Coffee House Press 2016
When I real-time review this collection of stories, my comments will appear in the thought stream below…
Coffee House Press 2016
When I real-time review this collection of stories, my comments will appear in the thought stream below…
“…as if Sugg’s leg jostling back and forth against the horse had been trying to draw someone with his blood.”
This story of two men, indeterminately pursued, both on horses, one man knowing a cabin is just round the next bend, the other doubtful, but both, for me, showing signs of delirium, and differentiated expectations of difficult bodily survival, and a cave as shelter is found instead. It feels as if this narrative itself is being painted to produce some found art of black bark into which the blood has dried or crusted, an ‘objective correlative’ for the unaccountable absences from each other. (A black bark that returns and returns however much you dither about keeping it or throwing it away, thus synchronously in tune with the metal cup in the story ‘On Balance’ from a book I happen to be concurrently real-time reviewing here.)
“‘Tomorrow I’ll just be where I am,’…”
“If he is someone chosen at random, made to suffer for no reason at all, then we are all damned, and this is all the more terrible a place.”
The key is with what you can tap. Spectacles or a piece of black bark? The situation of the narrator slowly and at length, in this brief story, accretes, his interface with the regime and its opposition, what he had needed to put in his report, and why he is now in a prison of terraced cells, and who next to whom, and which correlation means which prisoner’s feet are tortured first?
It’s a bit like reading this story, next to each other with only the book between us, but who reads it and who writes it by tapping on the keys? Thus, turned in on itself, the angst wells up as much as the absences between us – from the tenor of the previous story also accreting, limping foot or not. Or simply something in the boot?
A COLLAPSE OF HORSES
“I tried to Ignore the lurch reality…”
I think Lurch Reality is an appropriate name for the genre this author seems, so far in this book, to be initiating? Sporadic realities as reconstructed each time by the abruptly collapsible words used to describe them. After your wife’s imputation of your being “delirious”, you lurch between the instinctive knowledge of four pitifully dead horses in a paddock behind you and your house acting like a fluid HOUSE, not HORSE, of Leaves? With a pervading sense of guilt or shame regarding your care for your family, taken to the extent of a paradoxically healing of a self-dare to destroy them by fire. Role-playing to differentiate between the lurching realities, and thus hopefully insulate them from more dangerous ones. A complex behaviour therapy that involves the reader in creating collusive panaceas of textual interpretation regarding the work’s ‘objective correlatives.’ Not that you are forced do so, if you sympathise with the wife rather than the narrator. OR SHE with you?
But who is gaslighting whom?
“…the tumor that spread its fingers across his jaw and up one side of his neck.”
The three indignities are represented as a three-part short short about submitting oneself to surgery or other medical procedures by so-called specialists.
So as to show I am not cheating by now referring synchronously to my own very recent blob on my neck, I can link to three references about it in my recent real-time reviews:-
The surgeon spoke to me while operating on this autonomous blob – about the tentacles in the blob and having to ensure removal of ‘the smaller rooms from its warehouse.’ I am currently suffering the aftermath of this operation.
The question arises – at what point does surgical removal of various parts of your body reach the level where the body is no longer you? Relates no doubt to the piecemeal collapse of words that eventually change meaning as well as of your inner self – so graphically shown in the previous story and now, here, by a coda as a metaphor-of-physical-substance.
“She had gotten into his head and rewired it, changed it.”
And now gotten into this book, too, one that has so far been carried upon a relatively plain style, well-constructed, thoughtful, unostentatious, and, until CULT, one with telling ‘objective correlatives’ to dig up from the shallow grave of its text. Here, the man is still obsessed with the woman who stabbed him, she who ran away to a cult and collapsed her name Tammy so as to erect it again as Star, and, against his own best intentions, he is called to rescue her, having himself already been rescued, by his friends, from her.
But who the cult, whom the culted? Who the gaslighter, whom the gaslit? Each a shallow grave with nothing buried there to dig up. Star, rats.
(There was a similar gobby slut called Sarah who changed her name to Star in this story I recently reviewed HERE. One letter changed from cu*t?)
I have read and reviewed this before here (quoted below), but now I sense a collapse of more than just routines with the arrival of the woman in his life, but a dead horse, too!
