"The Bye Bye Man: And Other Strange-but-True Tales" Book Review
Written by Jonathan Lees
Published by TarcherPerigee
Written by Robert Damon Schneck
2016, 240 pages, Non-Fiction
Released on May 31st, 2016
With a raised eyebrow and a nod to his predecessors, historian Robert Damon Schneck digs deep into the fears and paranoias of American culture and unearths a wide-ranging collection of bizarre and mysterious tales that under his scrutiny become a patterned map of behavioral issues and the way we cope with the darkest, unexplained pockets of the human experience.
Previously titled The President’s Vampire this collection has been resurrected and revived as The Bye Bye Man: And Other Strange-but-True Tales, to coincide with the release of a feature film based on the final story in the book. Truthfully, the cover of the book, looking like a mock-up of a straight-to-video slasher, does nothing to benefit the contents within.
If you sift through the shelves of paranormal and haunted compendiums at a mom-and-pop bookseller or even in the Starbucks stink of a Barnes & Noble, you’ll realize quickly that the glut of works examining anomalous phenomena were written from the sixties through the eighties. Now with the onslaught of digital campfire stories from the Reddit / Creepypasta communities and the emergence of found footage films to the “true-life” reenactments plaguing the History Channel, the thirst for ghastly fact-based stories is more popular than ever. This makes perfect sense. Most of the stories detailed in Schneck’s compilation all come from periods of strife, war, religious doubts and misconceptions of the human mind. In our current culture, as schizophrenic and violent as ever, we have fostered a rabid lust for tales that distract us from any real horrors lurking about, or at least ones that outline that other people have it way worse than we do.
Though each story is explored through a staggering amount of detailed research, the narratives are never bogged down by the weight of Schneck’s studies. He prides himself on a love for “hackwork tales”, most of which followed the Frank Edwards pattern of “...taking dozens of bizarre and or inexplicable stories, retell them in two to three pages and top it off with a lurid title”. Although one can see this pattern in his own work, the author elevates it by giving the reader a clearer passage of understanding the periods of time these stories were born from and how they correlate to developing beliefs in our own and other cultures. The best teachers don’t regurgitate the facts, they help you understand how the facts are formed.
This slim volume covers paranormal sieges, saucers and sasquatch, swindlers and hucksters, eccentrics and fetishists. Robert Schneck, while never failing to deliver the strands of a story that produce shivers, seems more interested in revealing all the people and their surroundings that have formed their interpretation of a phenomena. Straddling the lurid headlines or whispers of gossip, he never gets caught up in the hysteria without gaining perspective, an understanding of the times they lived in and how many factors, from location, social status, beliefs or misunderstandings, affect the people’s judgment. Even when the story comes from a personal source, as examined in the title story "The Bye Bye Man", he’s honest enough to note that he “...harbored ambition in seeing The Bye-Bye Man become part of American folklore”. Schneck is a level-headed, resourceful examiner, but also, more importantly, a fan of the fantastic.
Since Schneck describes himself as one who “...spent a lifetime spent searching for oddities”, then it is a true testament of his talents that he can weave the narratives of mysteries decades apart to serve as an explanation for how these legends came to be and can or cannot be explained. This book is a must-have for any aficionado of the anomalies that make life on Earth that much more entertaining... and horrifying.