18 thoughts on “Blood Kin – Steve Rasnic Tem

  1. Chapter One

    “And he knew that despite himself, although he was tired of it, and long past resentful, he would take all her words inside and make them his own,…”

    The dark pungencies of this opening chapter are staggering. Michael and the bag of bones that he helps bath in the shape of his Grandmother Sadie, in the maze-like house near the kudzu undergrowth. The undergrowth of his family’s past, too, colours compared to colours with miscegenate, even exotic, detail. The sort of story to expect, of his grandmother’s past, via himself, I guess, all beautifully set up and presaged. Pent up, too. No way I can do justice to such an opening. A gestalt real-time review, if well-handled, can come closer than most reviews, I hope, but never close enough. Nor too close.

  2. Chapter Two

    “The thing about Daddy’s craziness was that he played with it so much you couldn’t feel too sorry for him.”

    Sadie as a twelve year old, resisting her own onset of epochal blood. Harried sexually by her Dad and by others in the community… and Crazy Hattie, laced with guilt. We delve into Sadie’s inbred and miscegenate heritage (in what I, from UK, see as a Depression era in Ohio etc, although I may have got the wrong end of the distaff, a bit Flanneryish, too, pungently so), the heritage of the Gibsons and Melungeons, like Guelphs and Ghibellines? The antipathy between her daddy and granddaddy. Imported kudzu from Ja-pan. Big dumb ugly babies.
    A brilliant writerly sweep like a film camera of the township where she visits, and where later she pilfers a grooming set from Miss Perkins. All completely believable as well as memorable, including ‘Preacher’ Jake!
    Heartfelt and gritty. Transcendent, too.
    By the way, were Jake’s ‘snake-handling meetings’ something like those depicted here (‘Let the Serpent Judge’)?

    “‘Why, child, snakes is already milking the cows. Just ask the preacher.’ He grinned and Sadie thought that was just the awfullest smile she’d ever seen. A smile like that surely’d kill a baby.”

    “She wanted to peel all that stuff away, see what was really inside. Cause if you could see it, really see it, maybe then it couldn’t hurt you. But something told her people didn’t hold that to be a proper way of seeing things.”

    I seem to have the same yearnings when gestalt real-time reviewing!

    “It happened to her all the time. Things just stopped, or slowed down considerable, and suddenly she was seeing things she ordinarily didn’t see. Or want to.”

  3. Chapter Three

    “He told people what they wanted to hear.”

    There is so much of this text wonderfully quotable, I decided to be abstemious, instead.
    This seems an intermediary chapter, between the thus slowed-down episodes of Grandma Sadie’s story to Michael and through him to us. All in palimpsest to his intimate duties with her ablutions, and memories of his own father, Sadie’s son, and memories of his own girl friend Allison’s eclectic plants he was once asked to care for in her absence. I somehow wondered for a moment which part of young Sadie’s story or of old Sadie herself he would facilitate to grow quickest longest and to outlast the rest.

  4. Chapter Four
    (So far read this chapter only up to “…and spit on her way to meet the Grans.”)

    “She wasn’t ready, and she didn’t even know what it was she wasn’t ready for.”

    I think I am really getting into this 1934 stuff of Sadie’s erstwhile twelvedom menses-break, but without yet knowing exactly WHAT I am getting into. Pretty deep, it seems. Powerful, crisp, then amorphous, then crisp again, peering through the gaps via her mouse-biting daddy of the orthogonal planks in her room. There is much miscegenate blood and mulch going on, meanwhile, of ‘nigger’ colour and other considerations of marriage-for-purity, in parallel with the sort of things going on or about to go on in Europe at the same time. And much else. And I am getting my reading nose dirty with it all, if not the brain itself. She’s off soon to the preacher’s religious snake-gig, I am guessing. Having read the Serpent story linked above, it’s a good guess, I guess! I really think this is rare stuff.

  5. Rest of Chapter Four
    Chapter Five

    “They didn’t have no books at home, not even a Bible.”

    “She never heard nobody else talk about these things.”

    The text seems strange in presenting somehow the 12 year old Sadie’s thoughts as double negatives, but it is a layer, or kudzu offshoot of metaphorical or palimpsested time, that feeds into the aged Sadie’s thoughts in telling things to her grandson Michael, or his listening to them, and perhaps they are his double negatives after all.

    “There was nothing he could do for that little girl from the thirties; there seemed to be even less he could do for her now.”

