BLACK STATIC #38: Jan – Feb 2014
Received as part of my subscription to TTA PRESS
Stories by Andrew Hook, Tim Waggoner, Malcom Devlin, Maura McHugh, Danny Rhodes, John Grant.
All my previous Reviews of TTA publications HERE.
MY REAL-TIME REVIEW OF THE FICTION IN THIS ISSUE WILL APPEAR IN THE COMMENT STREAM BELOW AS AND WHEN I READ EACH STORY.
A Knot of Toads by Andrew Hook
“…she wanted to be an outsider who worked from the inside out.”
I took those photos above for this review before I read this first story. It now somehow seems appropriate: a shimmer of black statics?
I can empathise with the author who writes this story, while still embarking on it and as it develops almost automatically (I guess) like a programmed camera; I can also empathise with the author rubbing hands together upon sighting perfection approaching when heading close to the ending, that optimum moment when all clicks into place, then daring any editor to reject it, while knowing all the time that no editor could possibly reject it. It was unrejectable. Still is.
I can empathise, too, if more obliquely, with the author’s almost instinctive compulsion to write this brief story in the first place, even while knowing it will destroy anyone whom he captures in the circumstances of a ‘collective noun’ of readers who end up reading it. But I sense a safety in numbers.
So I hope you too read this story, take by take, a story set in Cumbria, so as to experience how it automatically takes your attention with a beautiful sense of fiction, sighted victim by sighted victim, taking readers into this story with a serial inevitability.
Some of my previous reviews of Andrew Hook stories shown here:
I really enjoyed this story, I think it’s my favourite of Mr Hook’s so far. Tight, solid piece of writing, in my opinion.
It is one of those stories you know is going to work brilliantly just a paragraph or two into it. And it does.
A take of readers? A negative of victims?
The Last Fear by Tim Waggoner
A soliloquy of a reality-debate, after either being woken up by one’s own snoring or by something / someone else, plus concerns of resolving issues set by one’s therapist. Dream or non-dream, with hints of dual personality, one a puppet, the other not. I could not find anything new here to stir or suspend me, I’m afraid. Unless I’m missing something?
Passion Play by Malcolm Devlin
“…there’s a click-flash from the direction of the photographers and stick-man shadows appear at our feet and then vanish again.”
Beware of flashing images, they say on TV, or following the Hook story. But the crowd (of readers?) “snaps into focus” as we enter this intriguing narrative point of view: a 15 year old girl who is acting as a double in a police reconstruction to help trigger memories of her missing friend Cathy. Their backstory as friends, even their young love-life, is entwined. We receive the now: this reconstruction, and the then, when various others saw the pink coat of the missing girl pass by, and a further then, when Cathy and her friend the narrator visited a church and found a strange ingredient (the cross-hatch man) within the paint of the religious paintings (daubed on, vestigial or original to the natural brush stokes?), paintings of the stations of the cross, Jesus and the saints – One saint carrying his own skin, if that one is St Bartholomew, I infer, … which, for me, and perhaps for me alone, gives some clue to the story’s highly haunting denouement. Pry or pray, nothing can resolve the paint or the pain.
A beautiful, staggeringly great story.
Other reviews of Malcolm Devlin – https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/malcolm-devlin/
Having slept on it, the Waggoner is somehow working on me; I dreamt of or dwelled dozing upon my own body’s puppet-strings as thinly tenuous beams of eternal light stretching into the vertical distance of night, and this seems to play along with the photographic image or leitmotif in the other fiction so far.
The Hanging Tree by Maura McHugh
“Then I pulled out my phone and snapped photos of the tree’s enormity.”
