Phantasm / Chimera



An anthology of strange and troubling dreams.

Edited by Scott Dwyer

Plutonian Press 2017

When I review these stories, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

The Wind, The Dust – Adam Golaski
Provisions for a Journey – Matthew M. Bartlett
The Bruised Veil – Christopher Slatsky
The Last of Liquid Sleep – Thana Niveau
The Hole – Brian Evenson
The Hotel Pelagornis, 1899 – Livia Llewellyn
Binding – Mike Allen
The Great, Grey Bulk – Jon Padgett
Chrysalis – John Claude Smith
Fiending Apophenia – Clint Smith
The Last American Lion Pelt – Jason A. Wyckoff

15 thoughts on “Phantasm / Chimera

  1. All by-line links in this review will be to my previous reviews of that author.

    THE WIND, THE DUST by Adam Golaski

    “…the house is ‘split funny.'”

    I mean this as an important compliment but I don’t think my hot wings have been so deadpanned as they have been by this nightmarishly languid, insouciant tale of Adam and his recently bereaved co-roomer Geoff (a kindred spirit to Griffin’s co-roomer in this book here), and Doris their new landlady where they are rooming now, a story so insouciant, with its sporadic vibrating text messages, Adam’s job lost through no fault of his own, his clumsy attempts at dating women, and the thing he finds in a closet, a closet that reminds me of my home’s eaves cupboard. And half-hearted wonder as to what may be haunting this split funny house… And the projected film he watches at a party, so utterly disarming. I finished reading it covered in dust, or so I imagined. The plot did not seem to care whether I was frightened or not, but I was. And felt a bit washed out like an old 1950s travel postcard.

    “It embraced the entire world, and blighted the lives of all men,….”
    Procopius of Caesarea

  2. …that old washed out postcard was a colour one, of course, you know the sort where things blur into each other, and colours are not edged but silting, too primary yet somehow still washed out. It was as frightening and perfect a story because it was washed out, but now…by contrast as if the two authors intended this effect, which I suspect they didn’t…all part of preternatural serendipity when you start hawling crazy books like this one…stories making provisions for each other…

    PROVISIONS FOR A JOURNEY by Matthew M. Bartlett

    “Mr. Whitenose had pulled Rickel from a grey job in a grey business in a grey city because Mr. Whitenose saw in him something no one else did.”

    An unwashed out, ungrey series of wild cruelties in something far out-reaching retribution, a hit man in a closet like that earlier eaves cupboard I mentioned but here described in an even later incarnation within this story as ‘stinking of wet dog and closed-off crawlspace.’ A hit man who comes out of that closet and literally then…no way I am going to spoil this story, and the shocklines of the blight with no ’tilde’ but a SPINE and plenty of retrocausal bite giving generational skirmishes towards ‘self-actuality’ and family furtherance of themselves and itself. But which generation blights and bites which generation? They say a Plus or Minus Reach always skips a generation. A question for our times when the Trump dynasty prevails. A Birds scene from Hitchcock at a children’s 5th Birthday party becoming worse than mere birds is only part of it. And only a hint of what happens.
    This is Bartlett in your face. You will never claw it off.

    “Such potential, squandered.”

  3. THE BRUISED VEIL by Christopher Slatsky

    “Like a printer error where the ink runs out and the words trail away into pale nothingness.”

