Harvesting the Moon – Ursula Pflug

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I have just received this book after purchasing it from its publisher.

Harvesting the Moon and other stories
By Ursula Pflug

PS Publishing Ltd 2014
Introduction by Candas Jane Dorsey

Ursula Pflug appeared in Zencore (Nemonymous 7) 2007 and in Null Immortalis (Nemonymous 10) 2010 with ‘Red Velvet Dust’ and ‘Even the Mirror’, respectively.

MY EVENTUAL REAL-TIME REVIEW OF THIS BOOK WILL TAKE PLACE IN THE COMMENT STREAM BELOW AS AND WHEN I READ IT.

29 thoughts on “Harvesting the Moon – Ursula Pflug

  1. The Water Man
    “…asked me if I did gift wrap. I did by ripping a strip of red off the velvet curtains…”
    An entrancing portrait of a store for ready-mades that can be used in Carnival…as if the words themselves are here used as new water with which to see. Has to be read to appreciate what I mean by that. No way to convey the touch of this near perfect story from the female storekeeper’s point of view and her encounter with the Water Man, no way to convey it without copying it out in full. Near perfect because it needs to heal or complete itself as part of its passage through you. Marcel Duchamp – and almost Ligottian with its downgraded ‘town water’ etc. Almost, because, here, death is Donne to death?

  2. Version City
    “It’s been such a slow, slow process that until quite recently we hadn’t noticed it at all.”
    And even with just two quite short stories so far, there is already something emerging, a prevailing genius-loci not so much of place as of soul, a slow business, a deadpan business, yet seeping beauty somehow, earlier water, now bug powder in this slow SF dystopia, in an entropic deadpan, Chinatown-bordered scenario… where everything is a version of itself and not itself itself, like the films projected on walls or designer substances that are designed to kill engorging insects but are graded in colours and numbers, versions that are di-versions…

  3. Telepathic Fish
    “Water is everywhere; all the water on earth is connected through the convection cycle.”
    …like all books are connected by gestalt real-time reviewing, as Melanie’s life with Danny and others is also connected by this barely touchable story’s rarefied meniscus skein in a unique combination of time travelling and switching alternate worlds shaped by destiny or chance or fish mouthing silently through the skein’s water…

  4. Bugtown
    “I didn’t want to check the author’s name at the time. I liked the anonymity of someone writing about me, someone I didn’t know.”
    Another version of Version City, where bug-killing powder doubles as coloured drugs. I feel I am working blind on something that every other reader sees very clearly. However haunting it may be (and it is), it leaves me the outsider, as I watch the interactions, powerless to understand them and thus to help them. But, selfishly, it is good to feel like an outsider of fiction; it helps with being an outsider of real life. I have no complaints.
    “Max, unlike me, drank like a fish even back then.”

  5. Once
    “Powders. Brown ones, white ones, pink.”
    There is a light touch to these stories, but with darkness or depth pent up in them, love lost and regained, as such words appeal to real people out there, memories of children they had together, wanting to write letters on real paper for the smell, rather than using the gestalt of the Internet. Yet, my dreamcatchers are codes, dreamcaptchas, “…connecting to the Earth in a more direct, immediate way, bordering, at times, on the telepathic” like knowing that the bugs and coloured drugs have come from the previous stories, but now the bugs are “hidden mikes, the cochlear implants”… But it is still this story’s Game that we invented together, reviewed and reviewer, “So beautiful one couldn’t fairly put it into words.” Pity it wasn’t committed to paper.

  6. Repair
    “It is a house with her name on it, calling to her, even though she doesn’t know where it is.”
    It’s called HOME from where I’m sitting, on my own repair kit with a screen for life. This ingeniously accretive story is a theme and variations on hoarding — electric devices, like dishwashers, irons etc. that Sam seems to collect in huge bulk, saying he is due to repair them because their owners are at some inscrutable war and so have left them with him – or they were at war with the devices themselves! And Mandy who collects different eventually useless things in cardboard boxes, a woman who locates Sam’s house whichever temporary city she happens to live in, knowing one day she will find her own yellow house. Of course, that does no justice to their gentle relationship and, indeed, to the whole of what I have just read because it seems as if everything is so natural in this story it is not fiction at all. Maybe it is right in seeming like that to a reader who lives as an outsider in a fiction more fictional than what he is reading…seeking his own recurring HOME, “too embarrassed to ask where the stairs are, feeling momentarily lost in his endless upstairs hallways”, intent on repairing to places where others can’t.
    Because of that war.

