13 thoughts on “Worse Than Myself – by Adam Golaski


    “Working like that, drawing a film frame-by-frame, reminds me of hand-copying the Bible.”

    This starts and builds deadpan-like, cartoon cell by cell, without our really noticing when, even if, it changes from a family’s visit (including an impressionable young girl) to a long lost cousin who happened to have become a priest. This story dares to test the areas of acceptability for such a girl, for us, too, our taking it for granted, like she did, subtly and tentatively, till the big shock as something takes your head up somewhere without the body. And somehow this tent’s description by the priest during the tale of his experience’s camping is more powerful than this story itself and its own flip-book, flip-Juke, crazy palimpsests as the girl’s footprint of a Lord’s Prayer recited as a protection in the cafe’s museum…
    “A tent is a funny thing, because it’s no protection from anything, really, except bugs and small animals and the elements. But once you’re in it, you feel safer.”

    I already sense this 2008 book will be a major discovery for me.


    “Because he was not fully awake, he told a story he didn’t expect to tell. He said, ‘I remember the stairs that go down and I remember the little girl who led me.'”

    If this story doesn’t haunt you forever, no story will ever do so.
    The oblique connections between Joseph telling a story of what was either a dream or real life when he was nine to his scantily dressed wife Marguerite while she is ironing clothes, the eight year old girl in that dream, the hidden train tracks near the shed, the cellar doors leading to landing after landing downward, the retreat back up from some monstrous force, and Marguerite his wife’s own grim backstory – all connections that do not connect but do connect forcefully in a deadpan paradoxical memorable way simply because they don’t connect.
    A masterstroke of weird literature. Surprised it’s not more well known.
    But how does it work?
    Ironing often leaves accidental tracks in clothes. And dents from the iron’s tip. And often steam like trains.

    “He learned the shape of each step.”


    “A doe, that’s what they’re called, lay on her side, peacefully, I supposed, sleeping.”

    I love deadpan stories, and this is utterly deadpan, full of deadpangs.
    It is the synchronicity of following someone who might really be following you, the twofold points of view of a man and wife, and a doe that acts in an utterly complementary but separate two-way Jungian filter with the doe in this story that I reviewed very recently. The onset of future deadpan Alzheimer’s through memories of one’s youthful crushes, short skirts, snogging in the cinema, retrocausal despair, and the cynical machinations of later adult sex. This story as gestalt is the ultimate ‘objective correlative’ for such factors in modern life.


    [[ with him raving about the sky and the way the planets were coming together.

    James shouts my name—I hit the breaks—a deer—its eyes—in front of the car.

    In the car, with them, I feel protected.

    Heather watches him eat; she’s got doe eyes, I think. ]]

    Bits and pieces of this story, secret cult or Halloween party? Rachel tells us some things but not all. Horror is more horrific when you need, as with this text, to be there to tell the wood from the trees, but you can’t QUITE do so. Even the reader has a costume to wear, and there is a little girl that someone earlier in this book saw in the shed window. Not Blair Witch Project so much as Clinton Lewinsky Iraq.


    [[ She drove slow, afraid she’d hit a deer.

    I can never keep track of all the removeds and seconds and halves in my own family, so how can I be expected to remember yours?

    and K[ ] could never be sure which of those were stories she’d been told about herself and which were real memories.

    (whose name was obviously an anagram of her cousin’s own)

    (odd that light can cast a shadow) ]]

    I am continuously impressed by these stories, by how they jump off the page, however absurd or nightmarish, as if they really do exist in that absurd and nightmarish form in the room around the reader where he or she reads this book, with different but simultaneous triangulations of their coordinates within the actual head of the reader. A literary phenomeno, making me wonder how I, the author of the Weirdmonger book in 2003, could have missed reading these seminal stories till now.
    The above quotes, however, from this story — just a few of its [synchronised shards of random truth and fiction], a phrase that I quote from myself, that being the printed subtitle of the Weirdmonger book — do give some clue as to this story, depicting a woman called “K[]” who returns to her original home, after several years, a cut-off abode in a snowy woodland of icy pools, where her cousin “J[]” had been staying in her old room till he died, someone she used to play with as a child, she is now told, even though she can’t remember him!
    That description by me of the plot gives you no clue of the constructive ratcheting into reality from a fireplace or from a nightmare of this contiguous JK[], as I call it, then as seen across an icy pool via photographs that could never have been taken other than as stills from that actual retrocausal nightmare – a bit like seeing Jesus walking on water? No clue at all.


    “Oh, I do believe in God. And I totally believe in Bach.”

    A story with another obliquely haunting gestalt, here with a wonderful metaphor for itself as well as, in hindsight, my own Dreamcatching real-time reviews of books that contain such gestalts. A string of lights that only works as a whole if you pick out the dead bulbs. Stunning,
    Synchronised shards of random truth and fiction, stylised here by the fragments of a teenage girl’s real-time video diary on the Internet, as well as, elsewhere, contiguous apartments, contiguous characters whose contiguity continues to spread through their previous uncontiguity, with religious, existential and strange climatic considerations factored in.
    But that gives no impression of the page-turning quality of this deadpan accessible tale that it also is.