    Or like when you need to prod a pencil into one of the holes of a cassette tape to get it back on track or torque. I started reading this story in the public library (as Carrie turned out to be in hers) and continued it in the waiting room of the local hospital while waiting for the regular six month meeting with my oncologist. It all seemed somehow terribly fitting as I methodically gathered the ratiocinative plot gradually by means of Carrie’s research and cassette interviews about the legend of the Slit Mouthed Woman. The forward slash in the book’s title seemed to embody that slit for me. Book titles do not often have forward slashes otherwise. It also deals with the Japanese internments in USA after Pearl Harbour, and it mentions Korea, too, evoking the Fire and Fury of today, things that the world has never seen before. The build up of facts about the legend of that woman, how she was created, whom she haunted, the historical symbolism involved, the people’s stories about her, the mafia hitman to embody again this book’s earlier revenge theme, dust storms, too, the mask the woman wore like a surgeon…. There is so much more to tell you about, and it all works subtly and cumulatively, leaving me with the ‘dying fall’ of a despairing thought that the story itself expressed better than I can about the world then and today –
    “The world no longer felt rational, no more a puzzle to be solved in the gathering of fragments and pieces.”
    And the two mile queue of parked untenanted cars made me cry more than any other story has made me cry, I guess. And the puppet-jawed face behind reality’s veil.

  4. THE LAST OF LIQUID SLEEP by Thana Niveau

    “A multitude of green eyes stared back. A mosaic of faces.”

    A gestalt of selves.
    As a spirit level of the soul, the narrative protagonist looks in the mirror and tries to home in on the essential identity being created by whom – this story’s author or an A.I. technician or the Mary Shelley eponym?
    And in which direction does identity travel?
    And how does the reader fit into a fiction’s filter-slit that allows flowing both ways?
    Intriguing. Another bruised veil? And who rooms with whom?

  5. THE HOLE by Brian Evenson

    “The landscape was gray, unvarying,…”

    Washed out, finding or seeking someone or something in the closet, that of Golaski and Bartlett? Here a hole, not a dustbin as in Godot-Golaski. A washed out planet, a vessel, crew looking for the captain. But also an existential search for identity as in Niveau, a spirited if laconic level search, with a sudden hole… one of us breaking their fall on another of us? A gestalt of us. A gestalt of US under Trump? Hole as holism. Whole. Whatever, this is a brilliant Beckettian deployment. Even also with this book’s eponymous forward slash or the hole or the slit in seeking puppet-jawed Slatsky, Slitsky, Slashky… which dream is yours or is it all our own single dream?

    “…and so leaned there as if about to pitch to one side, like an ill-made puppet,…”

  6. THE HOTEL PELAGORNIS, 1899 by Livia Llewellyn

    “– Do we dare?”

    I did, and so can you. Us together as in the Evenson. Here it’s an Evensong in a hotel in Manhattan that out-labyrinths my own labyrinth of real-time reviews in tentacular union. Manhattan, man eaten by the unsuspected cataclysmic erotic sex of the otherwise breast-scrawny “spinster, spinner, a sister”…
    This is powerful material, amazingly so EVEN for Llewellyn. Like the Bartlett earlier, it will be hard to claw it all off again, as it becomes continuous and forever over you like Slatsky’s mask upon a slit woman, at the monumental turn of Llewellyn’s eponymous century. Between a tipsy clumsy washed-out waltz and atonal violins being tortured.
    And the rapturous language aches to engulf you. Should we dare.

  7. BINDING by Mike Allen

    “Role-play gaming runs at its best when storytelling drives the collective delusion rather than chance dice rolls,…”

    A retold tale to a group of lively listeners of a story about sex enactments watched by ominous others, as involving something equivalent to the one mile high club in a library’s grimoire section on the sixth floor. Bound books that are sexy, even if you don’t read them? A workmanlike work that is not so shocking as the Llewellyn but capable of leaving a nastier taste in the mouth, one that some may like, others not. I rolled the dice, and lost.

  8. THE GREAT, GREY BULK by Jon Padgett

    “(he feels that his ghoulish animal/human hybrid experiment qualifies him for dad status)”

    Grey like this book’s own constructive/destructive grey, including the hybridity of the book’s eponymous forward-slash, and this story’s own bifurcatory eponymous comma,,,a story that boggles belief but hangs about, to worry you with its concept of onanistic parthenogenesis and late-labelling, instead of a god’s virgin birth. Even the shrink named Toi, I imagine, swallows his unshrunk head to become a pregnant belly. Plus a series of far eastern godheads and myths one would expect in a Salman Rushdie fiction. It is tantamount to the sort of drawing Consequences Game that I used to enjoy as a child, like drawing a head on someone else’s drawn body before I had seen that body already hidden under the folded paper. Each page of this story being a spined foldover in such a game.
    Laced with a Ligottian-like catchphrase that I fear will give me my own nightmares tonight.: “This is heaven here in the pig body.”

