The Anniversary of Never – Joel Lane


Swan River Press MMXV

My previous reviews of Joel Lane works HERE.

My previous reviews of books published by the Swan River Press HERE.

I intend to real-time review this new collection of stories by Joel Lane in due course. My comments will be found in the thought stream below or by clicking on this post’s title above.

16 thoughts on “The Anniversary of Never – Joel Lane

  1. With about 140 pages, this is a neat, aesthetic, dust-wrappered hardback, with 13 uncollected stories, three of them previously unpublished. The introduction is by Nicholas Royle and my copy is numbered 33/100.


    “I always walked away before they had the chance to abandon me.”

    Leisurely, yet fast-moving and exegetically eclectic with literary polishing, this work is a touching fictional account of ‘reconnection’ by the protagonist with his long-estranged father, a father who was into Fortean and Paranormal paranoia, as it were. Haunting, and word perfect about dereliction. One image that will stick with me is the discrete nature of the eyes as something alien, which rings true to someone who has suffered sporadic iritis for about 40 years. I once described this potentially serious condition as the curse of Cthulhu.


    “And those dark nights just before the New Year were as bare and needy as a shaved pubis.”

    Sometimes, words work or they don’t work. But it is the context that counts. And the context here is the darkest part of North Birmingham, perhaps the darkest place in all Lane, as thirty-something Kevin spends Christmas with his parents in an area where he lived as a kid, each loving clinch silhouetted as a private brawl, and where he had all the usual groping connections, but now, with the throbbing bass line of some new pub band, there is a tenuous romantic reconnection from the old days and, later, the most awful vision in a public convenience (from on high) that makes some great literature itself a public convenience, that of purging or catharsis, hoping yourself to be yet another one cut short down there at the bottom of the paragraph.


    “Nathan looked like a ballet dancer: thin and pale, wrapped in his own stillness.”

    This story if fully told would spoil it for you. Yet, as a miracle, the story when fully told works well as an inversion of what or whom you expect to be haunted. A love story, by return to the seaside hotel where it all happened, with graphic references, and ‘traces’ that linger like ghosts of known and unknown souls – but whose souls and sensed by whose second sight? Even the reader has to question his or her own ‘traces’ and which transactions of the flesh, like electrical plugs and sockets, carry the charge from soul to soul best.
    Prefigures or echoes certain other ‘drowning’ tropes in the Lane canon…


    Regarding the next story in this book, below is my editor’s commentary upon it (from the whole commentary here) written almost exactly four years ago after the story had first appeared in a horror anthology with stories ABOUT horror anthologies:

    [[ Midnight Flight – by Joel Lane

    Paul looked down at the menu card and immediately saw the words: Thom Creighton Parr. He adjusted his glasses and read: Torn Chicken Pasta.”

    The above quote is simply, if inspirationally, more of this book’s made-up stammering or word-bending. Indeed, this classic Lane story is crammed with words of wisdom, phrases and concepts that will haunt you forever. I’ve not chosen them to quote as I am seriously spoilt for choice but I do ache to do so; so, may the above mere book-context quote suffice as taster. You need to read this story to read all its words in context. A major work, however slight its size. The haunting by a horror anthology of the old school, with concrete wings or asleep in a concrete bed, a smell of decaying leaves, a senile synergy of memories being lost in tandem between generations (young and old) amid the riot-riven communal soul of a guessable city’s shattered paving-stones. Academic research to catch the midnight flight to a bigger city (of nostalgia?) is half-halted, half not. And the subsuming mentioned above on page 73 takes a new turn of subsuming in the last sentence of this story (one of literature’s truly great endings to die for), a subsuming that only book lovers in today’s circumstances will be able to appreciate to its full. (21/8/11 – another 2 hours later) ]]

    I have just re-read it and I have found even more in it, as I approach my own symptoms of older age that have gradually started besetting me during that four years. I know I am biased but the story is a masterpiece.
    Biased, or demented!

    As an aside, Joel had two other stories in my own edited publications: THE DROWNED in Nemonymous Two in 2002 and, as reviewed by me here, a story entitled THE DROWNED MARKET in ‘Null Immortalis’ (Nemonymous Ten 2010). I believe the latter has never been collected.

  5. ASHES IN THE WATER with Mat Joiner

    “A bin liner swollen with rubbish or gas was floating just below the water surface.”

    Tracing-paper, palimpsest, paper cut-out, sketch, words used, this story conveys the nature of the Midland canals and their narrowboats, fully tracing their soul upon the surface of my own memories about them, many years ago. This is a series of sketch itself, one upon the other, of bereavement, love, the chances taken and missed in the pattern of the people you just meet or wreak passion with, some with mystic patterns or beliefs, others clear cut, but with a hidden audit trail that many of us fail to audit because we don’t know it’s there following our currents from beneath like a ghost ship, until we enter its realms and come back from it able now to see what that trail is, knowing that the patterns can be repeated, some pointilliste, breaking up, then coming together in perfect definition, others abstract streaks like static, through which one sees the shapes in hazy definition, more like scars than definition at all. This story is still resonating with me as I write this and will likely do so after I stop. But who the eyewitness, whom the witnessed? The drowner or the drowned? Dream or dreamer?

    “He’d always had an analogue mind where Josh was digital.”


    “The blank expression of the HR manager, like someone trying not to be sick.”

