8 thoughts on “Absent Company – Steve Rasnic Tem

  1. The main reason for buying this book is to read and review the ‘AMONG THE LIVING’ novella. All the other stories I have read and reviewed already in 2012, viz.:
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    At the Bureau

    A briefly and darkly effective Ligottian pre-Temian corporate horror story or Temian pre-Ligottian corporate horror story, where, appropriately, for my first experience with reading a new-fangled ebook, the symbiosis of two Chandleresque protagonists mime mutual binoculars squinting at each other through each other’s “frosted glass” of cold paranoiac prejudice (upon, as it happens, the coldest night of the UK winter so far), as if they can’t quite believe what they are seeing or if they are seeing it at all. Weeping, pleading, swearing, praying for something substantively “…lettered in bold, black characters.” (10 Feb 12 – 6.25 pm gmt)

    Crutches

    “Everybody needs a crutch now…”

    And this story is even colder. One for our age of austerities. Beautifully bleak. An obsession with crutches, some weak, some strong, perhaps some, I imagine, even scrimshaw. (Another ‘Tree Ring Anthology’?) Generations eking out a living in a time of quantitative uneasing – and a single hope at the end is out-stared, out-grinned through another window (or symbiotic screen?) – to the tap tap tap of someone’s keyboard (my thought, not the story’s thought originally, though it may be the story’s today). A story that I think I shall remember for a good while, if not forever, as disarmingly great. Glad I’ve been put on to this ‘book’. (10 Feb 12 – an hour later)

    The Bad People

    When real-time reviewing a physical book – normally armed with a pencil – there is the easier nailing of quotes, directions, journey’s journeys in linear or multi-directions – but with this ebook, the experience is quite different, indeed more difficult, difficult, perhaps, in a constructive sense? Here with this story – longer than the previous two – I felt an uncanny ‘uncertainty’ imparted by the words and the words’ ‘unreal’ vehicle, an uncertain journey through a hot Mexico, but mixed implicitly and explicitly with today’s cold images, a father and a boy, not a son, but yes, a son as well, another man who is that ‘father’s’ alter ego, perhaps. And things always beyond the ‘page’, or ‘bad people’ always beyond the next village, a memory of a car accident just beyond the edge of memory, a Mexican history and climate merging into mythology and back again: an intriguing as well as uncertain journey, a journey, as ever, that changes simply because I always know (even if semi-consciously) that I am due to impart that same journey as part of itself (here, in public) — with added uncertainty by there being no paper for pages, no quotes to quote as no pencil in my fist to mark the text’s impervious ‘window’ or ‘car-windscreen’: a glass between hot and cold, past and present, father and boy, father and self, scar and unscar, meaning and meaninglessness… A strange haunting story. A blend of odd contrasts and uncertainties. A memorable experience. I think it will be memorable, more like. (10 Feb – another 90 minutes later)

    Leaks

    Another inter-generational male scenario, one that has just brought an ineluctable welling (leaking?) of tears to my aging eyes, almost literally as well as with full metaphorical force. The battle against entropy-through-structural-and-endemic-dampness by means of poignant human endeavour to maintain doing the small things for the benefit of one’s family, even if those small things amounted to nothing really significant or, perhaps, a great deal? One never knows. The rituals of conscientious living are portrayed here wonderfully, together with fiction’s creepiness of spiritual and material encroachment in a family house by the creek. [This story also evoked in me – within the context of this special review – a reminder of being myself likened to King Canute vis-a-vis my recent public pronouncements regarding ebooks seemingly encroaching upon traditional books and encouraging a culture of plagiarism/piracy and of published fiction authors losing their specialness (they can’t so readily do live concerts that musicians do so as to buy bread for their family before it grows mouldy). Similar to the story’s ‘rituals’, there have been decades of my own meticulous care and attention to books; of collecting; of writing; now of reviewing them and publishing/editing them: a semi-autistic series of well-meaning actions on my part today starting to seep away as the electronic creek draws even nearer? But, perhaps not. Surely the act of facing the situation out – with this story, possibly with this whole ebook once I’ve read it all – is the challenge, the sandpaper to the mould on the wall: just what I need to create a bridge across the generational parting of the Red Sea, across the two competing sides of Self, one increasingly aging, the other still the boy I once was. We shall see.] (11 Feb 12)

    Stone Head

    It’s as if I’ve been waiting to read this stone vignette all my life: the self-eschatological imprint of words chiselled not only beyond this electronic text but also beyond that in traditional books with its seeping-surface ink…. A fiction (together with the poignantly morbid considerations evoked by ‘Leaks’) that possibly explains for the first time my fascination — long term and my photos shorter-term here — with the philosophy of stone! (11 Feb 12 – two hours later)

    Mirror Man

    A substantial story – echoing the inter-generational matters heretofore: the blame or credit involved both ways in a sort of two-way-filter … and I can empathise fully, being a father of a daughter and son, myself. Here the book’s erstwhile glass or window or car-windscreen becomes a psychological rear-view mirror and — prior, I guess, to Sat Nav or GPS – almost a religion concerned with night driving, backdropped by a human-xenophobically nightmarish ‘nativism’ (a new word to me in this connection): a Lovecraftian-in-the-loop of life-long-slow-motion Kafkaesque ‘metamorphosis’ into mutancy rather than a quick-change act overnight between sleeping (dreaming) and waking. I am devastated by this story. But strangely exhilarated, too, that a piece of fiction can so skilfully devastate me. (11 Feb 12 – another 2 hours later)

  2. The Sky Come Down to Earth

    “But … the weather, the sky! It’s all white and it’s come to the window!”

