Set in Seclusion

Manolo Barragan/Flickr
Manolo Barragan/Flickr

Anthony Lane, in a 2023 New Yorker movie review that I recently read, describes a film by Paul Tremblay as set in seclusion, like other films by the director. We should take that setting as an omen, warns Lane. We should be under no illusions, I took him to mean, and should expect something grisly.

The phrase in seclusion reverberated with me because a few weeks earlier—as I described in this space a few weeks ago—a friend of mine, a former running mate, had been brutally attacked and repeatedly bitten by a pair of dogs when she was training. She was lucky, because though she often goes off on her own into wilderness areas to train for the long-distance races she participates in, that day she was on an asphalt country lane on the outskirts of Gijón, not a populous area but not entirely secluded either. A delivery van came along and the driver was able to scare the dogs away and call for help, though according to my friend, the driver was so agitated by the scene—woman face-down, covered in blood, with a pair of dogs mauling her—that he almost couldn’t manage to make the call. A pair of cyclists arrived and helped hold off the dogs, which had not gone far and were edging closer, and then the police and ambulance came. The woman was saved. Which wouldn’t have been the case in a truly isolated area, where she might not have been found at all. Semi-seclusion saved her.

About a month later, in a small village in the mountains, a middle-aged man attacked his septuagenarian father with an axe one evening in the home they shared. It was 10 p.m. and dark. The wounded father escaped into the street and went straight to his neighbors’ house, 20 yards across the road, calling for help while his axe-swinging son pursued him. A lot of screams, a lot of commotion—the elderly neighbors called 112, the emergency number in Spain, but did not open up. They didn’t know who was outside their door or what was happening. It’s perhaps just as well they didn’t open up—the son was deranged, and after decapitating his father on these neighbors’ doorstep, he went down to the roundabout, carrying the head in one hand and the axe in the other, and shedding his bloodied clothes as he went. The half-naked man swinging his axe at passing cars while holding aloft his father’s head must have been a terrifying sight. No one else was injured, and the national highway police soon arrived and subdued the man, who was sedated and sent to the hospital, pending the investigation to determine the cause of what appeared to be a psychotic break. A couple of days later, I was in class, making small talk with a 20-year-old student while waiting for his two classmates to arrive.

“Spring fever,” I said, to describe the way students, at this time of year, arrive late to class, seem distracted, and in general have their minds on subjects other than their studies. “Everyone’s got spring fever,” I said. “Do you know the phrase? It means people get restless and excited with spring. They go a little crazy.” I considered calling up the theme song from the musical State Fair to let my student listen, but instead the story of the decapitation popped into my mind, so I mentioned it. “Speaking of crazy, did you hear on the news about the man who attacked his father with an axe?”

He had not heard it. As I began the tale, the second student arrived, and because he had heard the news, I asked him to tell the story. When he finished, the three of us expressed our horror and disbelief. The third student, arriving just then, did, too.

By coincidence, the English lesson that day was centered around films, and soon we were talking about The Godfather movies, favorites of one of the students. Impossible to discuss these movies without reference to bloody acts of revenge, violence, and death in teeming New York, Las Vegas, and Cuba. Nothing set in seclusion about the venues where various members of various crime families did their murderous business. Suffering from spring fever is the lament of the teenage Margy, heading off to the fair with her family. She knows it doesn’t have to be spring to have spring fever, and a story doesn’t have to be set in seclusion to have a bad ending.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Clellan Coe, a writer in Spain, is a contributing editor of the Scholar.


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