  7. Stones
    “…we meditated long before we knew the word.”
    I lived as a baby on the earth long before I knew about stones and whatever else kept me above ground. This poetic Joycean monologue, yet possibly more WB Yeats than Molly in Ulysses, where, perhaps for the first time in literature, there is a symbiosis of unrequited love between dimensions that keeps both lovers in being.

  8. Rice Lake
    “She longed to be Played, to be in a story so real and true it took on its own life, shaped the storyteller, a reverse creation.”
    That summarises so sweetly the ambition of my gestalt real-time reviewing (or ‘dreamcatching’ as I now call it): the reader in reverse creation. And here the Game plays the characters, and not vice versa, where everyone, in life’s requital or not, seems to be part of some unspoken Commune communion of like souls, not hippy so much as happy to be sad, as do all the readers of and characters in this book so far, all with Game Forfeits like, in this particular story, a mother’s suicide as well as a disabled son in a wheel chair and the hoarding of many household artefacts, screws and nails and hammers, too, for that very repairing in Repair. Even the Fountain for the Water Man’s water, here a Fountain almost seen as a dish-washer hoarded!
    And the Tree whose only carer is the Tree for whom it is caring.

  9. Gone With The Sea
    There seems something retrocausal about this longer story; ‘hippiesque’ echoes my casual mention of ‘hippy’ yesterday, ‘meat bags’ to match the ‘debugging’ of cyborg food computers, where computer code could be actual physical provender, those bugs and drugs earlier, say, now antibiotics, and the earlier telepathic fish are now ‘information fish’. I feel the shape of my brain changing as I sink further into this book. Here a futuristically aboriginal shrimp-farm, racial and temporal and environmental and mental clinch-points, the oldsters still holding by their own ways, and the younger 42 year old heroine foolhardily bodysurfing the Hawai’ian waves as she tries to close the gap with her son and someone else who may well save her shrimp business and give her love, “red road dust on his skin.” Living information, antibiotics, biotech, genealogical, one feels this proto-Dickian story more strongly than one understands it, especially in the context of the whole book so far. The latter understanding is still coming, though, even as I speak.

  10. Sewing Forgetfulness
    “We carried it down the stairs. That’s the thing about living and working in warehouse buildings: there are always stairs, so many breath-stealing stairs.”
    As a child, I had a long relationship with an ancient Singer sewing-machine: my beloved grandmother, ash-fragile cigarette kept between her lips, as she treadled away with her feet, the large wheel spinning and its threaded rope making the needle jab up and down between her guiding fingers. I can see and hear it all now. Here a sewing-machine, inter alia, is used as a pole-dance prop for a stripper. But, above all, it is one of the Repair artefacts that our heroine collects, following mystifying instructions to collect such artefacts – amid a louche cocktail artistic collective, an ‘arty group’, bi-sexual, upon a gentle fate rhythm or new futons, Proustian unrequitedness again keeping such souls in a delicately pent balance of existence with each other. This is a wonderful story.
    “Some of us are meant to stay under water, to never surface. I’m one of them.”

  11. Late For Dinner
    Please. Fish. Let. Us. Go.
    …despite being “unbelievably beautiful fish”, with different colours. That inscrutable war from ‘Repair’ is now a new state like IS with fluid borders, featuring rebels, escape routes across such borders, etc, and this is all caught up within a reader’s grasping at rarefications of fiction as if they are slippery fish, slippery drug creatures, along with the female protagonist whose purpose – within such a modern war as our de facto default piecemeal world’s war today – is equally ungraspable, and her rite of passage, is it via alternate worlds or time travelling or space travel or whatever path one takes to speak as oneself or to speak as the person to whom one speaks or vice versa? – an interface between father and daughter, lover and loved, mother and daughter: all caught upon those tantalising borders where drug meets dream or blade meets flesh when those escape routes across borders don’t work? Topping and tailing the fish for cooking a late dinner.