    “…against the glass […] the pane it would be ice cold...”

    Even without a pencil, glad to nail those quotes. I am agog with this book’s resonances. This is one of those stories or fables that seems to have stayed with you for many years even though this is ostensibly the first time you’ve read it, one where the book’s erstwhile inter-generational two-way filter of security as well as lack of security, i.e. between child adoptees and adult adopters as well as between those blood-linked together (cf. the Mexico story), now comes together in a perfect pattern of intrinsic oxymoron: of a sensed ugliness and beauty: of fear and confidence: of relaxed comfort and alert sense of danger. The sky as metaphor seems to optimise such an oxymoron (oxygen as well as moraine?) — a sky simultaneously touched and untouchable, hot and cold, wet and dry on either side of the glass or window or crystal ball that one reads through or, rather, scries … but I cannot see exactly how it works. Enough that this author makes it work. Or allows it to do so almost volitionlessly. And with some readers not even consciously noticing but absorbing it into themselves nonetheless – a bit like being permeated and/or (psychologically) changed by the diurnal Wordsworthian, or pantheistic sky, itself changeable as filtered through those of us who sense its moods via our own moods. The art of fiction. (11 Feb 12 – another 90 minutes later)

    Houses Creaking in the Wind

    “…gazing out these windows, reading the dark before sleep,…”

    Scrying the wind and the creaks, too. Another vignette, this time not of stone but, contrastively, “the spaces betweeen his thoughts“, and the inter-generational tragedies that time keeps within itself for our memory to exhume like ghosts or flies. If I said anything further, I’d be more an accomplice than a reviewer! But I can say that the book, so far, certainly seems organic both as an Ariel and a Caliban. No mean feat. (11 Feb 12 – another 30 minutes later)

    Grim Monkeys

    “I sat silently as the funnel of static poured through my head, attempting to kindle some feeling, some thought, anything. I took no pride in my lack of feeling.”

    Well, that says something quite innocently, I guess, about the new ways of publishing fiction. Meanwhile, one does not often encounter in one’s whole lifetime a perfect literary short story, as opposed to a perfect genre one, but this literary story comes as close as one can dare hope, blending Conrad, Lowry, Greene – even Lovecraft following this book’s earlier native or nativist or miscegenate considerations, here ‘grim monkeys’. A parental abduction, a tug of love, to the Venezuelan jungle, a ‘freeing’ of the protagonist’s daughter: and the blending (once positive) continues towards a negative outcome, as if being back-to-nature is the worst possible solution to a civilised problem. The relationships inferred, the accomplished language containing those inferences, are all, for me, pitch near-perfect. Why ‘near’-perfect? Well, because the context of this book (so far), its inter-generational backdrop, its encroachments of damp entropy, its ‘oxymoron’, its once uncluttered sky now a tropic-cluttered sky, is needed to make the story in-itself wholly perfect. So, effectively, the story in-itself, without that context, wouldn’t be perfect? It teeters on a brink of decontextualised imperfection – but the last sentence is quite wonderful and makes it perfect in hindsight, despite the negative outcomes that created such a last sentence. Only in inspired fiction can such eked-out, perhaps unintended, serendipities be distilled. A reaching-out towards a literary gestalt, that can only be reached by not reaching it? All blood is mixed but is perfect for the body it fuels. Paternal love, too. Shortcomings harnessed are stronger than strengths unused. (11 Feb 12 – another 4 hours later)

  3. Rider

    “…as if she were walking into a bank of clouds.”

    Although quite different, this story constructively synergises with the Caitlin Kiernan story I reviewed here, containing their sense of the potential machine within the sea – or the mermaid… Here, with Tem, we have a truly rhapsodic account of a woman (a grown up version of the lost daughter in ‘Grim Monkeys’?) with her notebook where she records her often poetic thoughts about life’s ‘predicament’ … by the sea, a snow-strewn beach (so significant for me personally living as I do by the sea, today also very snowy) – and now not the sky but the sea as some pantheistic force: so telling due to the earlier context. Her broken relationship and now a new relationship with a mysterious (‘dark’ with white eyes (like a grim monkey?)) man-of-the-sea upon a horse…. Through her ‘boredom’, a yearning for excitement now further increased – or appeased? The last line of the story, even more tellingly in this book’s context, mentions “glass bowls underground” and again I think of a machine about to emerge rather than a mermaid? Or simply a union – like that in Blackwood’s ‘Centaur’ novel – with the soul of the earth, its core. (12 Feb 12)

    Escape on a Train

    The window tappings continue all night long, but he never sees anything. In the morning he discovers hundreds of round, slightly greasy spots on the glass.”

