‘The Willowdale Handcar’ by Edward Gorey

Something in the task of creating the Personal Anthology has drawn me towards early stories I encountered. I’ve been reading Edward Gorey’s work pretty much since I could read: do they count as stories? Certainly his tales are short in length, but illustrations make them more difficult to characterise, as they’re as much (if not more) integral to the stories than the words. And though they were mostly published in stand-alone hardbacks, I encountered most of them through the Amphigorey collections. While there are individual standouts (a favourite of mine is The Deranged Cousins), Gorey’s works are best experienced together, a full immersion into his irreverent, high-Gothic and high camp world.

In ‘The Willowdale Handcar’, three friends find an abandoned handcar and leave their lives behind for a life on the tracks. Non-sequitur encounters and tragedy just-hinted-at ensue, in typical Gorey fashion. But there’s a deep melancholy that courses through the story, and it’s stuck with me mostly because when I first read it, I didn’t understand it, and the way in which I didn’t understand frightened me. There is still something intriguing to me about this quite juvenile way of experiencing fiction, the fear and lure of something you don’t yet understand but feel you might in the future. Of course, I now realise I only don’t understand ‘The Willowdale Handcar’ in the way that I’m supposed to: but that unease is so valuable while you still have it.

Published by Bobbs Merrill, 1962. Collected in Amphigorey, Perigee Books, 2004)