Edited by Mark Morris
Titan Books 2017
When I review this anthology, my thoughts will appear in the comments stream below… (My reviewing queue of purchased publications is growing longer and I don’t expect to catch up until November).
THE BOGGLE HOLE – Alison Littlewood
SHEPHERDS’ BUSINESS – Stephen Gallagher
NO GOOD DEED – Angela Slatter
THE FAMILY CAR – Brady Golden
FOUR ABSTRACTS – Nina Allan
SHELTERED IN PLACE – Brian Keene
THE FOLD IN THE HEART – Chaz Brenchley
DEPARTURES – AK Benedict
THE SALTER COLLECTION – Brian Lillie
SPEAKING STILL – Ramsey Campbell
THE EYES ARE WHITE AND QUIET – Carole Johnstone
THE EMBARRASSMENT OF DEAD GRANDMOTHERS – Sarah Lotz
EUMENIDES (THE BENEVOLENT LADIES) – Adam Nevill
ROUNDABOUT – Muriel Gray
THE HOUSE OF THE HEAD – Josh Malerman
SUCCULENTS – Conrad Williams
DOLLIES – Kathryn Ptacek
THE ABDUCTION DOOR – Christopher Golden
THE SWAN DIVE – Stephen Laws
THE BOGGLE HOLE by Alison Littlewood
A moving tale of a boy (sent on holiday with his granddad by his wayward Mum), the granddad’s still tiptoeing around his late wife (the grandmother the boy was barely old enough to remember), ‘found art’ as linking mementoes, lost stones precious or not, Silence as something living, and a monster real or imaginary, benign or otherwise, in this tenuous process…and much beach pareidolia, too.
Pareidolia / apophenia needs ‘boggle holes’ to squint….
SHEPHERDS’ BUSINESS by Stephen Gallagher
“One of my teachers might have diagnosed a case of TMB: Too Many Birthdays.”
A professionally caught captivating casting of a narration by a doctor in 1947 arriving as potentially permanent locum on a Scottish island where there had been a POW camp for Italians. A believable genius loci, as well as honest-to-goodness potential patients and medical entourage, whereby death, birth and marital relationships borrowed copyist exchange livestock habits from the sheep they tended in this rough land and still rough times before I was born in 1948. I was touched, for example, by the prospect of burying stillborn babies within a stranger’s coffin – not for impecunious reasons but more for companionship in the afterlife?
Honest to goodness tale, straight between my reading eyes. Honestly, effectively unsubtle crafting.
“I’ll leave it to your H. E. Bateses and D. H. Lawrences to explore that one, with their greater gifts than mine.”
NO GOOD DEED by Angela Slatter
“Oh, you think yourself ridden by the mare of night?”
“….where all things might end or begin again depending on the whims of her womb.”
There are no NEW fears, only endemic ones in changed settings ever to be relived or interpreted anew. And this text turns in its own grave at this my attempt to hawl it… but turns towards me or away?
As a darkly rich apotheosis of Tanith Lee, Mary Shelley, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and ‘Monk’ Lewis, this Slatter is a woman tagged and wired not only for her ends and means but also eventually for what niches lie beneath her puppy fat. Niches and riches. Longer dead self helping her newly dead self, she rises from some pent prison she deems to be a body spent, to take vengeance upon a tangle of female cousinage to find wherein it her Trajan husband still nests… with more weapons of womanhood than a simple secret hairpin. A fortune, if hoarded can only at the end be wasted, transient money and flesh alike…. But such concerns are as nothing when compared to things eventually to be learned beyond life?
“As for madness, sometimes taking refuge in it is the only way to maintain a modicum of sanity.”
THE FAMILY CAR by Brady Golden
“The sensible thing would be to try to steal a little more sleep,”
An initially plain-spoken style in contrast to the textured Gothic of the Slatter and the pareidolia of the Littlewood, but with an equal sense of a dead self helping a living self escape. That Shepherd’s Business of changelings, too.