  9. CHRYSALIS by John Claude Smith

    “…a cruel slit that told her enough.”

    IMG_3549A ‘vagina raw’ that eventually became the slit her husband couldn’t find in a different direction of escape? Also, a growing apotheosis of this book’s washed-out greyness. Just on the FIRST page — of this disarmingly ‘dismal empire’ of woman-poet-suicidal (Plath, Sexton…) words — we read: ‘doldrums’, ‘dreary’, ‘listlessly’, ‘bleak, depressive’, ‘maudlin’…
    A consuming, disarmingly plain-spoken, attrition of Regina’s marriage to Derek, and the intriguing Muse-methods of the messages from a blackbird, a beetle, a TV and her own reflection that feed four lines in a new language to her poetry and the eventual dénouement of her marriage, literally.
    Including a reprise of that bodily Consequence Games I mentioned in connection with the Padgett.

  10. FIENDING APOPHENIA by Clint Smith

    “The sky had gone from flawless to flirting with overcast at some point, gray overhead punctuating the gray on the ground.”

    I have no hesitation to call this a potentially great story. It just needs thinking about more. And the context of the foregoing stories enhance it by their washed-out past-infection and those very stories are in turn even more enhanced themselves retrocausally by it. Despite the dodgy typesetting of dashes and hyphens in this story, it is clear how unquestionably well-written it is, with an often oblique power of apophenia or pareidolia as one sinks into its dope-dealing characters and scenario, then and now. The main character, now a family man and teacher, trapped by the iteration from his past, and by the REAL monsters haunting the corners of the sight, not imaginary/dream-nightmarish or drug-induced ones. And the past-infected need to submit to the dumpster of draining temptation. And to the gestalt real-time of fiends and friends. Enticed to resume that old fishing trip.

  11. THE LAST AMERICAN LION PELT by Jason A. Wyckoff (and HERE)

    “; on the right hand the four fingers were split two-and-two tightly together, with the Index finger bent to touch the thumb tip.”

    I have been reviewing ‘The Waves’ by Virginia Woolf while reviewing this book. Last night in Virginia, there was another once secret society in the streets. A Virginia raw.
    For me, and only arguably, the eponymous ‘pelt’ is a symbol for Trump (a squeaky roar inside and nothingness), and that quote one of his hand gestures. The story is also this book’s symphony’s telling coda; it even mentions the word ‘coda’ at one point. It is also this book’s slash, or here recurrently morphed into the word ‘sash’, a secret society that our protagonist Eben Tanzer – led there by Augrand, for Trumpish business purposes – survives but only to find Thana’s earlier vision of Thanatos self as that nothingness. On a simpler level or niveau, it is a compellingly strange rite of passage. One with relentlessly methodical descriptions. But again, for me, it has its own secret audit trail or path of words. “He wanted connections…”, friends or fiends from Clintish apophenia and iteration, passing between “two monolithic, basaltine columns” but no gate, no shutters on windows, an elevator with no door, a recurring “Ehhh?”, portraits with “a sash, or two sashes, or a sash with tassels, or two sashes festooned with medals”, “the scepter / cane” bearing this book’s slash again, a split frame, a canvas folded-over echoing the Padgett, Allen’s “bit of theater” or rôle playing, a plume of snickering as the story’s own coda, speaking from the side of the mouth, “in rents, rents”, an arm like a pendulum, and above all, by the end, “the perfect intersection” and “widening pupils”.


    I was originally captivated to purchase this ‘split funny’ book by seeing the authors listed. I was not to be disappointed.


  12. Pingback: “Knot the Noose” | Clint Smith Fiction

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