Can I tell you how much I love this story? Well too bad, because I’m going to.
The Yattering and Jack is simply brilliant. It is horror yes, with exploding cats and possibly a daughter driven insane. But there is such a fun vibe underneath the surface that you can’t help but laugh at the entire thing. And, once again, Barker pulls off the sympathy for the devil he is so very good at. In this case it is a lesser demon who works for the devil, but the reader still can’t help but feel at least a little for the Yattering. I mean, who hasn’t had a dead end job only to end up with a terrible boss?
Jack Polo is the definition of milquetoast. He is dull to things that are dull. A bag of wet washcloths has more edges and more fight in them than Jack. He is emasculated by his wife through adultery right in front of his eyes and he shrugs it off. He loses three cats mysteriously (and badly, poor kitties) and he reacts like he’s reading a prospectus. The man may not have a pulse.
Enter the Yattering. An invisible demon who has been assigned to drive Jack into the arms of hell, he will have Jack Polo’s soul or his sanity, whichever he can pull off. But as the weeks and months draw out the Yattering realizes he can’t faze this guy. He can’t give him self-loathing. He can’t rattle him by moving and breaking things (and cats) in his house. The Yattering can’t leave until he claims Jack, and he begins to fear that he may be imprisoned with this person who barely registers alive by most measurements.
What is so wonderful about this story is the bigger world that Barker hints at: “It would even share the shower with Jack, hanging unseen from the rail that held up the shower curtain and murmuring obscene suggestions in his ear. That was always successful, the demons were taught at the Academy” (45).
What Academy? There’s an Academy that teaches demons how to prey on humans? Wow, cool concept. Kind of the anti-Hogwarts. Do the demons do graduate work? What is a demon Academy thesis statement: how to capture a soul and still get home in time for the game? This concept both lightens the story and adds depth and scope.
As the story continues the reader learns that Jack is keenly aware of the Yattering and is laying low waiting, trying to get the Yattering to make a mistake. The pacifist Gandhi routine is just an act, Jack is keenly aware of how much danger he is in and he risks his daughters in his final gambit.
The lynchpin to the whole story though is the Yattering. Once Jack reveals his game plan the reader weighs the players and finds the Yattering more interesting. In many ways, the Yattering is the good guy here, monster or no. Sure, Jack is being punished for the sins of his mother who escaped the ravages of hell. Hell is trying to collect what they see as theirs. The Yattering is simply the bill collector. He is stuck at the bottom of the totem pole trying to make a name for himself so he can move up the corporate ladder.
Who can’t relate to that? Sure, we might not all work in corporate America, but we’ve all had jobs that were mind numbing and dead end. Everyone has been stuck doing things that seemed utterly pointless then (and may seem that way to this day). Hopefully as you’re reading this you aren’t in a job like that now. If you are, know the Yattering feels your pain.
As it turns out, the Yattering is a warning story for everyone who hates their jobs. If you don’t love what you’re doing, you probably aren’t going to do a good job at it. The Yattering proves this. He also proves that as bad as things might seem, they can always be worse. By the end of this story Jack has completely turned the tables on the Yattering and the reader can only imagine how long it will be until the Yattering uses that same shower curtain rod to hang himself. But then another question arises from that: where does a demon go if he commits suicide?
See, this story just makes me ponder and consider and revisit. It is an excellent tale, one of my favorite from Clive Barker.