This is an undeniably powerful story on its own when considered separately from any of the others, but also a story of another girl who first appeared, it seems to me, in the Devlin story, here now tying together the hangings that hang upon her, like Waggoner’s puppet-strings, yet tied, too, by her ‘Close Encounters’-type obsession of household fabrication as her own ‘reconstruction’ to create a double of the tree where her own birth as well as her father’s traumatic death are lurking from her past – and renewing, by this Close Encounters connection, into the future – with electronic lights or photographic images (one such image used on-line upon social media: causing a similar Hook-like photographic-fate of death to someone else ) — all pervasive tropes to link us to this set of fiction’s still-forming gestalt…
“The light streamed upwards into the topmost branches,…”
My previous review of a story by this author: http://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2011/02/26/black-static-21/
Passchendaele by Danny Rhodes
This name resonates with the ‘passion’ of the earlier ‘passion play’ – the Passion of Christ or of a Saint who has the burden of his own pink coat of skin? This Rhodes story tells of a man, with a terminal illness, from a garishly-lit town in Sussex, who travels to an area of France where one of the massacres of the Great War happened – a war that started almost exactly 100 years ago – to run his last exhibition, this one delineating the course of that war. He stays with a married couple in the area, a couple who are on the point of divorce. He faces his own mortality as well the actual fact of such mortality for hundreds of thousands of innocent young men, now seen by him as ghosts in a truly spiritually attritional tale that will grab you out of your own complacency, if such you have. The man finds a photograph in a book, yes a photograph, of a cart and horse in this very area just before the war began and, in tune with the thematic fatefulness of the Hook story, it is as if it is another catalyst not for a series of single deaths but – as, I infer, a collective noun – a ‘generation’ of deaths…
But there is something far more specific to all collectivities, as each of us faces the dead body that we are about to become, like some solid flesh-corrupted ghost that one imagines, say, beneath the tarpaulin in the cart or like a dead body still haunted by some self-unforgiving past, the mother whom this story’s protagonist once had to care for? And there are other parochial matters in this story to dwell on, like the temporarily missing female half of the couple. And many other matters less parochial, too, to question about yesterday’s mass generation of unknown soldiers all with the collapse of their own individual puppet-strings, I guess, and today’s specific people, you and me, within a newly formed mass generation of deaths yet to come. And a “luminous-obscure” poem by Edmund Blunden for us to re-read.
“He could see the silhouettes of trees. Their trunks looked stunted, broken away in unnatural, tragic shapes.”
My previous reviews of this author’s stories:
His Artist Wife by John Grant
“The first thing that became visible at the scraperboard drawing’s top-left corner was a crossbar with a hand nailed to it.”
In many ways, this novelette stands aside from the previous stories in ostensibly absurdist subject-matter together with the variations on a theme of the style in Cluley’s ‘Shark! Shark!’ (or vice versa) as a John Grant luminous-obscure style of smoothly wisecrack (tentacularly and page-turningly) compulsive narrative first person journalese of a prose continuum.
Yet, I sense this novelette actually represents an alternate world backstory or prequel of the ‘cross-hatch man’ from the Devlin story (or vice versa). It surely is. It all fits. Think about it.
But there the atmosphere was dark, and here it is more satirical, gossipy, from the presumed point of view of a prolific author and his pulp books with his many pseudonyms that span a lifetime, and his women who are McHugh’s ‘Lezzie’ or a woman without physical erogenous gender-endings as if from a SF story that he is writing about a popular classical composer. And objets trouvés, ready-mades or found art, to the ‘tune’ of Schnittke’s viola concerto, concerning his dead wife (the wife he killed?) who is drawing or painting, piecemeal, her celebrated fine art, day by day, about the various truths of her own death upon the wall where he and she used to live together – or about the various truths of his death! All pulp-concocted or real? We shall never know, like we are all possibly ghosts of generations of fiction writers now dead: all of who fought the good writerly battle and lost … Or a LAMENT about battles by other shoals of dead ones from some war called life, if we apply the lessons of the previous story?
This work is stylishly puckish and provocative. Only a horror story if you want it to be a horror story. Especially if you compare the ending here with Waggoner’s ending!
It’s all good and gives a mad-thoughtful coda to this set of short fictions, a coda that resonates anew again and again, even as I write this. But I can’t keep writing. I have to stop somewhere.
“I think this is because I’m a mass murderer –“
There is much else in Black Static other than the fiction, for the Horror arts enthusiast, including in this issue a substantial and highly fitting obituary by Nicholas Royle for the late, great, lamented Joel Lane.