When Miss Pickaver said to Hovell, “I catch the train in an hour,” I somehow received a jolt that was bigger than when something more overtly horrific happens in some other stories, which I suppose is a compliment to this otherwise simply told story. Actually, I empathised with the male stick-in-the-mud protagonist, with a flighty female partner, each of whom called the other by surname. I sensed his humiliation as part of the horror accreting…
The French town, the creepy hostelry, the dark shape seen from the balcony, the half-seen resemblances, the cinematic ‘Death-in-Venice’ like solitude he found himself enduring in face of the strange, half- or non-dressed other holidaymakers… Well, it somehow worked for me.
“‘Just taking a break,’ one of them said. Lewis.”
This is a great fiction novelette that, if you’ve not read it, you must read it straightaway, as I just did, to obviate my own guilt.
It is an absorbing planetary drill-mining scenario with various possible male suspects as an ostensible team of workers, an environment full of tunnels, dust, ductwork, filters, baffles, ventilation shafts, obsessions, paranoia, suspicions and more. It is a tontine prize. We see most events through the eyes of the man responsible for security matters as well as his cleaning of baffles, as he liaises with the overall manager, including a panicky weighing of equations regarding depleting oxygen, men available to breathe such oxygen, and the dust as the particles of a gestalt. An insidious dust that may have its own mind, like the various named men, each a suspect, each a beneficial sacrifice for the others, all of them overtly trying to work as a team, but, equally, so do the millions of dust particles try to work as a unit of synergy, too. A suspenseful waiting for the relief team to arrive, just days away.
I know what I know. Lewis.
This is sheer momentous literary stuff. Believe me.
And, as I have said before — during a number of my earlier dreamcatching gestalt real-time reviews — filters invariably work in both directions of flow. As does collapsing.
“‘Some people think it sounds like a stampede of horses,’ said the doctor.”
In the context of this whole book, the fact that the sound of a heartbeat-recording of an as yet unborn baby – implanted within a novelty teddy-bear and then compared not to a collapse but a stampede horses – is very telling. This, meanwhile, is an almost unbearable story (pun half-intended) to read – at one moment absurdist, the next tragic. The blend is powerful, plainly spoken though it is, with the edge of a knowing nod towards bad taste. Again I ask the same question I have asked before – here about the young couple, the mother and father – who is the gaslighter, whom the gaslit? This story will hang about, with ash, if not dust.
“The dust, or sand, if it was either dust or sand, began to rise in flaccid tourbillions around her, almost immediately collapsing…”
I think “tourbillions” is, in the context of this book, a SICnificant typo, whether it is either a typo or not a typo.
This bald or Beckettian text is, for the female protagonist, an entrancing blend of the prisoner inscrutability of ‘A Report’ and the tontine prize of breathable air in ‘The Dust.’
Tourbillions, scour, torpor…
“No, she did it for afterwards.”
An effective deadpan study of the nature of marital love, a borrowing as well as a lending for all sorts of reasons. Phantom love and phantom limbs. Unseen but instinctively known visions of collapsed horses within the territory of each potentially loving body? The simple stasis of unquestioned being.
“…like a bolus or a tumor, both part of him and separate from him at once.”
If you appreciate what I have long called ‘the disarming strangeness of Aickman’ and of much weird fiction of that ilk, then you would guess if you became an addictive ‘hard drinker’ of such weird fiction, more and more obsessed with it, you would think you would NEED it to get more ostentatiously strange, with even stranger words and ideas, more deeply textured with semantics and tentacular syntax, teeming with strangenesses and an inscrutably rich intaglio of objective-correlatives.
This story has proved that someone like you who is addicted to such fiction actually NEEDS things to become drier, dustier, more bolus-shaped, unstickably insulated like the splattered blood not sticking or even staining this story’s protagonist’s father’s trousers, with things shown that you don’t actually look at, boxes provided you do not bother to open, car radios where the search facility stops working from one end of the dial to the other, shopping places where unaccountable amounts of stringy jerky is sold, mirrors placed on top of mirrors, where you can look into both surfaces, and you can yank one off and see there is nothing between the two mirrors, while going on an endless journey that you know while it is happening is going to be strange and it actually does grow stranger in a dry and dusty way of its route, and the whole story’s inheritance like that from your father’s estate is somethings you put aside, waiting for it to mature and then for someone else to look at or benefit from. A story where its own search facility also doesn’t work from one end of its text to the other.
It PERFECTLY doesn’t work.
Disarmingly so, like torpor.
(Explain all that, including the stuck pig, to your girl friend.)
