STRANGE TALES V – edited by Rosalie Parker
Tartarus Press 2015
I have just received this book as purchased from the publisher.
Stories by: Charles Wilkinson, L.S. Johnson, Steve Rasnic Tem, Andrew Hook, Jacurutu:23, John Howard, Elise Forier Edie, Douglas Penick, Paul Bradley, David Rix, Mark Valentine, Yarrow Paisley, Tara Isabella Burton, Andrew Apter, Nathan Alling Long, Tom Johnstone, David McGroarty.
My previous reviews of Tartarus Press books linked from HERE.
I intend to real-time review this book in the comment stream below as and when or if I happen to read it…
Book’s artwork shown above: Stephen J. Clark
THE INVESTIGATION OF INNOCENCE by Charles Wilkinson
“…but the longing for connectivity was still there, a terrible ache.”
A terrible ache, indeed. To gain innocence, is to lose my body’s frailties, I guess. It seems, via tattling (twittering on some grid that in our real world leads to all manner of GUILT?) that, here, in a world of INNOCENCE, of cyborg-honey and slick sex change, this story’s grid is one that brings us the positive poetics of familial terrorism’s nepotism and the politics of the bee-lovely hive mind. Beautifully written, immaculate, even the nastiness is just one side of perfection? Even the Unacceptables are accepted. I am still working at it, though.
JULIE by L.S. Johnson
“You profane me by loving me too much. Your virtues are the last refuge of my innocence.”
…which may have some bearing on the previous story in this book?
This 18th century tale, replacing sorrow with ‘hot, dark fury’, both in its central character and in its writing, as if Lyssa is L.S. herself, running not only with the pack of dogs but also with that of the ‘sisters’, against those who use them.
This is indeed a remarkable and furious tale, of Julie used as, inter alia, brothel bait, then by a real Jean-Jacques Rousseau both in Julie-body and Julie-book (the latter: The New Heloise). A lycanthropic rage that becomes the Noble Savage (or destroys him or her in the confessional process?) This is a Julie-story about a Julie-book. Endlessly scryable.
Please see sub-comment to the Elise Forier Edie story below,.
THE GRAVE HOUSE by Steve Rasnic Tem
“The hall was fat with pictures, frames a lot finer than the walls they were on,…”
I’m thinkin’ these thinkin’ thoughts of a tale represent not only the house the thoughts are kept in but also are the very house itself, passed on to us for passin’ on to others.
Whatever the case, this is a treatment of ill-carpentered generations in their ill-carpentered houses with ill-carpentered, if well-meaning, memories of their familial selves – a treatment that is well-carpentered into fears applesauced by love.
A LIFE IN PLASTIC by Andrew Hook
“Some people were interested in speculating what might happen should a mannequin come alive, but for Oki the reverse was true.”
…and akin to Wilkinson’s gradual bodily accretions earlier in Strange Tales V, so it is.
Meanwhile, in many ways, a Life in Plastic is the sister, or at least cousin, even daughter, story to this author’s Drowning in Air in Strange Tales IV. Also, it is generally in the Japanese salaryman role-playing (sexual or otherwise) tradition of Brian Howell’s
The Sound of White Ants collection as actually published by Andrew Hook in his fine Elastic Press imprint several years ago. Or at least, I imagine, a nod towards it.
It is a wonderful and eventually disturbing description of unrequited fatherly love for a daughter who is somewhat estranged from him by his marital unfruition, then his taking her, when given access, as a small child on holiday to an island where the only entertainments are a golf course and a Poison Gas Museum, and later his visualising her as an older girl or woman in the form of a window-dresser in a shop window whom he obsessively watches dressing mannequins…
BARDO THODOL BACKUP FILE by Jacurutu:23
“Was I enlightened enough to avoid the brain scream?”
