My previous reviews of TTA PRESS publications HERE.
Stories by Scott Nicolay, Eric Schaller, Danny Rhodes, Eugenia M. Triantafyllou, Charles Wilkinson, Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, Ian Steadman.
I intend to real-time review the fiction in this issue and, when I do, my comments will appear in the thought stream below…
THE GREEN EYE by Scott Nicolay
“Of course there was a catch. None of his copies had any covers.”
This is a seven o’clock sign, a seven o’clock siren, for adolescent pulp horror and TS Eliot’s objective-correlatives… a mighty hybrid, and I finished reading it at exactly 7 pm GMT here in Britain, about twenty minutes or so ago as I write this. Miles away, but I can sense fully the Cuban Missile Crisis aftermath when Scott Nicolay wrote of his protagonist, and perhaps himself, remembering learning about it. (I remember experiencing this crisis in real-time from while watching a US serial on black and white TV in U.K.)
Among the spooklights, hookerman, backyards, trails and streetlights of that part of a Wild West beyond my own imagination and land mass in another land that houses now the monster Trumpman, and Nicolay’s memories too during the TS Eliot section of an aftermath, his first encountering, inter alia, TED Klein whose two books I have just finished reviewing, Nicolay now not now telling us of a pulp horror green eye but of another green eye blending into it as belonging to a real boy whom he knew among many other boys around the tracks of the later Waste Land, where just missing oncoming trains and jerking off of a car hood ornament he got another boy to crowbar off, or tantamount.
MAD and madder. I got off on to it, too, this new land, a junkyard or waste land – and pledging by the sign or siren what part of these horrors might have been real to ensure all of it being real. And there are no excuses for muddying the water with one part of the text being a palimpsest of the rest. No excuses, and there can be no suspension of disbelief but only pure belief itself. If torn off a strip.
SMOKE, ASH, AND WHATEVER COMES AFTER by Eric Schaller
“She traces an image among the leafy curlicues on the fireplace surround,…”
This story possibly has more growing implied dread than any other story you are likely to read. Especially for the father of a daughter. But how do I know especially for someone such as him, as I am the father of a daughter, too?
A work with images that you can stitch together for yourself from the wooden bureau of words it creates for you to burn rather than continue dreading reading it to the very end, echoing, too, the palimpsest device of the previous story, THERE story-notes upon itself, HERE inviting bits of itself to be gestalted, a person installation, a person upon a person, but which one is installed? You dread you already know the answer.
(Did I imagine it, but I somehow recalled chicken bones and a maple also in the previous story, one that mentions Barron, Bartlett and VanderMeer as well as Klein, all of whom I have real-timed, but now can’t find them? Arguably, Klein was the only one whose writing is politically incorrect? To be put to the bonfire of palimpsests? The writer or the writing, the notes about a story or the story itself?)
BORDER COUNTRY by Danny Rhodes
A deceptively plain narrative, as deceptive as its moving wood. It packs a punch when the various simple emotions mix Into a complex gestalt of real or self-manufactured hauntings and subtle threats leading to an eventual growing dread of a father for the safety of his small son, a dread to echo that in the previous story between a father and small daughter.
All of this is skilfully accentuated by the atmosphere of the downtrodden camping-site together with our sense of the guilt and despair attaching to the father’s thoughts about his broken marriage to his son’s now remarried mother.
“What’s done cannot be undone.”
― from ‘Macbeth’ that also has witchery and a moving wood – and the Border Country?
WHAT WE ARE MOULDED AFTER by Eugenia M. Triantafyllou
“Sometimes brother against brother, blood against blood.”
This is a very powerful story, one I suspect you will hear of again. It is about a woman who creates a new husband in clay, creates him in the image of her real husband (presumed killed in battle), and it is the clay husband whose point of view is used to tell the story. This is believably conveyed, especially in the context of the palimpsest theme of this set of stories so far, ‘a person installation, a person upon a person’, as I wrote about the Schaller work. But which person is the most real? It is also in tune with the previous Rhodes story (arguably connected with Macbeth) where there are tantamount to two husbands, one an ex.