“There, he slung the dead body onto the tablature and worried it.”
One learns as one progresses through this book to unlearn everything one thinks one knows so as to open up to a new armature beneath its dry, sometimes integumented, text. Music notation for a foreign plucked instrument. I learned about the cuts of meat on the way to Reno, and the earlier bartering of one’s own arms while sleeping so at to heal them. Now that armature comes to an intensely dry fulfilment, as dickering furnishers supply whole bodies — when they can get the whole bodies instead of just parts of them — between the caves, between the already-assumed-to-be bodies that are us. Almost now a religious experience but without the stifling luxuriance of high church furnishings. It is the cannibalistic exchange that ritualises us. But that concept eventually attenuates, too, when at Evensong, the Eucharist is dry. When I try to remember this book in a few years’ time, I suspect I shall remember only the dusty spaces between the words. But that will be good, not bad.
“He turned his head weakly to one side and retched, but nothing came out, then he drily retched again…”
A moving obliquity about note-taking (retrocausal note-taking for one’s future responsibility as a sort of guru), note-taking about a hippy commune but by the the very act of that note-taking changing the behaviour of that commune and one’s status within it. The note-taking being ingested as their very paper-printed drugs (drug-stained on rice paper?) of which one wanted to give an impartial view without taking or ingesting them oneself…
We are not ghosts, just the paper we are printed on. I am a guru, so I can state things like that with impunity.
“Recording something changes it,” reviewing it piecemeal, too, while removing the underpinned meanings, “…leaning columns that would be perceived as threatening to collapse,” moaning in slow-motion?
“– as if the fear was all around him, but he was swaddled from it somehow, insulated.”
The word ‘insulated’ and later narration of this to a friend to share an experience as a non-experience is haunting. But even more haunting is this example of a ‘found art’ ghost (part and parcel of the accoutrements of where it is haunting) that I also recently discovered Wyckoff here. Evenson’s ghost somehow is Evenson’s, Wyckoff’s Wyckoff’s, insulated from each other, as if the Jungian collective unconscious no longer works. A chilling insulation, insolation, insolarity, insularity…? Even the blood continues to be effervescent, evaporable… But a ghost halved the same as a worm halved? Ouro/Boros?
I will now refresh my memory of what I wrote about this story when I first read it here.
“Now, we need you to tell us what we should make of it.”
A story written a while ago for me to read today on the author’s 50th birthday. It is a compelling vision of a serial killer’s post-reality constructed on paper, just as his interlocutors (lawyer, guard, nurse, doctor, parents) are constructed on cardboard. Their lower faces missing.
The one who did it.
The clue is in the assonance,
It is also a genuinely disturbing deadpan unostentatious exercise in obsessively-induced dislocation. Worthy of my exclusive dysfunction room listing for dysfunctional acclamation HERE.
THE BLOOD DRIP
“He watched the flame spread from the match along the leaf, reducing it to a delicate, spidery armature that quickly collapsed.”
A blood drip is telling, insofar blood in this book ever effervesces or numbs out into nothing. Give or take the odd vesicle. I have one on the back of my neck.
This coda to the book is the nearest the reader will ever lean in towards its author, as you struggle to seek meaning from whoever of the two of you rescues the other from the text, one of you Nils, the other Karsten, seeking shelter in a walled community but from where they throw stones from its walls. The Intentional Fallacy sitting between the two of you like horses uncollapsed, horses being daubed with another pareidoliac image in blood, found art by Damien Hirst. Each without its lower half.
“He stopped shy of throwing range.”
But a shy IS a throwing range.
And this book has genuinely touched me like, in this story, “the sun touched the lip of the wall…”
It is a book that honestly and naively grapples with itself, in a strange impulsive logic of illogic. You will never read read anything else like it, taking Weird to its barest bottom bone, but remaining rich near the cortex of the brain.
Many nils still make one nil. Cast on, then cast off, like empty stitches. Not brainstorming so much as a brain-becalmed in the still centre of an otherwise riving self.
“What are you doing in that tree?” he asked again. / “What tree?” asked Nils.
My on-going review of Beckett’s short prose here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2016/07/16/the-complete-samuel-beckett-short-prose/
My review of THE WARREN: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2016/09/28/the-warren-by-brian-evenson/
Cross-referenced Evenson here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2016/11/23/the-academy-outside-of-ingolstadt-damian-murphy/#comment-8646