It seems appropriate for me to read this story in the same week as the LHC stationed in our current CERN Zoo is restarted to seek parallel universes (there is an arguable reference on page 60 to the LHC’s ability I once imputed to retrocause its own destruction from its future)…
Serendipitously bouncing off Wilkinson’s and Hook’s respective cyborg-plasticity and off Tem’s story of the house that is the head, and off his own father’s SF heritage, this writer believably leads us into the nemonymous night of some brain transplant monastery in Nepal. I say ‘believably’, because the whole essay reads as if it is true. And I sense it is true. Self as a back-up. But why ‘must’ you be married if you have a brother-in-law?
MORE THAN INDIA by John Howard
“–to drown with an ecstasy of abandonment in a wonderful merger. Would this be fulfilment or extinction?”
A nemonymous merger with the back-up of self as in the previous story, or a blending with or a drowning in the river, here the Thames redolent with its boat race tradition, the double addressed ‘you’ (Aaron and Patrick) as two sides of a coin of the realm whereby the respective thicknesses of its two sides make the whole of that very coin? But where does that leave room for the older you (Edward), other than as (previously) the younger Queen the story tells you is on one side of that coin?
This is a mighty story, redolent of other days, those bright young things, days of empire, students of the river, swimming against the current of the Boat race as one young man once did, viewed from a ‘veranda’ overlooking this transposed river as an Anglo-Indian word, a loggia or terrace, and I believe the word ‘balcony’ is used here, but I can’t find it without a complete re-read. It is a romantic story with utter power, steeped in civilised unrequitedness and (self-)sacrifice.
Boat race weekend this weekend!
YOU-GO-BACK by Elise Forier Edie
“But it’s a fact that if you put one foot in front of the other and keep doing it, you’ll always get where you’re going.”
…even if you don’t want to get where you’re going. And there is something relentlessly frightening about this story but you can’t stop reading it, and it makes you actually believe that what is frightening is actually capable of doing you harm, yet you read on. A page-turner with a demon turning the stiff pages of this book that contain this story. If I told you it is a home-spun, 19th century story of Barnum’s Museum of the grotesque and the absurd, some exhibits real, some fabricated, and full of living, well-drawn characters, you won’t believe what I just told you. It is fast and furious, running with the LS Johnson’s 18th century dogs, but Edie is a static version of that feeling: a retrocausal impulse of the story’s own eponymous monster moving, of its own volition, towards every past that harbours it to bring it forward again stage by stage, till it nears our time, the very day you read this story. I have no hesitation in saying that this story scared me and it will be anthologised again and again, unless it can be stopped here and now, with this my warning. No irony intended.
By dint of LS Johnson’s work above and its reference to Rousseau’s Nouvelle Heloise (a work that is quoted by Edgar Allan Poe in ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ that I reviewed here today), I hereby preternaturally link You-Go-Back to Poe’s Ourang-Outang!
STRANGER MUST GO by Douglas Penick
“They all slidin’ around in his head. He can’t see ’em yet. But they splittin’ him up every way.”
A substantive Messiah story, a black Messiah dossing in a vacant lot in New York that he fabricates into the shape of the Africa of his dreams, and bringing to my mind another such vacant lot of another King (here the Sea King who eventually becomes the story protagonist himself), the King who wrote about it in his Dark Tower series.
This protagonist is a West Indian lad with such African dreams called Robert in New York – strangely adrift from childhood like someone arriving at an airport and forgetting why he flew there – with his Mother and Aunt competing, using each their own version of religion or spiritualism, to rein him in from what many see as his dereliction in the city streets. Running as it were with Johnson’s dogs from earlier in this book. Indeed, this book’s second Rousseau or Noble Savage. Indeed, he reaps his own variegated disciples and an eventual ending of the world in a shape or form that is quite newsworthy today. In America, as I understand it from afar. Not Africa. An accretive vision that is worthy of its place in this book.
BEATRICE FARAWAY’S CHRISTMAS TALE by Paul Bradley.
“The jelly babies weren’t eaten but everything else was eaten up overnight. Beatrice Faraway didn’t feel lonely anymore.”