    Those tappings again leading to a scryable text? I am ever more agog at this book’s resonances with itself (and with my first reading of it as my first experience of reading a fiction ebook). This basically is an enjoyably well-crafted absurdist tale (reminding me favourably of much 20th Century European literature) – involving the Theory of Relativity and the insulation of travelling on a train past life’s tragedies without the ability of helping or even connecting, all mingled with this book’s fragile inter-generational caring for children. Yes, absurdist but also genuinely emotional. Didactic, too, in a good way. The Ariel reaching out for the Caliban and vice versa, but because of the glass between never to connect. The glass that keeps full immersion from the electronically coded text? I feel immersed, but am I? If yes, it is probably because Tem is a rare transcending writer. “Those other people, the ones outside the train, are merely lost messages coded into the winds,…” (12 Feb 12 – two hours later)

    The Far Side of the Lake

    It is hard to address this long story, nail the quotes, set out the themes echoing the rest of the book so far (like a maze of back-doubles in right-of-way disputes or the explicit ‘sleepwalking’ of driving a car without a GPS as in the earlier story) – but this story of an aging-before-his time man (like me?) with a grown-up son and daughter (like me) and a wife (like me) now deceased (unlike my wife) – this unbearably sad story is a miracle cure, too. A paradox. But that’s what’s great about dark literature when it’s successful, as this is. I can’t enumerate all the connections, the skilful ignitions of emotion and metaphor and image, the ‘glass doors’, the removal of trees (treebooks?), the party across the lake, like the fire seen from the earlier train (like those ‘sea trees’ above on this website page), your blood children as a memory-investment, the inter-generational care for your young ones and then those young ones, later, caring for those who once cared for them, the vision of ghosts and insects (flies) again, a mountain bullying the sky, a man in his sixties, like me, who needs to be warned against making faux pas etc., a man facing or having faced tragedy as we all must face it one day, groceries in a shop for him like foreign objects, photos of one’s loved ones propped up in their frames as if by ‘crutches’, his eyes ‘leaking’ again rather than weeping, news of a young star dying suddenly (just like the news of Whitney Houston today as I write this). A masterpiece, this story. Never to be forgotten. Literature like one has children – as a precious investment, not necessarily for yourself, but for posterity to benefit as you will indirectly from that very posterity or you do benefit from it now by knowing satisfyingly that that posterity is assured. Both selfish and selfless. That oxymoron again bubbling within the lake, waiting for that fisherman who is waiting for something to happen in this story who may now hook it to the shore. “But they were spectres, flickering, beating desperately against the inside of the glass as their lights began to fade.” (12 Feb 12 – another 3 hours later)

    [INTERMISSION: I feel it is appropriate at this point to show below my real-time review in 2010 (here) of this author’s story published in the book ‘Null Immortalis’: <<The Green Dog by Steve Rasnic Tem “And as the man in the brown chair declined, becoming less like a man and more like a piece of badly worn furniture…” A Kafkaesque Metamorphosis: here by by overlapping rather than strict switching; I simply love this story; it makes me laugh and cry in equal measures, perhaps because it seems to relate to me and the time of my life in a revelatory way. But I’m also sure it is a great story in itself without my personal reactions to it. Another great story, you ask? Well, how can I help but call them as they are? There is is also a spooky feeling for me (as some other previous connections related above in this review are also spooky) regarding the amount of interconnections with the leitmotifs identified so far in this book: the ‘shrinking’ as in ‘A Giant in the House’, ‘The Toymaker of Bremen’, ‘You Have Nothing To Fear’ and other stories – the mirror images (so utterly twinned with ‘Even The Mirror’ ), the Venn dreams or dream sickness, the physical lexic oddities (here including a semi-colon that is related to genitalia), even, perhaps, the taxidermic tropes of ‘Lucien’s Menagerie’… (5 Aug 10 – another 3 hours later) And how could I miss it – ”Turn Again’ including the ‘meat suit’. (5 Aug 10 – another 45 mins later) Cf. the tongue-man in ‘Broom People’. (6 Aug 10)>>]

  4. Presage

    “She beat on the glass but they would not turn and look at her.”