    In this black satire or absurdist didacticism, it is best not to fall sick at all, especially if you are destined to end up at this story’s hospital, and for personal reasons I am not going to dwell for long on this nightmarish extrapolation upon today’s business culture in health care. I do feel however that since this work was first published in 2011, things have improved in many hospitals, perhaps BECAUSE of this very work. I do trust so.

    Not a black comedy so much as a frighteningly misgrown culture of cure racked with revictimised victims in failed escape.

    “A concerto of silence.”


    “All the time it was like you were dancing together and the music had just stopped for a moment.”

    The moment you meet a couple you address as ‘you’, knowing that they will return to their dancing after you’ve left them. A bit like meeting them in this story itself, with your rhetorical monologue reflecting how they had jumped — from their last balcony of a city centre tower block beset around with Britain’s revived unrest — as an attempt to transcend their own unrest with more than just falling but angling out like angels…
    An anguished vision, in hope of surviving without guilt. You as witness of their act.


    “People are annoying when they fall in love. Whatever they were before changes into half of some deformed-couple thing with its own bad habits and false memories.”

    This story is a case study of such a phenomenon as described in that quote, a work seen from the point of view of a male student friend of a girl at university, a girl who hooks up with an insidiously cloying male partner from Hungary. But we only know the situation from her point of view via the male narrator’s. A complex symbiosis of viewpoints and polluted landscape, polluted by narrative filtered viewpoint and not by a reality itself that we can grasp for certain as the reader.
    It has a strangely effective but oblique ending with no real climax – with an inferred ‘objective correlative’ set of objects I will not give away here in case they are meant as a surprise. Or it is a story that is actually unfinished? Also a story with an arguably irrelevant title.
    ‘After the Flood’ was the title of a published story by this author elsewhere. A complementary work to this ‘After the Fire’?


    “That wasn’t a real memory, he was sure. Because he knew where the real ones had gone.”

    A perfect vignette, of Matt’s encroaching winter’s return in April, a cruel month at the best of times, not a whitening blankness but a black one, an urban nightmare – as things mix dream and omission with increasingly less and less reality between them. Including some neat wordplay, such as the ‘cherry-pick’ at the end with the story’s beginning. Even the name Snow Hill takes on a new resonance.
    A lost gem, now found. Or vice versa,


    “Soon I’ll work it out. There’s just a few more facts I need. What they left out of the books.”

    A work that is classic Lane (I reviewed this story HERE three years ago, and I haven’t yet reread my review) and, like Lucy’s father speaking above in the story itself, I think I have reached some sort of epiphany about this whole scenario: the narrow but deep family house, where (and as what) Lucy’s brother Paul might have ended up, plus the landfill, the chemical undercurrents, the connectors or messengers between us and those down elsewhere, the tenuously masked figures, the tessellation of the environment where we all live amid ‘cancer clusters’…


    “There was always the sense of being witnessed.”

    An under-the-skin, Lane-like threnody, where various people, two in particular who hook up, hear cries of despair in various place, but they don’t mention the g- word. Sounds too glib or gauche to do so, I guess, to describe these important cries for help, all to the backdrop of the serious urban city riots also shown in ‘Bitter Angel’ and — “At least winter meant things would stop changing…” — the encroaching omissions between reality of “The Anniversary of Never.” Those riots started with “eyewitness” accounts of a police shooting of a black man…
    The ‘listening community”, those grouping together as having heard those crying refrains. With a desperate irony…

    “The this community, the that community, every website, every Yahoo group, every bunch of people with a hang-up or a shoe size in common is a community. It’s all just a way of disguising the fact that there’s no community, not any more.”

    The ending of this story is a genuine masterstroke, as is so often the case with this author’s work.


    “Very quietly, she said: ‘When I look at the Underground map, I can see the real map.'”

    A portrait of two women, one with a phobia of the London Underground, the other her cognitive therapist, I guess, as they try together to transcend that phobia and a past abusive relationship, connecting Exeter and London, and Joel Lane’s 2003 edited anthology Beneath the Ground syndrome.
    I found it very effective, particularly the onward resonations from the story’s oblique ending. More tractable than that very strange, somewhat (in hindsight) unsatisfying oblique ending of ‘After the Fire’.
    ‘All Dead Years’ also has elements of an endless summer to compare with the endless winter of ‘The Anniversary of Never’…


    “Despite the occasional holiday in Wales, I was so used to the city that an absence of walls disturbed me.”

    Another iconic Lane story (my earlier review of it a few years ago HERE, that I have not yet reread) – one that resides beside this book’s own shifting and faltering English seasons, that for a basically urban writer like Lane, are uncannily significant, “that winter hadn’t worn through.” A group of city teenagers in the seventies I guess (later we see them older around the time of the Falklands war) – escaping from the city to the dead tree in the countryside, with their joints and free love etc. imageAnd one boy’s “Castaneda shit”, culminating in a gruesome find that later in life almost allows a gay relationship to give a form of dark catharsis, perhaps even a form of ritual childbirth or escape for children that were tied to that spot, via some spiritual connection with the area near the dead tree, a connection that transcends as well as uses that character’s so-called ‘Castaneda shit’. A fine conclusion that not only embraces Lane’s incomparable canon of work but also extends it positively beyond perhaps what even the author himself had dreamt? All the customary tropes of dereliction and death, but with a seed of hope, I hope.

    “I waited with him near Snow Hill…[…] I knew our affair was over, but it didn’t matter. For him, it had only been a means to an end. Maybe that’s true of most people, if you accept that the end is more than the obvious things.”


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s