A delightful description, if not investigation, of innocence, where the description is itself rather than what it tells, a Storytown in Storytown like Tem’s Grave House being the storyteller herself and, even in its happy ending with the happy storytelling that leads to it, it also tells of the past death of the storyteller, Beatrice’s husband, in which light we eventually learn that the story’s title is its own spoiler (something that happily doesn’t matter), a storytelling of a storyteller by his wife. It is Looby-Loo from Andy Pandy (who only moves when unseen) and Blyton’s Faraway Tree. It takes some courage, I guess, for an editor to plump such a child-like story in the middle of some of this book’s other stories, but it has worked for me, amid the grown-up plastic mannequins and the honey-cyborgs and and the Nepalese monks and the Barnum museum exhibits…
Even the Julie-story about the Julie-book.
HENGE by David Rix
“‘Almost more light at night than during the day,’ he said, trying to imagine where the sources must be to cast such a pattern.”
Matt and his girlfriend Aiko start renting a flat after a girl called Feather, who previously lived there, had been killed in an accident. This takes places in densely packed London, and London is conveyed well here, its pros and cons. The curtainless windows of the flat overshadowed by Railtrack and tall, encroaching buildings, and the decorations, or rather artwork, Feather has left on the flat’s walls, are all tellingly conveyed. In fact, this story has a stunning geometry of ghosts and leitmotifs or light motives, their eventual gestalt being undisclosable in this review for fear of spoilers but the story’s title, like the previous story’s title, does give a tantalising glimpse of the outcome, a spoiler in all but name. The Japanese references and the geometrical angles – and the train fantasising – again, as with the earlier Hook story, are all in the tradition of the Sound of White Ants book linked above. Again, too, the Rix story is one that stands on its own and its artful angles, artistic references, architectural synaesthesia and light manipulations, not least its musically ‘dying fall’ at the end (love lost or simply love transferred?), have enthralled me significantly.
YES, I KNEW THE VENUSIAN COMMODORE by Mark Valentine
“Up in some tower block there’s probablyh a student rehearsing, and in all the angles and curves of the city…”
Casting a light on our world, literally, back from its end to the beginning, this gorgeously Valentine-immaculate text — about the Flash Gordon fashion of films of yore and upon one of its acting stars in particular — morphs itself into a L. Ron Hubbard type religion.
No, it is much more than that because — with some of the Mad Scientist power of this book’s earlier publication of a work by Jacurutu:23 who bears a name with a single word (an Internet identity or password or dreamcaptcha?) like MV’s film star character whose screen name was Triton — it transcends itself as a text into a fiction that is both characterfully touching and TRUE. With ‘love rays’ to match those of Rix.
MARY ALICE IN THE MIRROR by Yarrow Paisley
This story entails a family arriving in new living quarters and choosing to keep, at least temporarily, the existing decor and fittings as, in similar significant circumstances, the young couple do in Rix…
“With the eraser Mary Alice scrubbed away the item (‘Rx’) just below ‘wash the dishes’,…”
…which action then sets in motion a whole lifetime of repercussions, entailing her being trapped inside a mirror in a sort of a ‘You-Go-Back’ relentlessness of overtakingly-fast slow-moving fate (“But it’s a fact that if you put one foot in front of the other and keep doing it, you’ll always get where you’re going.”) but in this Paisley story, despite the entrapment, it is has a mostly delightful tone, definitely recalling Beatrice Faraway, arguably Frances Oliver or Sarban, but only marginally Lewis Carroll. It is a classic fairy or fantasy story but not old-fashioned enough to eschew Skype!
Being one of them itself, this story has caused me to lose count of the number of stories in this book potentially re-anthologisable or author-collectable into the distant future. More than three anyway.
My review of Yarrow Paisley’s story in DADAOISM: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2012/05/12/dadaoism-a-new-anthology-from-chomu-press/
My review of his story in ‘Marked to Die’ : https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2016/06/18/marked-to-die/#comment-7495
THE TAXIDERMIST’S TALE by Tara Isabella Burton
Feeding furiously, by preternatural osmosis, upon the ‘running with the dogs’ in the Julie story, and upon the two New York tales, too, the vestigially created living exhibits in Barnum’s Museum and the erection, by empassioned fabrication, of a living Africa on King’s vacant lot, another New York tale, this one, tells a different tale of a taxidermist’s collection and the seethingly diffident man who hires this taxidermist to work upon a mighty White Wolf roadkill not killed by the road but on the road by he, this diffident man, eye to eye with it, who mysteriously brought it to teeming taxidermable existence-by-death.
