A collection by Damien Angelica Walters
Apex Publications 2015
When I real-time this book, my comments will be found in the thought stream below or by clicking on this post’s title above.
A collection by Damien Angelica Walters
Apex Publications 2015
When I real-time this book, my comments will be found in the thought stream below or by clicking on this post’s title above.
PART I: HERE
SING ME YOUR SCARS
“The rot binds us to him as the stitches bind them to me. A prison, not of bars, but circumstance.”
That’s the first time I have felt the word ‘circumstance’ as if it is needlepoint ringing the stance. A story of leitmotifs into a gestalt, as if the text is dreamcatching the central character even while I capture the story itself, a Yellow Wallpaper scenario where the woman is sewn or sown with the body parts that make her up, each part still belonging to the woman who once wore it and containing her volition as soul, the rot between healed continuously by the man who sewed them. It is achingly yearning and retributive as if the man needs stitching into this wallpaper of sensation the more he wants the music of each soul to keep playing for him. Not wishing to stint on my expression of this story’s worth and memorability, I thought I would mention that it might be something my favourite writer of all time, Elizabeth Bowen, would have written should she had lived today standing on the literary shoulders of a different age, as stitched to parts of Frances Oliver. Frances become Frankenstein?
ALL THE PIECES WE LEAVE BEHIND
“; her flesh, their battlefield.”
A sort of synaesthesia-sensitivity (a form of grey-inverted synaesthesia?) combined with symptoms of OCD – and I wonder if Meg (Gem? – with all the ribbons or streamers of various colours angling from its facets including the fear of too many colours blending as grey) has always suffered this condition or whether it has just rubbed off on her by an encounter with a man when she was diverted (on her way home from work in a bookshop) by a police incident, causing her going past an area she usually avoided, too close to people, now, including her sense of migraine at early morning coffee places as accentuated by events, ricochet to ricochet, themselves becoming part of her condition, and an inner voice haunting her, speaking to her, or is that now her own real voice? A haunting mental condition that leaves bits of itself behind, as if it can exist without Meg…making me genuinely fear I have now caught it, too, from the grey insects, insects not only described by these words but also embodied within the text on the page itself. A story that induces a sort of book(shop)-synaesthesia.
GIRL, WITH COIN
“…now the scar is thick and ridged, easy to find even beneath the fabric of her shirt.”
One of those unimpeachable stories, where it all clicks into place. Echoing the first story’s serial scars and the rotting between, and echoing, too, what I inferred as the inverse synaesthesia of the second story here as a rare condition that numbs pain so completely she has formed her life’s museum of stigmata as happenings or art installations that she performs on herself without pain…
The rotting between is her relationship with her mother, historical and now, all depending on the toss of more than just an emotion-embedded coin…
A perfect twist.
PASKUTINIS ILIUZIJA (THE LAST ILLUSION)
“Andrius opened his hands, and wisps of pale pink floated up. […] Tiny pink and yellow fish circled them, moving fast enough to create the illusion of ribbons.”
With this book’s earlier sense of synaesthesia as a filter working in both directions of flow, this is a very touching alternate world story of a Lithuanian magician banned by the inimical soldiers from making magic, but he does so for his sick seven year old daughter and we infer her escape to that mythic world he creates by his magical story-telling and his own capture for so doing. Love is laying down your freedom for your loved one’s freedom, even if freedom is death, or vice versa, in both directions of flow.
A magic-making story itself, worthy of your tears.
I have read and reviewed this story before, but I have not yet revisited my review prior to my rereading of the story above. I shall now search out my earlier review and copy/paste it below…
Copied from this 2013 review:
Paskutinis Iliuzija (The Last Illusion) – Damien Walters Grintalis
“A theater, its stage now silent and dark.”
This work reminds me of the Mittel European-venue stories steeped in the menace and magic of 20th century history as commonly published by Ex Occidente Press, and I can give it no greater compliment than that. Here we’re faced with menace and given the promise of magic, as a man in dangerous times has recently lost his wife to the empty space next to him in the bed and his young daughter unwell to whom he tells stories in which feature the myths of their homeland country: during which he uses restrained magic (by spore or inherent mnemonic?), a magic that is banned by the menace, just as the theatre (here theater) was banned in the Butler story: but the magic prevails and acts as tough love… I cried at the end but “No, you can change the story, can’t you?” A story that one would not expect to be in a SF magazine but it does sit believably within the overall fiction setting with the poignancy of the protagonist’s own sense of restrained magic.