    The book’s third vignette, but now a cross between stone and air: the tangibility of rain (or creatures that live in the wet like rain?) creating a subsuming (as if hugging her more and more) of a woman by visions of strangers (including, inter-generationally, her young daughter also as a stranger) in her house and other accoutrements of death; yet someone that could eventually be depicted in stone, forever, I guess, or through “grey glass” making it simply look like stone. It is almost as if ‘Presage’ actually presaged such a review of itself as this one: cast through a glass darkly [- a dystopic vision ahead of only ebooks to read!?] “…the clouds of mist which covered the ground and lowered the sky and filled her mouth...” (12 Feb 12 – another hour later)

    Derelicts

    A male version – in synergy with ‘Presage’ – being similarly subsumed, but here by vagrants — and by a type of inter-generational amnesia that works perfectly in the context of this book so far. I have also discovered an external synergy of some coincidental power with a story called ‘Stamping Ground’ by Carole Johnstone that I reviewed here. This a form of dance of the derelicts, a frighteningly effective pattern to be scried from the patterns of people that surround us and who, here, without the glass between, can get too close despite your aversion choreography still managing to drag you into their moves…. [And like Tom in the Lake story possibly seeing food as alien and, for some oblique reason, needing to be kept beyond the sell-by date on purpose just as an excuse to throw it away. As if foxing or corner-crimping or tearing or marginalising are ingredients of an incurable disease? Perhaps one day I’ll eat my words.] (12 Feb 12 – another 90 minutes later)

    Aquarium

    “The glass was extraordinarily clean. A good omen. In fact the glass was so clean you’d hardly know it was there.”

    Indeed, glass that is remarkably still clean, after fingering it as my ipad’s screen: to move its inner furniture around. I thought that Tem had gone into overdrive with some of the earlier stories. This one demonstrates, I feel, an overdrive of an overdrive. No lingering doubts about this author now; not that I would have already let them linger for long ever since embarking on this public, fish-bowl journey of a real-time review with this book’s first story. ‘Aquarium’, meanwhile, is absurdist like the Train story, but a completely fresh slant upon such modernism, while maintaining a pungently traditional linearity around its startling inner structure of a crazy kaleidoscope, and with a prose-style / subject-matter that is (are) richly textured, even in the open process of conveying this book’s erstwhile themes and thoughts, its depths and surfaces, all with impeccable imaginative force. A world of a professional-seeming cataloguer (himself an aquarium ‘Tarr and Fether’ ‘insider’), a cataloguer of real antiquities of furniture, including furniture of childhood ‘correction’ within a historically structural world: half hotel, half orphanage, half aquarium. Letting this book’s accoutrements linger on the tongue of literature itself: the book’s inter-generationality as orphan connections (“Families make us human“), oh so true for the ambiance of our reading of this book, plus another car-board rear-view mirror, allowing us to watch the retrocausalities of each story filtering the visionary power through a new prism of the next story – and then the next. Especially this one. (12 Feb 12 – another 4 hours later)

    In the Trees

    “The forest floated up out of its roots and shouted.”

    Here the father-son inter-generationality (and with his little girl, too, alongside the ever-pervasive spouse) becomes a powerful fable – while portraying a clumsily well-intentioned fallibility of doing one’s best in every little thing one does, like encouraging an anxious child to beat his fear of sleep, echoing much in this book so far: one of those fables you sense you have read before but ostensibly you haven’t. Perhaps it’s already in the reader’s ‘sap’ (sap strengthening rather than sapping), its words flowing through the Jungian Collective Unconscious or simply, inexplicably molten? Each generation is the other’s climbing-tree, almost conceivable as a retrocausal circle of effect. And, again, the flames climb the trees, seen from across the other side of the metaphorical lake, here silver ones of the electronic (?) moon as it tries selflessly to pull the books from the branches or selflessly to push them back again, as I infer. (13 Feb 12)

    Among the Old

    “The ancient trees turn colour even as I watch; they are expert with the properties of light.”

    As if by magic, this vignette complements the previous – in hindsight – co-vignette: where the circularity of youth and age, text and light, multiplicity and singularity, becomes deeply poetic if simply conceived in a park where one keeps seeing one’s own face in others. As I do in this book. Once a book of trees, now of “silvering” moonlight? (13 Feb 11 – 20 minutes later)

    The Little Dead Girl

    “I’m just going to have to give you a bath! All that filthy clay on you…”

    Now an ostensibly dysfunctional inter-generationality between a mother and daughter (genuinely dysfunctional in contrast to the father-son situation earlier today which was well-intentioned if clumsy) – with the daughter seeming to have a traditional ‘imaginary friend’ who appears in various places as a dead little girl. It is all rather disturbing: and I wonder if the paper sacks used for the daughter’s lunch that she effectively stock-piled each day as accumulating rubbish in a ditch on the way to school has some oblique synergy with the polemics, if any, of my review heretofore. I am at a loss how to place this story in the growing gestalt – perhaps that will become clearer. As it does, to some extent, when seen in synergy externally with ‘The Little Dirty Girl’ by Joanna Russ (that I reviewed here): as if that clay is some sort of potential ‘statue rind’? A nurturing or heart-melting bath (as illustrated above) rather than a scraping-off one? And the story’s special school some sort of punishment come full circle for us all when seeing our faces – as earlier today – in the faces of others, even in the faces of some so very old that dead they’ve become? (13 Feb 12 – another 90 minutes later)

    In a Guest House

    “…then the bald man passed serving plates around, nodding vigorously as if it were the most wonderful thing in the world to be doing.”

