I received this publication as part of my subscription to TTA Press.
Stories by James Van Pelt, Kate Jonez, John Connolly, Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, Ray Cluley, Eric J. Guignard.
My previous reviews of TTA Press publications HERE.
When I read the stories, I will record my thoughts – to be found in the stream below or by clicking on this post’s title above.
ON THE ROAD WITH THE AMERICAN DEAD by James Van Pelt
“You know, the wonder is we don’t see more ghosts.”
When reviewing Black Static or Interzone, I usually don’t mention any story’s bespoke accompanying artwork. Not that I think artwork is unworthy of mentioning or inferior in any way, but I think that my role is to dwell on the pure texts among and between.
Those who regularly read my reviews will know exactly what I mean. And what is more, I don’t consider myself to be an expert on (or a fan of) artwork and its effects in the context of fiction.
However, I was particularly struck with Richard Wagner’s opening shot for this story. I felt I was driving the car as evoked by a combination of the words and the monochrome car’s cockpit of the story. And that made the rest of it work perfectly. An off beat experience of driving with the recurrent talkative ghosts in the passenger seat from their own history and place of my route. All capped off with the gem of an ending that rationalises the existence of the ghosts in this story, in any story that creates them for us. Story as a truth truer than truth itself?
I reviewed a previous work by James Van Pelt here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2013/09/27/the-all-days-of-school-days/
FIND A PENNY, PICK IT UP, AND ALL THE DAY YOU’LL HAVE GOOD LUCK by Kate Jonez
“I walk past him sometimes and wonder if he knows I sleep in his bed.”
I don’t know if it’s because, in recent weeks, I have been reading and real-time reviewing various fiction works by Truman Capote, but this story seems in that spirit. I am not American, so I might be awry there. Whatever the case, I intend this comparison to be a compliment to the story of this narrator, a thirteen year old girl, as precocious or knowing as Capote children. She is following along with her mother and two younger sisters into situations of pick-pocketing survival, now staying with this Oklahoman township’s sheriff whose estranged son hangs around the carnival watching…and then acting. A disturbing tale of abuse that develops beyond its own initial obviousness in a haunting and original way, as if one of Van Pelt’s ghosts has become a shadow boxer complete with real fingernail…
RAZORSHINS by John Connolly
“They might have been crooks, but they were straight crooks, and stole no more than they believed to be their due.”
A solid tale of the Prohibition era, bootlegging between Maine and Canada, involving crossing that border, double-crossing it and others, with some pretty grim or grizzled or gruestrutting individuals, various loyalties and betrayals, including the near-pelted Jew Mordecai (Motke the Mortician) Blum, clearly depicting the race consciousness of the era also still figuring in later times as depicted by my recent reading of Capote. Also, there is a strain of superstition leading into the arguable need to leave a bottle of hard liquor as a peace offering for what or whom is called Razorshins. Whether the eventual vision of this creature is real or liquor-driven, its horror is strongly conveyed by the text.
But I think there is a deeper metaphorical or thematic level to this story and its creature, reflecting the sliced-off hair of Jonez in her box as well as her fingernail, and, now, the human scalp in the Connolly, when factored into something that is not mentioned but is strongly implied by Connolly, viz: the ‘Wisdom of King Solomon’ and Razorshins being a slurred form of Rations…sliced or chopped?
The Wisdom of King Solomon
THE DEVIL’S HANDS by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
“Vincent placed a hand on her mom’s shoulder. ‘We did some mushrooms this morning, Jill.’
‘Oh, dear,’ her mom said. ‘Does that mean you won’t be staying for dessert?'”
Cocoa’s 24th birthday. She and her ‘rancid’ flatmate Vincent have a dinner party at her parents’ place, parents who are ageing hippies, a full circle of druggy acceptance; yet Cocoa battles with the demons of depression, given acceptance of the word ‘depression’ which she doesn’t really accept, battles also with the effective loss of her once loving girl friend and with Vincent’s sexual advances that she endures in exchange for his giving her money…
Vincent is an artist painter, and with that name, although not overtly implied as such in this text, it implies much to me, nevertheless.
This is a story that works well on its own level, giving a disturbing glimpse of today’s vicious circles of relationships amid ‘shrooms, wiggins and bills’. A screaming desperation. But it also blends neatly with the Jonez and the magicking away of evil by the closure with evil itself. And, for me, Cocoa now risks everything by sacrificing something to this story’s own striking version of the ‘Razorshins’ creature in her bathroom, sacrificing Connolly’s single bottle of ‘shroom’ equivalence as peace offering to life’s various Vincentish or vicious circles?
WHEN THE DEVIL’S DRIVING by Ray Cluley
“The story Lucy liked most had the devil bathing in the pool,…”
The Stufflebeam story we’ve just read before this one?
I won’t go into the ‘details’ of this Cluley work, for obvious reasons, only one of which reasons is that they are shocking details. Be warned.
Broadly, Lucy sits alone and fantasises by a brilliantly described rancid pool called the Devil’s Basin, and there is a vicious circle of nightmare and reality, devastatingly so, unplugged and Nick Cave.
There are also Van Pelt’s sideseat drivers. Again, devastatingly so.
I disapprove of this story. Yet, it seems due desserts are finally given – or taken. I needed to sacrifice myself to this story, if only to say I survived it. And, as a Devilish spin-off into the swamp, the word ‘sacrifice’ is explicitly used in this Cluley in the same way as it is used within my theories about sacrifice in earlier stories above.
A CASE IN NATURAL SELECTION AND HOW IT APPLIES TO LOVE by Eric J. Guignard
“Jamie’s the fourth person to spontaneously combust this month.”
Not Krook’s singular auto-‘fireballing’ from Dickens, but an exponential mass trend of fiery immolation in this satisfyingly substantive Interzone-like story, as a symptom of an extrapolated just-before-holocaust vision of an ultra-malign Devil’s Basin, as it were, of global-warming. A rhetorical coda of questions for this whole nest of stories. Not black static so much as light-shattered dynamism. Like Nemo in Bleak House, this is a threnody of nicknames in an evolutionary out-doing of each other to gain a non-combusted loving partner in this fight for survival. A besieged community, where Kenny and his Father debate the chances of not dying, debate them against the mindset of ‘mind-me’ as a slingshot self to flay back the skin and scatter the synchronised shards of random truth and fiction. The ghosts of nicknames that once sat in the passenger seats till “the windshield implodes, showering us with glass.”
Ultimately a positive vision? Another rhetorical question?
Also I am pleased the Mojave Desert is mentioned to summon the ghost of Truman Capote once again. Coca Cola and Campbell’s soup cans.
“…so everyone raced each other for the safety of some fabled land that doesn’t exist anymore in the way it was once remembered.”
PS: I feel the foregoing stories’ context lends an element of self-sacrifice (ironic or otherwise, intentional or otherwise) to these acts of spontaneous combustion.
That is the end of my review of this edition’s fiction. There is much else in Black Static to interest fans of the Horror Arts.
Truman Capote: Mojave