    “He stops by a bench and cries. His mouth tastes as if full of gin.”

    “No one touched or saw the inside doorknob. So no one saw, stuck to the inside doorknob,…”

    No one saw what? And not seen by no one but seen by whoever becomes omniscient when watching the third person singular protagonist become the first person singular leasehold of a narrator soon afterwards? And then becomes the third person singular protagonist again, while the omniscient God as freehold author of this story is truly that third person? These questions are relevant to this intensely meaningful but fragile study of alcoholism, featuring sinkholes in a Montana city, and an island in the countryside near that city where the protagonist sees inexplicable shifts of terrain, then sees a man, that third person as God? If so. God is alcoholic, too, with his literal deadpan of a mouth and teeth rotted within it et al. Haunting, disturbing and meaningful, with nightmarish glimpses that are often at the edge of of our existence, and the ground about to open up where a water drink-mixer welcomes each brain-number for dilution and for making forget everything amid the shifting terrain. Number as in more numb.
    Only in the fragilely grounded past can you become again your own direct narrator as would-be controller of your loves and strengths as well as your remediable weaknesses? This story perhaps obliquely proves that that narrator of the past can be projected forward as the Saviour of today.
    By finding that dead bulb in a string of lights?


    In a forceful if uncertain way, the end of this story brought home the true but ungraspable meaning of the overall title ‘Worse Than Myself’, and why it should be that reflexive rather than the more usual or prescriptive ‘Worse Than Me’. But how possible is it for someone to grade the pecking order of their personal individual self against other selves outside of that self from within that personal self? *All* such selves, *perceived* selves. Selves as naked elves?
    The story itself is hauntingly oblique and revolved around a bus journey with various mixed gender strangers, left stranded in a cold bus station with portable heaters, while a new bus was due to come to collect them, each with their own preoccupations or bad dreams, one passenger in particular who looked like a little girl.


    “You’re the only one who ever gets me books.”

    “I could hear, barely audible, David Bowie’s voice in the guest room.”

    This is a story ostensibly of an upwardly social mobile (literally and metaphorically) party in a house near the mountain peak and the forest, one with a hot tub, easy sex, ugliness and beauty, and fluid relationships with life goals on the move. It is accretively disturbing in a very believable way, a work that typifies this collection, a major collection, I feel, of such obliquely horrific literature, stories of disarming and (in a good way) disingenuous horror, with meanings that hit you nightmarishly between the eyes with its own ownership of itself as this work finally and subtly reveals. Here the ownership of the peak, too, as if it is one of the peaks of Blackstar itself? The book was prophetic after all. And still is.
    (Why have I not read it before? It is as if it has meant me to read it in 2016, in stiff competition with other major works of Weird fiction that this year has already provided for me.)


    “People wandered on the median: the headlights of stationary cars lit up men and women who appeared lost—at least, uncertain. Strange sights.”

    A story of a frozen food delivery man called across the increasingly wild country towards his sick sister, except it is everyone else around him who is attenuating into sickness in a sort of sick Close Encounters cinematicism crowding in on his epic journey to join his sister, a sort of yearning love of a third kind. Except I also visualised the text’s author building gradually this amorphous sculpture of a story – with its intermittent backstory of the delivery man and his sister and other omniscience BEYOND that man – just as in that film a similar amorphous monument or shrunk mountain was built from personal belongings and simple garden rubbish. By the time he finishes it, it is still unfinished. And this time he never gets there.
    Utterly haunting and bleak, but strangely uplifting, having carried my personal version of Custer’s leg in my own head along with its reading of this still accreting text.


    “I know the man’s dead, so I could only assume my radio’d fell into another dimension or I was tuning in Hell.”

    This last work features a patchwork weird radio station in FURKA, Montana, (cf Bartlett’s amazing patchwork Weird radio station of local supernatural, often foul, gestalt of stories in LEEDS, Massachusetts that I recently reviewed HERE) and I personally rather like the idea of an extended programme in the small hours of the morning broadcasting experimental and avant garde music, extended with the minimalism of life’s noise itself – but its announcer’s own discovering of past programmes about supernatural goings-on in the local area, a discovery in the sub-basement of the radio station, material on old-fashioned reel-to-reels etc, was therefore rather disappointing for me in comparison to the music programme that those recorded tapes eventually subsumed.

    This last work, longer than the others, is a sort of loose coda to the previously tight arc of Weird Stories, those stories whose gestalt has been a symphonic theme and variations freakin’ out with unforgettable obliquity and nightmare. A major collection of such literature that I really should have addressed before, but thanks to some recent astute eye on Facebook, my attention was brought to this Golaski book, Better late than never. I thank that Facebook friend although I forget on whose timeline it was posted. At least I know his name was not Frank Shokler.

    “It took me a long time,” Frank said, “to realize that Furka wasn’t the nexus of the—shall we say weird?—but that the nexus was me.”

    …or worse than?


  12. Pingback: COLOR PLATES by Adam Golaski | DREAMCATCHER: Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

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