  12. Holy Mackerels
    “What a dangerous thing. Hope reawakened.
    She looked for fish.”

    Fish now go exponential in this story, despite my playful Pflug acronym above. But this story, perhaps the whole book so far, is a solipsistic rhapsody, both delightful and edgy, and here the perfect city of waterways and alleys is what you created by the very words you are reading or have yourself written, where you live seeking your daughter, intent on green issues vis-a-vis the fish – or are you the daughter herself seeking the mother you think plays on the edge of these words in deliberate attempts at dying through them rather than living? There is a sense of not only infection from genius (like the genius of poetry – but is the crass city poet laureate you meet in the pub your daughter’s father? Holy Mackerel!) but also infection from a different genius, this actual ‘genius loci’ where you live or which you created or both. Fish as the common symbol for Christ, but Christ as Messiah or drug? Water as drowning air or baptism? Infection or infiction?

  13. A River Garden
    “Both River and his mother Gifted spoke cryptically on occasion, a kind of metaphoric Life Poetry. Sometimes I knew what they meant; sometimes I didn’t; sometimes I felt stupid for not knowing and sometimes I was irritated.”
    And that seems to sum up this still-growing-on-me book itself, as if growing a garden, and, having now finished this story — a sort of love story, with a hippy-like care for each other, a sort of awakening, a knowledge that one needs to prod the aliens once to draw the venom and then prod them again for the juice — I no longer feel stupid or irritated. Not that, in hindsight, I really ever did.

  14. In Dreams We Remember
    “A queen alone on a windswept hill. She traveled with an army of fifty four thousand, was never alone, and yet I remember her as being alone. She carried the fate of her men in her hands.”
    …like the Goddess Isis, later known as the Queen of Heaven? Isis and her hordes today, based across frontiers, for whatever the cause, for whatever the religion, or split religion? This is at one level a wispy tale of feminine yearnings, eventually a quest for the maternal, in an Irish mythological setting. At another level, this story is a didactic attempt to blame astrology for predestination, while, in truth, for me, astrology is empirical scryings from synchronicity rather than from cause and effect. At yet another level, this story is a retrocausal rhapsody from lipstick and city dinner parties toward the myths or mist of time, for its own sake. On that third l’art pour l’art level, I enjoyed it. Whatever the level, it is one with this book’s still enticing, yet inchoate, gestalt.

  15. Black Lace
    “‘…You can’t help but believe elves.’ / ‘Why?’ Issa asked. / ‘Because they’re impossible beings,’ the girl said, ‘and if you go so far as to believe what you see is magic, you might as well believe what it says.'”
    Also, because ‘elves’ is embedded in ‘believes’? This is a magical story, not real magic, but a literary magic that blends a number of unbelievable things into one believable thing, leitmotifs into a gestalt, amid a scattering of wild thoughts: the bolstering drink Black Lace, Issa and her man as a double show act, the Critic is an old man like me… And, of course, the elves, the least believable as entities, but believable nevertheless in what such entities tell you. I believe this author is such an elf, an elf as self. Beyond criticism.

  16. Isolde, Shea, And The Donkey Brea
    “The invading army had left, leaving behind only the so-called peacekeepers”
    None of us are peacekeepers, I fear. Here, we have two middle-aged women, accompanied by a donkey treated by one of them as more than just a donkey, as they seek the Secret Library, a story that reminds me of fairy tales and legends such as Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard –
    “We continued clearing wells and streams wherever we went. There were more fish, hence less starvation.”
    – and it is a fable for our times, speaking of being shape-shifted before you are shifted back, speaking in the most believable fashion I have ever read: a sense of being as a blend of two states, that of what you appear to be and that of what you really are. A gestalt.
    “…between the lingering moon and the bright, bright snow.”