Indeed, the Golden is a yellowing, tellingly oblique plain-spokenness as we follow a narrative empathy from a young girl then woman Lindsay’s Duel with a tailgating vehicle through whose window one cannot fully see the driver. A metaphor for human family and purpose, but a purpose with no meaning. Except a final more textured frightening vision that transcends obliquity with a meaning that only the horror genre can manage.
“The world’s motor has been set at half-speed so that Lindsay won’t miss anything, won’t miss the fact that there isn’t anything to miss.”
Cross-referenced this review here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/09/16/4-3-2-1-paul-auster/
FOUR ABSTRACTS by Nina Allan
“You don’t know my mum,” she said. “It was probably just her way of explaining puberty to me.”
A powerful continuation of this book’s changeling gestalt so far, if that is what it is. About an artist, her paintings, a woman talking to us, writing, too, even archiving about another woman, her escape from various relationships of family and lovers and friends, from London to an outlying part of Devon. A St Joan herself, in many ways. Both parties almost blending, as part of life’s slippage into death. The portrait of such slippage is terribly haunting. Constructive, too.
“Possessions are like a safety blanket, a proof of identity—a proof of existence, even. Then suddenly when you die, they’re just rubbish to be cleared.”
A kiss in spidery writing. I shuddered at many of the places when I was meant to shudder during the reading of this fulsome, characterful, often downbeat tale to which I can do no real justice here. The mention, though, of endometriosis gave me the greatest shudder, as I know what one sufferer among my own lineage of linkage must suffer. As she has often sadly revealed to my wife and I, among those hopefully many brighter moments between. Even if the linkage with Doré was frightening. Meanwhile…
“I had to laugh. There are people […] who will take a simple coincidence and dress it up as a grand conspiracy in the space of a heartbeat, but I have never been one of them.”
Yet, I link here to a coincidentally concurrent real-time review that is a similar powerful ‘fiction’ about a real-life artist, as this seminal Nina Allan story is, too. Gestalts need belief. Healing, too.
SHELTERED IN PLACE by Brian Keene
A short contrastive mass-shooter scenario as foil to the semantic texture of the previous story – and of the next?
Interesting insight into police tactics.
A quick-change changeling by geared omniscience.
A gory punch in the reading gut.
“I still had to pee, though.”
THE FOLD IN THE HEART by Chaz Brenchley
“In later years she’d join local kids and visitors in rowdy games of tag or kiss chase, where the fold was always home, safe ground.
Now that she was grown,…”
Rowan her name, rowdy games … now grown, just. A rhythm of letters.
Same age as Josh. Youthful model-boat builder, with oar or origami unleashed?
A triangle of roles, of inscrutable making of items, an older man, the narrative viewpoint, standing between the young woman and young man, or joining them?
Joining them in storm’s extremis, a recurrent pattern, a pareidolia of inheritance. Remarkable, perhaps, that I used the word ‘pareidolia’ earlier in this real-time review, but now it is used explicitly in this story. A pareidolia that brings the dead back to you as the dead’s need – or yours?
The fold (sheepfold or fold in origami?) as point of clinching against the storm and flood. Or tugging, then hauling … I often call it hawling or dreamcatching in my reviews over the years.
This emotional story was made for me to read. Inadvertently.
A bit of a DH Lawrence type short story blended with something quite else.
You have to accept the numinous then walk away.
Each of us a changeling of an earlier self.
“Unless that whole package existed separate from ourselves, and we merely inhabited the roles for a while, each in turn. It could feel that way sometimes, that we were groomed by some force outside ourselves, shaped to fit and held in place by a nameless inevitability.”
DEPARTURES by A. K. Benedict
“Then grab hold of you, fold your future spirit into your past body and persuade it not to die.”
The previous ‘fold’ continues, a sort of purgatory in a pub in Dublin airport’s departures… or is it some self-claimed “Socratic shit”, where ‘angel’s share’ is just another brand of beer like Barley Wine or Final Selection?
