Fiction by Jeffrey Thomas, Stephen Bacon, Steven J. Dines, Andrew Hook, Cate Gardner.
My previous reviews of the fiction in TTA Press publications HERE.
When I real-time review this fiction, my comments will be found in the thought stream below or by clicking on this book’s title above.
DISTINGUISHED MOLE by Jeffrey Thomas
“Lights flared in his vision like the flash-bulbs of all the photographers he had dreamed, in school, would one day gather when the world caught word of his discoveries.”
I found this substantive work creeping up on me, revealing something about myself – not that I find myself staring inordinately more than most others at the navel of my vestigial computer-screen, and certainly not nearly as much as those scrying hand-held smartphones as if they are the oracles of a selfie’s self… That is just one spin-off from this organically accretive creeping of a text’s own melanoma, embodied by the OO VIP WAK BENDO hospital characters (here exemplified by Bendo) in this enthralling, suppurating plot, characters who seem to take for granted the prawns, cockroaches, jellyfish of their patients’ illnesses (illnesses or dire hanging-by-a-thread body-injuries), but seem surprised to find one such creature in a patient’s ear along with impacted wax, while emulating the incremental skin moles of other people to the point of some obscene ambition of grafting and tapping such hairy moles for their own skin, their own envisaged benefit.
A massively original story. A culminatory disturbing one on a visceral level. But, for me, it is also one that would even wake Rip Van Winkle from the self-denial of his smug sleep… And I took a look at my own real-time reviewing since 2008, as if I, too, rode the concepts of others, like putting my hand into the text and tearing out of that octopoid seedbed of words my own version of a prime succulent hair-sprouting mole to place onto my own cheek, like a beauty spot onto the cheek of a literary fop or of a dreamcatching sap like me. And I have been horrified to the core after just this minute looking back above at what I have somehow distilled – in the guise of a book review – from this fine fiction.
BANDERSNATCH by Stephen Bacon
“That’s the word I use – ‘nauseous’, not sick,…”
Although I thought I understood this story, it has been nagging at me ever since. Which is a good thing.
It is what I would call a simple-tantalising tale, of a brother ‘exiled’ from his sister for ten years, with our never knowing fully why they have not been able to have a reunion (although it becomes easier to guess why) – till their mother died. The sister has changed, he notes, with her now liking dogs when she didn’t before, has a boy friend who accentuates his biceps, needs to be whittled down to size, I guess, like the boys at the end of the Jeffrey Thomas story did with their long sticks, making the human bandersnatch frumious….
There is a sense of wrongness with the Bacon story, so utterly wrong, so aversionary, I was left with undercurrents of bad taste but mixed artfully with the Carrollian.
Practice makes perfect. Dogleg and wrist.
THE SUFFERING by Steven J. Dines
“The spire can always find you;”
Salisbury Cathedral spire in Black Static #25
Read this story for the first time upon awaking to a sunny Saturday morning, as I just did, you will see your own reflection in the computer screen as you write about it aureoled in gold, as if it has given the reader a new effulgence of life through its own revenant of death, its “dead seconds, black static.”
A powerful vision at any time of the day. Not a story so much, as a rhapsodic symphony of grief, a self’s skin-peeling, a wolf as just one symbol among others, a protector or opponent (“a ghost of her ghost”) of the one you have lost through cancer as you run and glimpse her in a charity race through trees.
All ‘elephants and butterflies’ and closing down a marriage legally, a Cripps Pink Apple like that of the earlier stories’ Bandersnatch or ‘distinguished mole’ (“they merely wear their injuries like badges.”)
The thud of the falling apple as in Elizabeth Bowen’s ‘The Apple Tree’?
Another astonishing Dines, this one almost a religious experience.
“…because pain knows what it is.”
BLOOD FOR YOUR MOTHER by Andrew Hook
“Latterly I came to understand what pareidolia meant, but even so it remained a comfort.”
I, too, am haunted by the meaning of that word as a running theme within my ‘dreamcatching’ book commentaries, aka ‘gestalt real-time reviewing’, another of my possible obsessions to match the one I described in my review above of ‘Distinguished Mole’. It is almost as if these leitmotifs have been planted in these stories to make pareidoliac patterns…or I have imagined them for my own purposes?
The fifties-something woman narrator who works as a radiographer visits her father, someone currently needing the care of an elderly neighbour but is on the brink of being a social services case. The narrator’s own gestalt from what she sees is absolutely heart-rending, creating a gestalt from the current awful state of her father’s physical and mental existence and from her own exiled or estranged relationship since childhood with both her parents (carrying the spiritual and visceral auras of the previous stories). This leads to some of the most horrific scenes that I have ever experienced from this author. A tour de force. Perfectly judged. The doubt is whether her gestalt is pareidoliac or real. That doubt in the dream she seems to ‘catch’.
WHEN THE MOON MAN KNOCKS by Cate Gardner
“Yet surely the dead grieved, too,…”
A novelette with fourteen numbered chapters. For me, a page-turning, theatrical or cinematic ghost story with humorous elements amid the, not geomancy, but ‘lunacy’ of grief and bereavement. Humorous, maybe, but essentially heart-rending for the woman who is in denial about her partner’s death from cancer. No mean feat on behalf of the author. No bedside closure on behalf of the character.
Concepts of messages from the moon by paper-cutting paper birds, and the conspiracy of such ‘lunacy’ between the living and the dead. Stirring doubts and disloyalty. But which is the living which the dead?
Which the charlatan? Easier to be a mock medium these days, this story infers, because of the availability of Twitter…
Heart-rending fiction in tune with the tenor of this set of fiction’s gestalt, with elements of the surgery or cutting from Thomas, Bacon and Dines, and Hook’s pareidoliac envisioning or dream as here limned by the moon…. And it seems appropriately pareidoliac that I should read this now, bearing in mind the blood moon we are told by the news to expect to see, for real, tonight in our skies…
“She didn’t return from the garden until the moon had slipped behind the trees, and then it was too late.”
There is much else in Black Static #48 in addition to the above fiction.
One of Gardner’s paper-birds?
A cross-reference to this review from here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2015/10/08/skein-and-bone-v-h-leslie/#comment-5582