  17. Border Crossings
    “Somewhere, she woke up. And he fell asleep.”
    Having absorbed the household article collection in ‘Repair’, the pole dancer from ‘Sewing Forgetfulness’ now fan dancer, the delivery of coffee as a sort of ‘double agent’ for can openers and dog portraits…well, this story is a mind-stretching, literary-absurdist interface between tangerine and orange, between alternate worlds or dreams and real-life, the woman visiting the man, and Pflug has a plug that felicitously allows us not only to keep the water in but simultaneously to empty it out again, a definite aura of Pflug-identifiable short fiction, just as Alasdair Gray has his own Gray Version (and if you enjoy Pflug, you will enjoy his work, too, and I reviewed his complete short fiction here).

  18. Airport Shoes
    “…crossing a border far away from home.”
    Another collector (here of toy objective-correlative robots), another dancer, another woman … seeking her Home key again… I have gradually realised that Pflug is more than a gulf of water between people and things and differentiating dreams from truth, but Pflug is crammed with many of those uniquely oblique objective-correlatives that are those very people between and with whom one wanders, engages recurrently – and those things like lost homes and lost home things like can openers and smoothing irons and dreams and other alternities…
    “We don’t know how to go to the moon anymore, but I know how to get to my old apartment.”

  19. The Things In The Box
    “Songs and stories with water in them scared her.”

    Friends with Fred who ‘steals’ from the Salvation Army Box – she has a schizophrenic vision of him and his friend as Jesus and the Devil and their wristwatch her soul…or she at least fears it’s schizophrenia. There seems to be a love-hate relationship with drugs in this book, transcended by fear of them. This story has things in it like the box, like its assonance the book…And it’s up to us to sift and categorise…the story itself doesn’t help but by not helping us really does help us. Moon has assonance with room –
    “I want to paint the moon, and I don’t mean painting a picture of it, but painting the actual moon the way you might a room.”

  20. Even The Mirror
    “I inherited money I hadn’t been expecting and bought an ancient little house in Berlin but rented it out, only keeping a tiny attic room for myself….”
    …being words from this classic exquisition of fiction (sorry, I have an axe to grind, a mirror to search, a “handwritten note, by an anonymous author,…”) and the rest of those words’ context crystallises much of the book for me…as does the whole story.

    In 2010, I reviewed this story in the context here and I paste below what then I wrote:

    [[ “Sometimes I liked to pretend I live in a world where such things don’t exist. They make things too easy, and in another way, too hard. They make it too hard to access the other kind of magic. The real kind. They erase it.”
    This book and its physical accoutrements are part of that ethos while this story itself is a vision of Venn Dreams (my expression, not the story’s) – the narrator’s dream life where most other people have what they call their ‘love life’, their real life, while discarding dreams as simply, well, dreams…
    But dreams that co-exist and trammel: do they represent a sickness or something far more positive? This story uniquely poses that question. It too haunts beyond mere memorability. (3 Aug 10) ]]

  21. Harvesting The Moon
    “I could buy a proper house in town to replace my mother’s seaside shack…”
    To bury the berry?
    For me this work represents the true meaning of the expression ‘null immortalis’. If the previous story was this book’s exquisition or core, this is its coda, a perfect theme and variations for this book, a coda for a work as if colluded by a Stravinsky and a Debussy. A painting colluded by a Burra and a Millais. It feels personal, familial, symbiotically maternal-sororal-daughtersome, fraternal, too; the poetry of this work’s words will stay with you, the ‘objective correlatives’ reaching full maturity, the ripeness of the berries, the Mirror Friends, the carved rudders, the Heaven Tree, the rain barrels…
    “She is an elder now.” Her mother now a berry? Or a tree? The self-forgiveness discovered at last?
    “…I no longer knew my own mirror; […] …the pain of a child, gone too young and too long gone. If I’d looked into the water I might have seen not my spirit but my memory of its yellow smile,…”
    “When I tell people I used to harvest moonberries they mainly don’t believe me…”
    “…the tree is no less important than the carver.”

    My yieldingtree, latest photo as taken today:
    image
    end

  22. Pingback: Recent Reviews and Interviews - Ursula Pflug

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