“It could create lions from shadows…”
(In 2008, I saw the above painting by Christian Krohg (1852 -1925) inside the Oslo National Gallery. I wished her better.)
A paper rose?
GLASS BOXES AND CLOCKWORK GODS
“After my skin eats the stitches away, I turn my key again.”
It is as if a key has been turned upon the ethos of this book’s first story, with, here, Big and Little Big being two versions of the puppet-master, and those in the box with keys in their backs and metal showing are post-human versions of the single puppet or a form of Frankenstein monster as gestalt, separated out into discrete boxes, each yearning for some form of completion or just to remember their own name as well as the names of those with whom they once played and held hands. A dice game with memory or just another toss of a coin to reveal who you are, who you are not, who you will be with, who you will be without?
Whatever the case, the colours remain understated, the emotions, too, deadpan like a not-mouth, but fraught, I feel, with a hidden passion, a blue not-wall. Leaving a bit of me behind in a box like this grey-covered book.
SUGAR, SIN, AND NONSUCH HENRY
“She found the on switch located in the centre of his back…”
A neat, if throwaway, tale acting here as what I assume to be the coda of this scar symphony known as Part I (HERE) of this book, Henry VIII, here, in real life, with his own SF version of the previous story’s key in his back, this Henry VIII being an engaging AI or robot, with all the looks and mannerisms of that most famous English King, a bit like other kings such as Elvis (mentioned in this story) and the King in Yellow (Henry has French connections, too, as well a palace called Nonsuch).
This robot is purchased by a well-characterised stripper and dancer called Sugarsin who sometimes appears, in her stripping act, in the role of Anne Boleyn and allows this King to fall in love with her… Until as in a previous story, she has the crucial moment of decision almost like another toss of a coin….
Holbein is also mentioned in this story, a painter whose elongated skull at the bottom of his Ambassadors work is almost as famous as his depiction of Henry VIII. Telling, I say.
PART II: AND THE NOW
RUNNING EMPTY IN A LAND OF DECAY
“Eventually the laces will rot and the shoes will fall.”
Laces as stitches, a sort of incantatory running and running amid a zombie holocaust, not the running sores, but the running stores that no one touches for good shoes…
– running shoes as pieces or self left behind time and time again, while your loved one’s smile is glimpsed at his end, a devastating image that brought me up short and breathless, before I continued to the end of this relentless but short short.
“Ran the tip of her finger over the edge of a scar. Recited the names again.”
More name-incantatoriness, here the scar being, for me, like a coin with an edge? Violet, a self-harmer with her own italicised alter-voice, here producing an inverted synaesthesic grey like a shadow to wreak goodness with its own form of harms to those who deserve them.
I spent ages working out the end but when I finally worked it out the story made a satisfying sense, coiling back on me as if someone somewhere had carved the wrong name. Or the right one, after all, for whatever self needed harming.
“A shadow emerged from the wound like a ribbon,…”
THE TASTE OF TEARS IN A RAINDROP
“A sound like tearing paper filled the air as a cracks appeared in her skin.”
From dandelions as a favourite flower to dandelion fluff to a dandelion seed, this moving tale of a man grappling with legal access to his young daughter after marital break-up made me think there is no accident in tears being able to be wept as well as ripped.
The haunting incantatory image of a woman dressed in blue in his backyard is some apotheosis of this grappling, and with this book’s own permeating “pieces of her began to fall, revealing a grey shadow behind them”, she is not so much an image but a flesh and blood woman, bruised colourfully, and one tries to fathom the gestalt of all these leitmotifs, even the one that she might have been looking “for a prince on a rescue mission.” But who was rescuing whom? And princes always hope to become kings.
And a princess to be queen?