    (Those little meticulous caring things again cumulatively considered). And now that ‘special school’ is replaced, and paralleled, by a Guest House. The story of Brian, a well-intentioned, if fallible, salesman and clumsily caring father and husband whose worries are paying the bills. After perhaps ‘sleepwalking’ while driving his office car, he strangely finds himself in a Guest House where worries are seemingly expunged (except for the odd anxiety of the other guests’ strange behaviour or clothes provided that are so starchy clean they have edges sharp enough to cut or glimpses of half-monstrous pets coming round the door into the dining-room or accumulating strangers ever-changing as guests or a consistent presence of the disarmingly officious bald man). A gentle, flat-lining experience … but, then, when seen in in external synergy with Robert Aickman’s ‘The Hospice’ (that I reviewed here), I wonder if Book is effectively talking to Book rather than Story talking to Story within the same Book, because of the now uncovered ease of electronic communication between both these Stories from different books with each of them having recently been re-published in an electronic way…? For me at least, this is an added, if mischievously questionable, frisson to an already delightfully enjoyable absurdist fantasy. (13 Feb 12 – another 90 minutes later)

    flag “Can you recall the lasting effect of the most deeply disturbing collection of horror stories you’ve ever encountered? The narratives join hands…” — Dominy Clements

  5. Underground

    A substantial Tem story, without a doubt, and, for me, a personally important one that (like all the stories in this book so far) I’ve just read for the first time. It carries this book’s own internally connected themes plus a pre 9/11 ground zero (or cone zero – see another Nemonymous volume that preceded cern zoo), here a seemingly deliberate building construction hole, with encroaching themes of that hole ineluctably being out of control, and themes concerning explicitly stated statues, ‘tree-men’, travel to ‘earth’s core’, the swimmability within ground or earth [and in my novel ‘Nemonymous Night’ it is flyability in the earth as well as swimmability! – a novel, for me, felicitously and coincidentally and differently resonating with Tem’s ‘Underground’ as perhaps encapsulated by the concept of what I call ‘hawling’] – and the poignancy of ‘difference’, sexual prejudice and many other factors I could enumerate. Here quite brilliantly connected within Poe’s premature burial fear – and a bereft sense or fear of leaving no descendants (note that word!), even too fearful to leave one’s dead body so as to mulch the future? Hence, that bereftness, too, perhaps, when there is no inter-generationality by enforced personal proclivity, i.e. no potential posterity. It’s as if we’ve been led artfully to this point by the previous stories, whereby the meticulously caring among us can now be shown how to care horizontally as well as vertically. You will know what I mean. An intensely caring literature. And so much more, too, like messages not getting through. This one, for me, did. But one needs to read literature with all these moments of meticulous care in their cumulation so as to reach such a point. A ‘hawling’ of emotions to the surface so as to optimise their message, empowering it even further by making readers work hard to ‘hawl’ the meanings free from their clinging roots. But God knows, even optimisation is often not enough. We can only do our best. A story for our times. And for the moving ‘dead’ in the Guest House of our soul. (13 Feb 12 – another 90 minutes later)

    Dark Shapes in the Road

    I have sensed an anxiety about car-driving emanating from this book before now. Accidents, rear-view mirrors, night driving, ‘sleepwalking’, map-reading amid road-mazes – and, here, my own fears about such an activity (I have been driving a car since the early 1970s) are given exaggerated respect! To the extent of roadkill killing back… For me, a beautifully self-cringing Horror essay in dysfunctional health-and-safety concerns within the mind and actions – again typical for this book – of a family man and the meticulously vigilant care he must ever maintain moment by moment when driving his children from place to place. To the extent of such an anxiety becoming a greater danger in itself than the danger about which it is anxious. [This book increasingly seems to be telling me that it is about me rather than about anything else. Its covers about to be ripped off in an accident (if it had covers).] (13 Feb 12 – another 2 hours later)

    Decodings

    It stood in front of me in the mirror-like glass, filling my image completely, cancelling out my reflection.”

    And in the light of the previous story where I clinchingly saw myself in the book: here we have the actual ‘coded’ pixels – mentioned before in the book and in this review – coupled with the book’s crucial inter-generational factor (here father-daughter) merging and blending with a wonderfully grotesque in-joke about (a beautifully evoked) Lovecraftian Innsmouth imbued with that same author’s ‘Outsider’-syndrome. Indeed, a most frightening experience for any reader like me who has taken the meticulously loving care, detail by detail, tiny reference by tiny reference, authorial quirk by authorial quirk, to reach this far into the book and, thus, tantamount to have been contained by that same book: nay, a book that does not contain the reader but *is* the reader: a reader now trapped under the glass: amid many tangibly, if mutantly, three-dimensional words of graffiti like upraised skin disease and real gills pulsing instead of electronic text. (13 Feb 12 – another 90 minutes later)

    At the End of the Day

    At the end of the day he imagines that somewhere else, beyond the limited vision his windshield provides, events of terrible beauty are taking place.”