    The Grans, impossibly old, back in 1934 when Sadie is called to visit them, are figures in this organic growth of family history, its own intermixed roots and breeds and bloods, leading inevitably, at that distant moment, I am now sure, to young Sadie and the snakes. The past has its own climaxes and clinching hindsights. The present moment is not unique in having a clinching climax, and I feel I already know about such snakes, even though I have not yet read about them in this book. I may be wrong.

    “A real hard thing, Grandma.”
    “Dreamin makes it better.”
    “Yes, ma’am, dreaming makes it better.”
    “You’re a survivor, Michael. Just like me.”
    “Just like you.”
    “So now you’re ready to handle some snakes?”

  6. Chapter Six

    “She didn’t trust nobody. And if she was going to die, she wanted things right with her granddad first.”

    How can anyone do justice to this substantive subsumptive chapter of Jesus mania, other than urge you, with the threat otherwise of Hell’s punishment, to read it without fail.
    The scene with snake-handling lived up to expectations, needless to say, as Sadie would attest, fearsome ones in her case, surrounded by such well-characterised characters as fellow worshippers of dire belief. Fiction needs no greater belief.

    From Red Barn to Clinch Church to this dire Preacher’s Church as “a state of mind” itself.
    Go for it. Or stay at home in the dark without the preacher’s lantern. Or simply sweat blood.
    Shades of TED Klein, too. (My reviews of The Ceremonies and Dark Gods HERE)

    “…because she’d wanted to outrun her granddaddy’s pain.

  7. Chapter Seven

    “Then she laid a hand on Sadie’s right cheek, gentle like her momma used to when her momma still liked her.”

    Three granny women, and the darker, nearly black one, Granny Grace, the turner or hooker-out of babies in or from the womb, is the instinctive healing aftermath of Sadie’s commitment – yes, commitment – to the Preacher’s church and her state of being and body in the woods over night…
    “…or did a body lose teeth for mid-wifing them too?”
    Pre- or post-wifiing them by kin or kindle?
    Light bulbs, baby coffins, dress inside out (like those babies?), Clinch Mountain song…
    Many images, tropes, objective-correlatives, call them what I might, it seems it is the real-time slow-mo rhythm of the story that counts, notwithstanding such things.

    “The future aint here till it happens. True nuff we’re all headed in that di-recshun, but we go thar one step at a time, and lots ken happen between them steps!”

  8. Chapter Eight

    “What was he supposed to learn from all her stories?”

    And what are we, via naïve Michael?
    Back to him and his mixed feelings of intimate care for his Grandmother Sadie, and what emerges from her stories

    “He held back a shout until it became a sigh, and the snakes gently faded into shadow and folds, metal and wood. Except for the thin S-shape uncoiling from his window, extending its reach and trolling for anchor.”

    Visions of snakes from her story. Plus the more immediate concerns of the kudzu outside her home and the nearby ruined church. One of the most ‘seed and sepulchre’ insidious sinuosity of descriptions you are ever likely to find in any book common or recondite, roots and crowns of it to be excised or hawled out by workmen employed by Michael, just as I am hawling them from this tactile text itself. Text infiltrating you, just like the kudzu itself. Echoing the snake-handling of Sadie’s soon-to-be-resumed stories – and Allison’s plants? I only vaguely remember the latter, if at all! Does this book deracinate your real memories and replace them with its own? Or is that just my age playing me false ?

    “That kudzu is somebody’s evil dream. You think you can cut down something like that?”

  9. Chapter Nine

    “Just as her grandson faded away now, and her body grew smaller, and better formed, and without the physical pain that had plagued her for years.”

    Birthday grans – picnic – impressionistic – preacher with snake box to stand on when preaching, but like this book itself, are the snakes real inside it, or are they imaginary snakes? The pages hiss under my finger as they slide aside one by one.
    Pale women in the trees…
    Sudden storm upon the picnic. We had a sudden storm here today, and my wife was caught out in it on a long walk with her friend. Sodden she was. I had warned her there might be a sudden storm. Not that I said ‘told you you so!” But implied it.
    Rumours heard by young Sadie of the preacher’s form of snake harvesting and with whom?
    Guelphs and Ghibellines!
    Gibsons and Melungeons.

    “It’s like a painting, aint it? A painting that moves.”

  10. Chapter Ten

    “…the shadows melted and spread over everything, so that everything looked flat, like something had been taken away from the world.”

    Of Granddaddy, and the touching touch following the recursive minimalism –

    “He was probably out in the fields. She thought about going out to the barn, but he was probably out in the fields,…”

    Touch or longer stroke?