ALWAYS, THEY WHISPER
Pain as a woman’s lot is seen through the filter of the Perseus, Medusa, Poseidon myth, with whispering serpents under her head towel. Self-perception, self-assertion and herbal remedies abound. I am afraid this was mostly beyond me. My failings, not the story’s; I sensed but could not grasp its message. Some striking passages, excising serpents’ tongues.
DYSPHONIA IN D MINOR
“Would I become a story? Once upon a time, there was a woman who sang of hurt and broken things. Who tried to fix her heart by shattering the one who tore it to pieces.”
…not so much leaving these pieces behind, but building them, by singing, into structures, bridges and scar museums of Voice.
I feel the need, but hesitate, to claim this to be one of my favourite stories ever. It is often difficult to factor in an overweening passion of the reading moment. All I will say, though, is that it seems as if this story was written purely with my taste in literature in mind, a symphony in movements of bridge architecture, a rhapsodic construction between Lucia and Delanna as intermittent lovers, employed to Voice arches et al, sometimes twining their voices together to fulfil sometimes cynical commissions, sometimes getting the buildings accidentally wrong with glitches in the Voice’s own architecture, Delanna (the symphony’s own narrator) sometimes deliberately destabilising Lucia’s buildings, but all of this deployed with an essential literary power underpinning a sense that the two women’s own power of Voice TRULY exists…with an essential expectation of always.
A Sapphic relationship to throw the die for.
SHALL I WHISPER TO YOU OF MOONLIGHT, OF SORROW, OF PIECES OF US?
“; the ring is only a circle of empty without your skin to bind it.”
…now a circular bridge to match those standard semi-circular-tending ones in the previous story, as part of more of Voice’s incantatory italicisations, that skin-singing of ‘never let me go’, with the pieces of nine “slick beneath my fingertips” photographs of your loved one, left, as it were, not behind as someone left pieces before in this book, but in advance, left step-by-step as a structure of future’s accretively felt bereavement following your loved one’s clinching last illness…
I felt the context of this book gave this story an added power, since this is what I wrote about it HERE when I read it before in 2014:
Shall I Whisper to You of Moonlight, of Sorrow, of Pieces of Us? by Damien Angelica Walters
“…and I have a knot in my chest that won’t go away.”
A yearning story in short steps. Straightforward in one sense: love, death, loss, regret, recurrent haunting by dead one. The leaving of photographs as part of that haunting works quite well and lessens the straightforwardness. But, for me, essentially predictable with a slightly pretentious aura.
IMMOLATION: A LOVE STORY
“She’s burning him up with her presence.”
This burn-shorted short of a scalding coda to the NOW of Part II, the precise optimum moment of NOW, as the shoesalesman’s own fantasies about a customer in the shoe shop later reach this book’s exact synaesthesic point of contact, perhaps the barely perceptible space between the two fingertips of God and Adam on the Sistine ceiling, almost a Dickensian spontaneous combustion of come-uppance, of passion and of over-dressing, but whose skin burnt first?
Singing as singeing?
PART III: AND AWAY
MELANCHOLIA IN BLOOM
“My thoughts twist and turn, and the words spiral out to nowhere. A ribbon I can’t catch, no matter how hard I try.”
Not from Ulysses, but a Bloom of Petals kept in a box as desperate discrete mnemonics to assuage Alzheimer’s, whatever the ribbon or stream of consciousness.
A terribly moving counterpoint of mother and daughter (and eight year old granddaughter), the mother’s thoughts italicised as striving to ward off memory loss, the other grappling with the clues as to the nature of that memory loss.
Another story of the pieces left behind, a story like life without magic or a happy ending. But it somehow feels like magic in a way to face it and contextualise it within such a rhapsody of words in this story and other stories in this book so far.
“My fingertips are cold and I can feel the pieces of me straining to break free.”
IRON AND WOOD, NAIL AND BONE
“You know you’re here because of the broken pieces of you,…”
A powerful self-threnody of contradictory wishes, some wanting, some not wanting, the stigmata of being crucified upon one of twelve crosses in a room, but does the word powerful truly convey the power of this piece where you follow the protagonist’s recurrent crucifixion, piece by piece, scar by scar… nail by nail?