Amid Triantafyllou’s mud and clay in the sturm und drang ending, palimpsest upon palimpsest, I, for one, couldn’t help thinking of this as being an oblique version of a plot surrounding Lady Macbeth as Frankenstein….
“…and complicated thoughts are a luxury for me to express.”
THE SOLITARY TRUTH by Charles Wilkinson
“With re-reading, the full meaning will no doubt become apparent.”
As you may be able to tell from the above link, I am an aspirationally completist collector of the works of Charles Wilkinson, reading and real-time reviewing them — so imagine my delight to be able to read this one, in its due turn, as a form of Birthday Present to me today, especially such a genuine poetic poignant masterpiece about old age, as it is. The onset of exquisitely diminishing returns if one real-time reviews the same work for many weeks, even years, on end (in the story, a single day’s newspaper)… a portrait of the patchy relationship of a long-married couple, from the point of view of the husband, a story involving the inventions of Isaac Newton, a cat flap, a now abandoned, once families-filled, terrace of houses, including the couple’s own now derelict, fading posters in their house-front shop… to go out or to stay, always devolving to a default. To a fault.
And what comes in and goes out through the cat flap? The foregoing gestalt context of this Black Static set of stories’ palimpsest-dread of person installations etc. — including the earlier parental ones (e.g. parent and daughter) as well as, now, a pet-al palimpsest — makes this work EVEN more powerful. Puckish and pitiful, sardonic and strong. And much more, over time.
“Soon I will start to lose the details…”
THE MANEATERS by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
“I imagined words, so many words, filling up a blank white page.”
You eat a man you eat his words, or your own? These being your own. The stories you write.
A once telling image of herself as girl boxer with black balloon gloves, revisiting her Grandma’s relationship with her Granddad, a contrastive but paradoxically similar parallel with the old couple in the Wilkinson story. And the narrator girl, the Granddaughter, eats not only words but patties of meat, like her Grandma used to do, still does, and who now tests the Tarot destiny of a new generation of man in her Granddaughter’s bed, this narrator’s bed, and this is another of Black Static’s set of stories’ palimpsests of people, but here searingly pan- or cross-generational, via the blood or flesh that the two women seem to seek. A man (a son and father) meanwhile carrying ironically that strain between these two, this Grandmother and Granddaughter.
Powerfully ominous. Does she dare succumb to such passionate bitten chunks of fate? With words succulent enough to eat as well as read.
STANISLAV IN FOXTOWN by Ian Steadman
“Next to him, I look as if I am built of chicken bones.”
This is a strong, obsessive experience, as if a bumper bucket of KFC becomes a nasty tangle of discarded bits, some still raw, and beginning to stink around the wing and thigh bones…
And to imagine scavenging foxes moving like dressage horses or with a Wilkinson-prefigured “cat-like swagger”… well, I was gob-riven. I was gagging. Seriously.
A fine coda to this set of stories that also stands alone and co-resonates with the rest.
It tells of a dwindling downtrodden housing estate, a chicken frying establishment, and the protagonist working there equally downtrodden by the owner fryer. At first I imagined the piles of chicken wastage as potentially becoming palimpsests of the foxes themselves, a blasphemous re-creation of life as some eventually pointless ritual to obviate pain and poverty. But, no, this story’s palimpsest is far more powerful than that potentiality. This palimpsest is, rather, a prolongation, a passing of the baton of body-ownership – and the frying itself around the bones, I think. And the ruthless or desperate self contained within.
I have discovered over several years of real-time reviewing the fiction in Black Static that its editor always prints great gestalts of otherwise standalone stories. I guess he is spoilt for choice. One day I hope to home in on a gestalt of gestalts as a necessary transcendence of the human condition, the human imagination.
There is much more contained in Black Static for the Horror Arts enthusiast in addition to its fiction.