    The pale, see-through figures again as if in co-premonition. Plangent, not Plantagenet. Why I say that, I have no idea.

    “She wondered how it was that authors could write about a different way of life, a different story of what a person could be, but no one she knew could do that in the real world outside of them books.”

    And then how books can turn on you with its actual print and somebody else’s wormy doodles. Rarely, this being Blood Kin’s Kindle, I am not allowed my own doodles or pencilled marginalia to assist the real-time of my review.
    This book’s paper text is probably like kudzu or snakes and strokes… good that I am thus fortuitously protected?

  11. Chapter Eleven

    “….but when she told her stories they weren’t like her memories. They became his rage and despair and sweet love, each a charge of pure emotion that ran through his veins like a drug, in fact so like a drug that he felt muted without it, disconnected from his primary sources of feeling.”

    And as any sensitive reader would already have suspected, there has been more to the symbiosis between Sadie’s telling and Michael’s listening, filters often working both ways in fiction, often making fiction more real perhaps than real life itself? Like noticing the chapters are now getting shorter, or is our attention span getting shorter, or is Sadie wilting in her telling, Michael in his symbiotic listening? Questions answered by this telling chapter, with its own symbiosis with a reader, the filter again working both ways in this new partnership, while some of the characters created by the actual telling continue to clear the rife kudzu or vines from the arteries of the intrinsic telling and listening, our own telling and reading. Tem and us.

  12. Chapter Twelve
    Chapter Thirteen
    Chapter Fourteen

    Unmentionable thoughts. A reader’s speaking in tongues.
    Headstones, blunting, those dead beneath the ground unaware of the view from the cemetery.
    Writ with the Blood ink of Blood kin. Tem met halfway. A book that itself now speaks in tongues as well as telling of others doing the same thing. Ordinary or normal people like you and I, reading Sadie’s shorter chapters, as chopped up by Michael as he listens? Or doctored by Tem? Or by you? Easier to doctor a kindle than a realbook? Uncle Jesse is possessed, so are you.

    “‘Preacher likes it spare,” she said. ‘Come on. Lotsa lookin to do,’ and they rushed into the dark spaces beyond the door.”

    “where he does his frustratin’.”
    Unmentionables. Smalls.
    Smothering sweetness.
    Footsteps, one’s own footsteps no longer seeming to be owned at all.
    Floppy bible.

    “It was a rough voice full of hate and sour spit, kind of like the preacher’s voice but not like the preacher’s voice.”

    A good man gone bad or mad with his own tongues speaking, while Sadie nearby tells his children the Jack and the Beanstalk story. Having captured the mad bible, along with Aunt Lilly, from the Preacher’s church. Those naked bodes placed by the Preacher inside his bible, seen in the way her own Daddy sees her own twelve year old body.
    Makes you weep.
    Strong stuff.
    It started with the bible. And the snakes and tongues it contains.

    Spare, numb to your own self, smoothed out writing on headstones, no longer your footsteps. This book is its own passing of morphing deadening messages between us and the characters. Still far to go. Will I get to the end?

  13. Chapter Fifteen
    Chapter Sixteen

    “….sometimes the words were living things, full of breath and blood and capable of biting you if you weren’t careful.”

    “Maybe if he got better he could be a painter some day or an artist of an art that hadn’t even been invented yet.”

    We reach towards new connections, through time and empathy. Michael. And Mickey-Gene (Sadie’s cousin, which bloodlink was a barrier to his ‘love’ for her if not to that of her own Daddy’s) … even the Grans older in the past, now perhaps younger alive on a Family Tree as if branch-convoluted from the Preacher’s own floppy Bible that contained what many of my fiction books needed for gestalt reviewing now contain at my hand: notations and diagrams, a new abstract art of Jungian connections…M-G’s new invented art? (“Dibs and dabs and names and colors and explosions of sound, but knowing how they all flowed and fit together was the important thing.”)
    This book that needs its own such connections, too. And special readers who need this book for the same reason, a fact of which they are unaware unless they read it. A vicious circle of never-knowing. This review ought to alert them?

    “He dipped into his box of books and read passages at random. Maybe that was a strange thing to do — he didn’t know because he didn’t talk to any other readers. But he liked the feeling he got from it — that sense of a solitary voice singing out from a strange and unknown place, and trying to trace it back and discover where it had come from.”

    Maybe, too, I am over-quoting this book, but it makes me feel almost that any reader is also a collaborator.
    Forgiveness required for over-quoting it. Over-interpreting it?
    Which brings us back to ’empathy’, explicitly mentioned in these chapters.

