Kit Reed, Author of Darkly Humorous Fiction, Dies at 85
“They are, after all, in this together,” she wrote. “Hunter and hunted. Instrument and destiny, for every great pursuit demands the cooperation of both parties. For every Jean Valjean there is a Javert and if either died the other would be desolate. Imagine Ahmed and Rushdie, the perfection of pursuit and flight. Neither exists without the other.”
Ms. Reed saw herself as a writer of speculative fiction who trafficked not in aliens or flying saucers but in quirky, fantastic and tough-minded leaps from the realities of contemporary culture. In one novel, “Thinner Than Thou” (2004), she satirizes a modern preoccupation with body image; in “The Night Children” (2008), runaway children live in a shopping mall and come out only at night.
Rather than feel bound to science fiction, Ms. Reed saw herself as part of a group of imaginative writers that included Shirley Jackson, Ray Bradbury and George Orwell.
“For me,” she told The Hartford Courant in 2011, “it’s a great big literary ballpark.”
In Ms. Reed’s first published story, “The Wait” (1958) — which evokes Shirley Jackson as well as Stephen King — a mother falls ill in a small Southern town, leaving her teenage daughter, Miriam, to become part of a bizarre ritual involving 18-year-old virgins.
“When they came to the field,” Ms. Reed wrote, “Miriam first thought the women were still busy at a late harvest, but she saw that the maidens, scores of them, were just sitting on little boxes at intervals in the seemingly endless field.” When the frightened Miriam asked why she was there, a woman tells her little more than “Remember, the man must be a stranger.”
One of her more famous stories, “The Attack of the Giant Baby” (1976), follows the misadventures of Leonard Freibourg, a 14-month-old who accidentally swallows a culture in his father’s laboratory, turning him into a giant who terrorizes New York City. Similarities between her tale and the plot of the 1992 Disney film “Honey, I Blew Up the Kid,” the sequel to “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” led Ms. Reed to sue the Walt Disney Company. In a settlement, she received a “special recognition” credit.
Kit Reed was born Lillian Hyde Craig in San Diego on June 7, 1932, and was known as Kitten from a young age. Her father, John R. Craig, was the commanding officer of the Grampus, a submarine that is believed to have been sunk by the Japanese in early 1943. Her mother, the former Lillian Hyde, was a schoolteacher. Before she could read, young Kit’s father read her L. Frank Baum’s Oz books.
At age 7, she read “Beowulf” in her bathroom “because it was the only way the babysitter would let me stay up,” Ms. Reed told The Los Angeles Review of Books. By 12, she had written a series of books about a stand-up bunny rabbit. At the College of Notre Dame of Maryland (now Notre Dame of Maryland University), nuns let her write short stories instead of a research paper for her senior thesis, allowing her to avoid the research she hated.
For five years Ms. Reed was a reporter, first for The St. Petersburg Times in Florida and then for The New Haven Register, where she won awards for a series of articles about juvenile courts in Connecticut. Reporter characters would later turn up occasionally in her fiction, like the one in the novel “Son of Destruction” (2013) who investigates three cases of spontaneous human combustion in his mother’s hometown.
Writing for the online Weird Fiction Review in 2013, Adam Mills praised Ms. Reed’s mind-set. He described her “weirdness of perspective, a knack for finding the strangest, most faithful way for inhabiting a character’s head and plumbing the depths for the things that are both surprising and compelling, things we wouldn’t think to look for without Reed pointing them out.”
Her final story, “Disturbance in the Produce Aisle,” was published this month in Asimov’s Science Fiction.
Ms. Reed is survived by her husband, Joseph; her daughter, Kate Maruyama, also an author; her sons, Mack and John; and four grandchildren.
Ms. Reed, who was a professor and resident writer at Wesleyan University in Connecticut for decades and wrote a few thrillers under the pseudonym Kit Craig, had an unconventional, no-holds-barred personality. On Facebook, Mack Reed wrote of his mother: “She loved like a child, worked like a stevedore, cursed like a sailor and sampled the world with Twainian zest.”
And Jen Gunnels, her editor at Tor Books, said in an interview that Ms. Reed had a “lusciously warped mind.” One day, she said, Ms. Reed described to her a new story she had written about a woman’s nightmarish relationship with parrots.
“I remember thinking, ‘You’re really sick,’ ” Ms. Gunnels said. “But that was part of her charm.”
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