Thus, this inspirational story seethes; it eventually lives and breathes as the story’s own creations — the taxidermist’s creatures and, eye to eye, the two men themselves: wolf killer and taxidermist: creations from within the words that created them all — eventually live and seethe, too, for those of us who choose to read the words.
The words I used above for the Julie story seem appropriate here, too: ‘lycanthropic rage’?
THE MAN WHO LOVED FLIES by Andrew Apter
“The road in is the same as the road out.”
I think this whole book might have a connecting theme of obsession. This story is a compelling narrative, one with an obsession about flies, and protecting them at all costs … even to the extent of murdering those who are cruel to flies. I don’t want to belittle this obsession and its outcome as a story that has a ‘worm ouroboros’ configuration like Tem’s, Howard’s and Faraway’s stories – but as it is a page-turningly believable story as well as worrying to me that its depicted obsession might be infectious, the story needs belittling or made to look like an exercise in literary absurdity, and indeed, with that in mind, I note here that the obsessor Thomas Hurley has his obsession ignited by working in a department store where there are tailors making men’s trousers … and men’s trousers usually have flies (my observation, not the story’s) … But, despite this sort of joke on my part, the story genuinely still obsesses me as a horrific truth. Reader as a madman madder than the madman in the story? Reading in as a way of reading out?
PURSES by Nathan Alling Long
“The variety of fabrics — aquamarine sharkskin; soft, peach-coloured felt; iridescent gold lamé; turquoise-amber paisley linen –“
A poignantly engaging needle-and-threnody by a daughter about her mother who collected purses, in an obsessive way that many in this book collect things. Upon her mother’s death, she explores the contents of these purses, later as if clipping herself with a fastener’s click to become one of their contents, too, I guess. Purse as Tem’s grave-house? Or purse as Burton’s taxidermable filling to re-ignite its life? The shimmer between these two possibilities tantalises.
LOOK FOR THE PLACE WHERE THE IVY RISES by Tom Johnstone
“I often think that I’d love to be a fly on the wall…”
This story rang delicious-sinister to me, at least partly because I, too, know of a Residents’ Association where bitter disputes and darksome deeds surround who is secretly in charge of what stays and what’s hacked down in the communal garden. This is told beautifully by someone who is ironically considered otherwise not to be the sharpest tool in the toolbox, as he works for a close-knit trio of a family gardening firm that doles out to him clearing-up jobs rather than more responsible cutting down ones. He is mystified why he is not allowed to chop down a certain area of growth, as he is impinged upon by stranger and stranger things like rumoured vermin or people or voices, and I thought his searching this growth was similar to searching the collective ocean of purses in the previous story… I really sympathised with this vulnerable character and his well-intentioned work ethic as he tells his quaintly vulnerable, effectively garden-creepy, narrative.
MCBIRDY by David McGroarty
“He described his fear as a thing that moved like a hermit crab from one source of dread to another,…”
This has that overtakingly fast-slow oxymoron of relentlessness (“When the dogs come, I will abandon you.”) of previous evolving horrors in this book, horrors that ratchet back from the 19th to the 18th and now to the 17th century, by dint of an old philosopher from that 17th century channelled via a mentality similar to this book’s Mad Scientist Jacurutu or Valentine-Venusian ‘religion’, material that ends up in the hands of two teachers in a school amid today’s brownfield sites of Britain, teachers that remind me of some of the diffidently ‘evil’ and/or disguised-insane teachers of my own days at school, some with academic capes like wings and wicked tongues. And from their hands this material ends up in the hands of two well-characterised boys, each with their own hang-ups and hang-outs, who we watch through the ensuing years into so-called grown-uphood… The story’s ending is deeply disturbing, and the story as a whole gives a dark obsessive coda to this wonderfully cohesive anthology that contains stories that stand on their own and will make their notable mark in the canon of Strange Tales.
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