  14. Chapter Seventeen
    Chapter Eighteen

    They are so old, he thought, maybe the oldest couple I’ve ever seen. So old they looked like twins.”

    I have a sense of the channels of ‘family and family blood’ (that the catalytic Preacher is said to favour) are latching into place, the family tree clearer for me, becoming more understandable if forbidden or moving through. a forest of instinct, a forest moving through another forest, via various clearings, like the unstoppable kudzu, or Macbeth’s Dunsinane…
    Yet strikingly at the same time, LESS understandable, more inchoate, more a daubing and nightmarish pareidolia of objects and clothing and people themselves in that forest I see as my life, a happening or art installation created by reading thoughts and words, and the oldest become the youngest, and vice versa, towards some vanishing-point, with Sadie’s own told and retold maturity that she poignantly wants to disown and become the child again, the child she truly is or ever was.
    Seeing my own life (or projected life) and thoughts in such a literary-supplied context is revelatory. My own inchoate mural hidden because painted on the inside of my skull. Some murals are religious, others not. Some are painted by others to entrap you, others not. This book to help you keep your own mural intact.

    “…and how lungs and hearts and brains were like the fruits, or the flowers of those systems, or the lightning bolts that branched out of the multiple layers of sky reaching for their opposites.”

  15. Chapter Nineteen
    Chapter Twenty

    “Do you need to get something out of that crate?”
    “No, child. I’m trying to keep something in.”

    I find I am somehow in this book’s grip, as much as the bloodline of time. Of Sadie and Mickey-Gene-Michael embattled against the Preacher, as if its kudzu has also got me, got my theories about this book…
    I did not understand why I mentioned Plantagenet earlier in this review, but its name I have since learnt derives from DNA, bloodlines and plants, in the shape of this book’s threaded kudzu (in turn likened to snakes?) – Blood Kin, blood ink, blood kindled –

    Click to access vol10-8_RoyalNamePlantagenet.pdf

    Angevin kings were the earliest Plantagenets and appear in my own novel ‘Nemonymous Night’ (literally ‘angel wine’). There are also several references in Blood Kin to Shakespeare and he wrote a play about Richard II. And Shakespeare also becomes relevant through this passage (please forgive me for quoting it in full but it is, for me, vital for transcending this novel) –

    ““‘ One man in his time plays many parts’,” Mickey-Gene said.
    Sadie stared at him, thinking how exhausting it would be to spend much time with this person.
    “What’s that?”
    “Shakespeare. His play As You Like It. It’s from that. During your life you play many parts — a daughter, a mother, a grandmother, a hero, a villain. You enter people’s lives and then you exit them. You say your lines — you inspire some people, and maybe some people hate you. And then, well, you leave the stage.”
    “You do the best you can,” she said.
    “He wants us to continue the bloodline because we have this power, to see things, to feel things. So maybe that makes us safe, at least for a little while. Safe enough maybe to do what we need to do.””

    Guelphs and Ghibellines, Gibsons and Melungeons, notwithstanding?
    Matilda Plantagenet married a Guelph King….
    Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

  16. Chapter Twenty-One
    Chapter Twenty-Two
    Chapter Twenty-Three
    Chapter Twenty-Four

    “The trees, the low hills, a few buildings were layered and mounded with the complex green leaves and runners of kudzu, the breeze making them shimmer and wave.”

    And from my Plantagenet musings just now above, our co-narrative ka-tet expands until even my wife and myself also seem to become the Grans… a superb ending.
    But before that ending, before that telling scene or moment of renewed vanishing-point, a scene or moment that I shall recall from amongst all literature, yes before that, we as readers do experience in these relatively short chapters some of the most cataclysmic climaxes of any visionary fiction work, involving the grey or pale figures of women that haunted earlier pages, the vision of the Preacher and his Bible in the crate (“Sacrifice, Sister, that’s what it be!”) And the latter evil force is subsumed by the literally co-narrational Ka-Tet against the Kudzu of time’s blood-line, in battle with the evil core, as if against some new Azathoth bubbling with the madness of history, an evil core that needs, for obvious reasons, crucifying, defeated by its own methods…denuded beyond the skin…not just the simplicity of a ‘good’ defeating ‘evil’ plot, but a literal co-narrative that is powerfully oblique as a path towards a healing of our current snake-twisted times…even while admitting: “Everybody had nightmares, and everybody knew you just had to endure them the best you could. You couldn’t just stop them from coming.”

    This novel is even greater than it thinks itself to be. It just needs others to convince it.


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