. They have hopes and dreams, like everyone else, which they are more resolutely focused on in death than they were in life. Barthelme’s Dead Father is described as being part mechanical, like some sort of self-aware machine intent on bending the will of its sons. Sound familiar? I can almost hear the sluggish refrain of “Bicycle Built for Two” trailing off into eternity.
Is The Dead Father a horror novel? Is The Paradox Twins? Surely 2001 isn’t, despite using some of the very same tools. What about something like A Million Little Pieces? Especially now that it is considered autofiction as opposed to memoir? The veracity of its horrors have been called into question, but does that make them any less affecting?
Maybe that’s why we separate stories into genres in the first place. Because we can’t handle the undefined. That fear is too wired into our DNA. If we didn’t label them, all stories would be horror stories, in a way. It wouldn’t matter what they were about.
So in the end, I’m not sure exactly what type of book The Paradox Twins is. Depends on the time of day and who you ask. It’s kind of like conflicting memoir accounts in that way. Who’s to say what the truth is?
The Paradox Twins
The Paradox Twins is a copyright-infringing biographical collage that exists on the Internet, pieced together by an unknown auteur.
Named for the famous thought experiment, it concerns estranged twin brothers who reunite at their father’s funeral to discover they no longer look alike. Haunted by the past (and possibly the future), they move into their father’s house to settle his affairs, only to reignite old rivalries and uncover long-hidden secrets, most of which involve the young woman who lives next door.
An epistolary work comprised of excerpts from various memoirs, novels, screenplay adaptations, and documents of public record, The Paradox Twins is an experimental, sci-fi ghost story about the scariest, most unknowable quantity there is-family.
You can read Ben’s The Paradox Twins Kendall Review HERE
Joshua Chaplinsky is the Managing Editor of LitReactor.com. He is the author of The Paradox Twins (2021, CLASH Books), the story collection Whispers in the Ear of A Dreaming Ape, and the parody Kanye West—Reanimator. His short fiction has been published by Vice, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Thuglit, Severed Press, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, and Broken River Books. Follow him on Twitter at @jaceycockrobin. More info at joshuachaplinsky.com and unravelingtheparadox.com.