    A litany of ‘at-the-end-of-the-days’ eventually becomes – despite the basically trite nature of this phrase – incantatory, hypnotic … and a ‘terrible beauty’ does indeed stem from these dark poetics of a deliveryman (with, of course, the increasingly customary inter-generational family waiting for his return home from his earning their bread), a deliveryman with a package to deliver, grappling with this book’s already endemic anxieties and dangers of driving a vehicle through the map mazes of a crestfallen city (seems like the quantitative uneasing of today although I guess this story was spent delivering its own paper package long ago), driving his van with both package and message still to be delivered: fearing he will never get through to the correct address (the package’s message like the book’s earlier message about burial and cremation?): a delivery that simply must be made by the end of the day… This story, therefore, suitably seems to fit the rhythmic incantatory pattern of this book so far (not so much with repetitive words but with a form of secretly transformational grammar), a pattern which will send me to bed already asleep at the end of the day, at the end of today, ready for my own delivery-patterns of forgotten dream. I’ll soon be in neutral, after the day’s overdrive draws to another sporadic disengagement of my ill-synchromeshed clutch. Night night. (13 Feb 12 – another 3 hours later)

  6. Woken fresh, this morning. Valentine’s Day. My second thought today (after giving my wife my traditional ‘anonymous’ card to mark the day), was about the long-held tradition of giving a copy of the Bible (certainly in the UK) to participants of Court cases for swearing the oath on. I was wondering if they will ever start offering an Ebook version of the Bible contained within a Kindle or Ipad to place one’s hand upon? Just asking that question bears somewhat upon the subject of any books that are held to be sacred (however many editions of them exist) and perhaps tells us something about this whole ongoing debate. The centuries-long existence of physical books, whatever they contain, however new or old they are, will always prove something about remaining ‘sacred’ in some sense of that word. (14 Feb 12 – 8.00 a.m. gmt)

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    The Far Side of the Lake – Steve Rasnic Tem

    Real-Time Review continued from HERE

    Fogwell

    There were trees so tall he couldn’t see their tops. There was ground that hid stone and pockets of stone,…”

    A haunting ‘boy’ story blending the best of, say, King, Bradbury and Tem (cf: the climbing tree story earlier). The boy was physically born – as if by deliberate accident on his pregnant mother’s trip – in Chicago, a fact which, for me, and semi-consciously for his parents, has some astrologically mis-harmonic effect on his outcome as a person in his home town of Greystone Bay, thus presenting a new slant on this book’s fragility of inter-generationality theme. I say, ‘mis-harmonic’, but that depends how you look at it: as this boy, Willis, ‘benefits’ from what I call a primary-source imagination, a larger-than-life synaesthesia of creativity amid his often clumsy relationship with his peers, two of whom are well-characterised in this story. This story crystallises eventually towards an amorphous image, an image which paradoxically, against the grain, focusses the reader’s attention beyond life’s normal ‘real’ clutter towards a mystic awareness that only good fiction can actually create (cf: the centaur in that earlier story by the sea). [Transcending the real clutter of this ipad, as just one example: a transcendancy that is not required with a ‘primary source’ of a physical book: more spiritually intrinsic, for me, to a great work of fiction than a machine happens to be.] (14 Feb 12 – three and a half hours later)

    Ice House Pond

    “More life meant more death.”

    A novella-sized tour de force. The male protagonist says the pond is much bigger than it is. A strange statement. [But this ebook is much bigger than it is, too. I had no idea how big when I started it – unlike with a real thick book in your hand as you riffle through its pages assessing its scope. Certainly got my money’s worth.] Thus, by means of that ostensibly strange statement, sharing the previous story’s boy’s larger-than-life or imagino-kinetic abilities and whose ‘fog’ trope is now here to be frozen. The male protagonist (who suffers his own past of inter-generational tragedies of wife and daughter in a car accident and more) takes over a desolate ice-property (you have to read this novella to appreciate the enormous stunning scope of that expression, that ‘ice-property’ concept in real cold-numbing, cold-abrading, shard-tall grandeur as well as this book’s erstwhile seedy ‘Leaks‘ potential infecting that grandeur, the erstwhile ‘Underground‘ and its ‘hawling’ images, its death-sacrifices to prevent suffering, the purging of past sorrows by creating today greater sorrows or diseases that are paradoxically easier to bear, the Concentration Camp gas ovens [that map-maze with yellowish haze the “mad scientist’s” inner earth of my aforementioned ‘Nemonymous Night’ by dint of its sister novella ‘Weirdtongue’]; the Ice House’s inner scrying cryological crystal-ball shapes both sickishly mutant and ripe with potential stunning palaces of magic realism (not unlike that sometimes evoked by ‘Oscar and Lucinda’ in retrospect) – “…the cold had the presence and intensity of stone” – the ‘genius loci’ of the house, ice pond, ice house that he’s bought, complete with nursery, is via cumulatively powerful prose, or rather an ice-genie-loci? The sun like a huge white eye in the sky reminding me that it is my eye scrying the white screen of this novella (it’s white on my screen). “Magic ice“. “Ice palaces“. This is Greystone Bay again, now complete with a hinterland of the missing people that the ice has taken and turned into self-redemptive ghosts (your self, not necessarily their selves). An ice house with the scope of a literally global shock, too. Ice block, “love breath” (sharing a bed is important on Valentine’s Day of all days, and I agree with what this novella says so touchingly on this score!). “The oldest cold”. The madness-veined ice-walls. Can memories be frozen like food? (My question, not the novella’s). Fishermen fishing for painted fish (still waiting for something to happen?). Can you tell I’m impressed? Yes, I particularly resonate with the cruel kindness of such fiction. It is replete with traditional stylisms of the Horror fiction genre; it’s as if the artificial world built up cumulatively like an ice sculpture, striking image piled upon striking image with feverous authorial gluttony; it never actually goes over the top because of those genre tropes employed so skilfully, even though it may go over the top for some not accustomed to such literature; and it will melt like all great ice sculptures will inevitably melt as my memory fades with the onset of old age and even my sadnesses will be numbed by the coming ice beyond any melting. Accepting that is like appreciating what makes you accept that. Like this novella. There’s even a bookshop in it with real redolent books waiting to be riffled through. Only global catastrophe will destroy them, I guess. (14 Feb 12 – another 4 hours later)