Ghosts in the smoke, a Samuel Beckett scenario if he had lived to write it, where bodies and ghosts ever seek each other out, changelings to fit like hands in gloves, or shapes into their own hollows, memories pickled in alcohol, with some pretty remarkable similes scattered throughout.
“Something is off-kilter, like the illusion of a straw kinked in a cocktail glass.”
To fix your self in yourself see if you can remember how many Bond themes Bassey did.
Photo taken today on Clacton Pier.
THE SALTER COLLECTION by Brian Lillie
“I have been working on an article on Alexander Scriabin of all people…”
Wax cylinder archivist and Melville completist Alice links with unlikely partner against horror, that partner being a nasty old man, the coughing gnome called Caul, as they both triage mysterious splattering intrusion and outrage among the cylinders.
Here the Special Collections area is akin to Departures in the previous story, whereby cylinders seem to spawn inner-changelings as recordings for bespoke spindles, instilling a vision of their original collector and hidden sounds of his two huge dogs and the forest where he walked. I felt a hint of a gestalt of music I love, a whole cccult counterpoint, not a whole, though, perhaps, but a whale that hid its caul of blabbing blubber, but then I shook off that thought…till now. A very insidious tale, ostensibly well-written and crisp in phonetic-semantic-syntactic style, still getting at me…making me put it down to prevent needless further comment. (But I recall there is a PIN number 1234 mentioned in it, while I concurrently am reading and real-time reviewing here a book called 4321.)
SPEAKING STILL by Ramsey Campbell
“There’s a call to reclassify schizophrenia as a spectrum instead of a disease.”
That being a call on your mobile.
The internet as a speaking sort of smart still or beer vat or psycho sump for spite from the dead to the living? Real ale as a doctor’s medicine like Mohammad’s Prohibition or Hound’s Howl …. accountancy of message texts or voicemail to contact the loved one, an ingenious method to take calls from the wormy grave? Whereby second childhood lasts for ever, with marital or parental love having a price in the profit and loss balance sheet. Ingenious chilling concept, indeed.
THE EYES ARE WHITE AND QUIET by Carole Johnstone
I am afraid I could not get into this story at all. My fault.
THE EMBARRASSMENT OF DEAD GRANDMOTHERS by Sarah Lotz
“Paralegals can be cruel; conveyancers can be brutal. I’ve seen the group emails that waft through the office like sarin gas.”
A hilarious squirmy-humiliation of a story, office worker meeting a colleague by chance during a poor performance of PHANTOM. Mixed with nostalgia for grandmotherly eccentricity. If I tell you more you will miss the point of what is sitting right next to you and how we all sublimate each other’s fearful archetypes. And decisions that nag at you in slow motion till you leave this latest decision to decide itself autonomously.
EUMENIDES (THE BENEVOLENT LADIES) by Adam L. G. Nevill
“The area was a kind of anti-matter and stuck at the intersection of new, fast roads that swept people past it.”
Feeding back to the humdrum office job in the previous story and across to the territory where I read this book’s previous few stories in the no man’s land between Coventry and Derbyshire’s Piques (my above photo from Ophelia Day’s red sun itself on that journey). And towards a kindred Zoo domain I have explored already in my own literary novel, re-evoked by that photo and this Nevill text, Nevil being a strange mattersome evil in itself. No wonder I loved its blatant-subtle horrors, the crass dating of man to sex object woman and fast road syndrome surrounding ancient mysteries of erotic girth and insane health and safety leanings for living things. And the striking portrait of today’s social mores of the nosey parkers, the crass-ordinary and fake histories now made real just for spite.
ROUNDABOUT by Muriel Gray
“Your average driver speeds past and never has half a clue about the wildlife living in these wooded islands, right in the middle of an ocean of traffic, where no human ever treads.”