The nails explicitly replace the previous story’s petals as the required mnemonics.
I listened to this as I read it – http://youtu.be/WYiKqrKXdhg
AND ALL THE WORLD SAYS HUSH
“A homeless man hears the rustle of coins…”
As if each moment is a throw of the die.
This short short in a diaphanous skirt is a ‘bifurcation’ of Tis a Pity She’s A Whore and the Lady Vanishes, another optimum moment as over-dressing, here and earlier in this book, becomes a smoothing off for a non-sticky or unsynaesthesic existence.
THEY MAKE OF YOU A MONSTER
“Her fingertips leak thin grey trails of smoke.”
This accretive book now reminds me of the recurrent power of the earlier crucifixion room, here Isabel’s fingers one by one broken in a cell, a cell near the sound of sea, near a sense of alternate or real history, a king with six summers if not six wives, and torture to make Isabel recognise his kingship, with healers, Sapphic memories and a fall…but I sense she somehow meets the king who talks incognito in the cell, and then we already know of her skin to skin synaesthesic or burning magic to magic her free or to magic the kingdom into a queendom…?
“…a magic that has been perverted. Inverted. Fire to ice. Healing to–“
PAPER THIN ROSES OF MAYBE
“where flat meets real”
Another story, like Dysphonia, that I weigh in the balance of future memory.
Where flat mets real in the nounship of ‘forever’, ‘maybe’ and ‘must have now’, earlier, I somehow recall, in this book, ‘musthavenow’…
When I used the word accretive about the previous story, I nearly used the word ‘creeping’, but I discarded it, as this book is not at all creepy, but creeping is somehow right, as once curved if not straight lovers Maddie and Joshua await some unknown creeping as if into a 1900s snapshot sepia or grey, some sort of post-holocaust world expected to beset them, one that is grey or, at best, pastel coloured, attenuating, yes, creeping…
It astonishingly fits the mood of this whole book where, inter alia, synaesthesia becomes grey but also remains as synaesthesia.
A compelling, involving love story, where this book’s earlier mnemonic photographs, nails or petals become paper roses.
A sort of inverted – to echo the second quote above in the previous story’s review – Dysphonic effect, where the Voice now gradually uncreates the bridges instead of building them?
Part III’s ‘And Away’…
GREY IS THE GAUGE OF HIS STORM
“People will tell you that damage makes the fabric stronger.”
The only way not to escape but to remake this world is via the preternatural power of literature. Collecting the threads together strengthens them. Damage, counterintuitively, too.
Dandelion fluff leads into this stunning exposition of sewn linings as personal gestalts, with their stitches and other symphonic or dysphonic movements of sewing-terminology, dress-making, knitting and quilting, like my wife’s purple quilt shown fortuitously earlier in this review and I recall that the woman narrator in this story has a the favourite colour of purple, or is it this book’s earlier Violet? Whether low or high denier.
But this is not all lightness and joy, or shimmery denier, with a sort of curved-straight love triangle between the narrator and a woman friend as well as with a man who, I guess, stitches her into his own version of inferred loom or sewing texture or sampler or even perhaps that wallpaper I mentioned regarding the story ‘Sing Me Your Scars’. Tropes, here, too, of a patchwork doll, grey clouds like her heart, lining as a soul, a mutual self-harming, tearing pieces free (leaving them behind or in advance?), the inability to see “where he ends and I begin”…
“Maybe love always leaves scars.”
Or, as I might ask, stockings leaving ladders (to climb or descend?)
Text leaving meaningful attenuations?
LIKE ORIGAMI IN WATER
“I carry the bag down to the bridge where Johnny and I shared our first kiss, the best kiss.”
A bagful of Origami animals made from “slick beneath my fingers” paper, some successful, others not, like the not-elephant. Johnny is not-Lady Vanishes, I guess, as his disease of body-part attenuation and annulment, textual and real, reaches a critical level, and the female book watches with deepening sorrow, as do I. But a sorrow that makes the perfect coda for AWAY as well as HERE and NOW, in fact for the whole book.
I don’t know how it all works, but it does. The paper has to run out somewhere. And then the truth begins. Each mnemonic page a piece left behind to regather.