    The Dancers in the Leaves

    “I used to have a living husband, a good man, and now I have a stone to visit on Sundays.”

    Someone who denies his status as a ghost-hunter tries to solve the rhapsodic angst of an old woman whose Valentine seems long past. I have an affinity with Autumn, as some may know already, having read my reviews. This is a delightful ‘dancing on air’ in the tradition of Frances Oliver fitting to exhume any Valentine worth his salt.. (14 Feb 12 – another 2 hours later)

    Hearts

    A complete and utter shock, I assure you. I can safely say that the experience of reading this story for the first time today (finished in the last few minutes) — in today’s context and in the light of what I have already said about Valentine’s Day above — is THE most amazing reading experience of my whole life. No exaggeration. And, furthermore, in itself, it is a great story, too, even when disregarding the dark serendipities seemingly involved in me reading it today of all days. A strongly explicit Valentine’s Day story with encroaching ‘Leaks’, as well as a plot definitely backstoried by this book’s theme of inter-generational posterity, here as a sad motive for this story’s (‘Tales of the Unexpected’-type) dénouement. ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE. I don’t necessarily expect you to believe me, but it is undeniably true. Here, as possible evidence, is the publisher’s public suggestion a few days ago that I embark on this book as my first real-time review of an ebook, i.e a book by an author whose work I knew I hadn’t read as much as I should have done – an author I have long admired from the odd few stories I have read of his before reading this book. I must now surely take breath, and continue this review another day. (14 Feb 12 – another hour later)

    Bouquet

    Her flesh became a thin paper memory, dry and without scent.”

    This is a highly poetic soliloquy (disguised as a a fiction narrative) of a Ghost Hunter dwelling on bereavement and finally embracing impermanence, as he sits in his favourite trip out during the Autum of his yearss; a bouquet of smells, archaeologically-primed ectoplasm, global shock or earthquake (cf ‘Underground’ and ‘Ice House Pond’) – and a post-life, dare I say, post-Valentine meditation upon his late wife and then upon others “lost” from his life as another word for ‘dead’. It is beautiful, it is unbearable. Another reading experience to cherish. I am so glad I was encouraged to visit this book’s complete text. If it were not for ebooks I may never have been introduced to it. And the ‘thin paper memory’ quote above seems to be a tellingly oblique testament to that. And the story’s last lines, too. All that together with “old breath” to match the book’s earlier “cold breath”, tears “in the grain of stone“, “diggings“, scryings, cryings, cryologies. I originally sensed the aforementioned soliloquy to be Shakespearean, like one of Hamlet’s. Nah, no point in mentioning that in my review, I told myself. Just my imagination … until I came across the phrase “too solid flesh“. (15 Feb 12)

  7. The Snow People

    Charlie Goode was a great believer in synchronicity.”

    The next Ghost-Hunter story seems to me to be the natural, yet unpredictable, progression of this book’s inter-generationality theme towards an absurdist but – due to this book’s ‘magic fiction’ as opposed to mere ‘magic realism’ alone – highly believable culmination. Via the imputed cryologies of ‘gradual’ bereavement and by means of ‘passing on’ rather than being ‘lost’ or vanishing altogether during the death process, here the powers let loose by the ‘Ice House Pond’ give their answer to all Ligottian nihilism by embracing that nihilism: by stitching music from snowflakes: allowing fiction to be our religion, tantamount. Seems to be synchronous with my ‘relaxed snowman’ photo above that was placed on this site around 5 Feb before I started reading this book. Do work through the logic of this story together with the foregoing backstories, and you will see, I hope, what I see in this story. There are some incredible descriptions of those hanging on to death and thus to life – ‘playing’ in the snow. It is simply a gem of a piece that needs to be read before you are lost or pass on yourself. Or possibly keep it unread, and you will never die? Meanwhile: “Inside, Charlie found Bobby helping Jimmy dump several boxes of old books and knick-knacks into a large crate labelled TRASH.” (15 Feb 11 – two hours later)

    Cutlery
    [There is much cutlery in Elizabeth Bowen fiction.] As with ‘The Little Dead Girl’, I am unsure how this story fits into the book’s gestalt. There it was a gender issue, here a racial one. The ‘gay’ references in ‘Underground’, on the other hand, seemed readily to fit it. That’s not to say this story isn’t another striking example of Temrest (either a pause in life’s music that is more significant than the music itself or an implement to help reach across literature’s snooker-table towards meaning or the place where we all go during temporality’s endless bereavement process of Self). An oblique meaning that is often stronger than a linear one. It’s just the cutlery here provides a new version of the book’s ‘rear-view mirror’. And the beef in the freezer just another facet of the Ice House’s translucent stone and the visible ‘passing on’ or ‘lost’ creatures to be carved from within it. Or it is the text within the screen conveying interactions of book-matter, body-matter, meat-suits, climbing-trees … stories to entertain you or philosophy to tantalise you. Escapist Eschatology. (15 Feb 12 – another two and half hours)
    .
    Absences
    “…and dozens of variously designed lightning rods covering the rooftop like a city of fairyland towers.”
    …or ice palaces? Lightning-rods as a probably unnecessary precaution against Temrest turning to Tempest? This story is tantamount to a twinning with ‘Aquarium’, which at the time of me reading it a few days ago had an Elizabeth-Bowenesque feel with its sense of furniture and room and place, and here in this new story even more so. Also, I should make it clear – before I forget – that the last few stories in this book concern a well-characterised Ghost Hunter / Collector / Archaeologist of sorts called Charlie Goode: who is possibly the soul of this book. Not the author. Nor various independent internal narrators or protagonistic voices. But some future ghost made solid by its own past. His relationship with his grandson takes inter-generationality nearer to the thought that genes often miss a generation (as my grandmother Alice once told me). And, here, Charlie’s conscientiousness of resuming acquaintance with Jane, his first sweetheart (now grown old and who preceded a subsequent sweetheart who happened to become his wife now deceased with all the resonances that this situation entails by dint of this book’s preceding power). Meanwhile, this story mainly concerns the inverse of the de-cluttering of books and knick-knacks seen in ‘The Snow People’, i.e. now become, here, a re-cluttering by a whole past, by a whole family-hinterland: the retrieving of their knick-knacks, sculptures, statues etc as if what is being retrieved is a collection of the souls of so-called objects to be re-made as one soul. This resonates so sublimely with this book’s actual gestalt (as well as with the tentative gestalt I have personally given it concerning ebooks and traditional books) that I don’t think I will force it by taking these patterns too far (as I may have done already). The book works: with or without me. Perhaps the act of book-reviewing itself needs only a light touch to achieve. But I shall never learn. (15 Feb 12 – another 90 minutes later)
    .
    Goode Farm
    [Elizabeth Bowen often wrote fulsomely about Christmas Eve in her many stories and novels – and about Christmas decorations – and the fractured soul beyond. Only rare books get reviewed on my cherished Elizabeth Bowen site. This is one such rare book, the first one that ends its review here.] This story has a the concept of archaeology made easier through snow than through earth, whatever the ‘hawling’-processes used, I infer. Here, Charlie is staying overnight in his childhood home of a family farm (probably driven himself there with some anxiety?), a place now become that ‘ice house’: hit, without warning, by a sudden blanketing snow storm (the Tempest having seemingly dislodged the Temrest after all) – and the snowman is no longer relaxed, I sense. The objects of memory or of family beneath their own shapelessness. The crux of the inter-generationality – amid this book’s meticulous caring actions as rhapsodic enumeration of Christmas decorations – is perhaps made clearer as backdrop to the ‘fairy tale’, as an epiphany that has been reached across the green baize by the foregoing book’s intrinsic Temrest? Krampas, Santa’s wicked little helper, who makes Charlie literally wish that genes had missed one generation, I guess. You will know what I mean should you read this whole book to this end point. An epiphany, true, but also a catharsis, a purging? You will have to see for yourself. Perhaps, the author will need to do so, too. The Intentional Fallacy absolves me, I hope. All I will say is that the “sharp green boughs” had explicit blood oozing from them. And Krampas is an anagram, nay, palindrome of ‘sapmark’. “…it had been passed down the generations,...”. Or had been passed on down them? Or lost by them? Hopefully, here rediscovered at the tail-end of eternity. My endless Autumn. (I shall now hope to place this simply great book on my bookshelf with all the others). (15 Feb 12 – another 2 hours later)
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