I first thought from the merry-go-round title this might have been written by Willum’s friend Muriel the Young, not by Muriel the Gray. But, then, I knew, following the trend of Nevill’s previous story, with fast roads surrounding – or surrounded by – a strange lifeform of travellers, there a zoo of sexual engulfment, here an overgrown traffic roundabout, full of trash worse even than that discarded by thinkless people onto verges, including, in this scenario, the near-forgotten history of some City of Culture work of art planted on the roundabout by its own discarded crashout of an artist, hazards still flashing, and now a clearance-ambitious young workman with his wife’s meat paste sandwiches beep beep beeps backward in his truck to rid the roundabout of that darkly insidious dereliction of now ‘found’ art… A static climax that runs my own battery out thinkin’ about it. A ‘found’ monument of fiction that would have stood out even more if the other stories around it hadn’t stood out, too.
THE HOUSE OF THE HEAD by Josh Malerman
For me, this is seriously a potential ghost story classic-in-hindsight, a childgirl’s own view of a haunting of a house within a house involving another child, parents, added catalyst people, dogs and a decapitated head, a story that also seems to be a theme-and-variations on the title: ‘The Haunted and the Haunters: Or the House and the Brain’ (a story by Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton) when coupled with a whodunnit that could easily have come from one of many of GK Chesterton’s Father Brown stories that I gestalt real-time reviewed here, then seasoned with a pinch of Aickman. But it is essentially unique, and hauntingly memorable. Still thinking about it. Wondering where I put my own head in the process. Tell me what you think.
SUCCULENTS by Conrad Williams
“When did you lose that playfulness, that drive? When did you go from let’s play out to let’s lie in?”
A middle-aging, recently disheartened by heart trouble, man and his wayward wife and son, on holiday abroad, a sort of Mediterranean package where horror tropes reveal themselves to the munching sound of bar snacks.
A big ass admiring, and prove yourself still a man younger than you think you are, sort of joyless jaunt, still with the cares of making sure one’s offspring does not spring off into dangers, including your own dreams from ooze-filled rusty flower buds forcefed earlier that peppered steak later fails to mask the taste of – making your dreams form part of the company in your belly, and become a nightmare of your shipwrecked rusting self. Amorphous, unsure, but often perceptive about a certain sort of crass co-humanity with whom we share this shipwreck of a world?
“His mind could not cope with the narratives he was forcing upon everything;”
Cross-referenced this story with Palankar here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/09/28/nightscript-vol-iii/#comment-10827
DOLLIES by Kathryn Ptacek
“Somehow, I knew.”
The haunting tale of a girl from about 7 to 15. She diffidently and passively collects dolls all of whom she calls Elizabeth and a number representing the order in which they arrive, with them eventually dying, in her eyes, of small pox, with the spread of blue dots, reminding me vaguely of things gradually coming to a head in the Malerman. She then puts each doll on the death shelf. Her relationship with her parents is adumbrated, too. And the pitfalls and spoils of growing up as such a girl whom she turns out to be. Somehow, you will know more, too. But will I tell you more here? Nope.
“I felt wetness on my cheeks, and I realized I was crying, only I didn’t know why.”
THE ABDUCTION DOOR by Christopher Golden
“…and I settle in for the long haul. Waiting for the abduction door to reappear.”
Whilst the concept of the abduction door itself is wonderfully unique to this work, it is also a story reminding me of parts of possibly my favourite ever novel THE UNCONSOLED by Kazuo Ishiguro (who won the Nobel Prize recently when I reread it and real-time reviewed it), including the nature of the hotel, the liftman Cyril as akin to Ishiguro’s porter, the Sense of the Absurd, often frightening … slants of Poliakoff, too, with his nagging angst and frustrating anxiety etc. The wife and the daughter of the protagonist, very sad additions to that atmosphere. And I also wondered, in this context, whether Ptacek’s girl character in the previous story had thirteen Elizabeths…? Think about it.
“…as if my hunger is a child growing there.”
THE SWAN DIVE by Stephen Laws
“… I realised it had been a severed human head, its face matted with straggling hair.
‘Would you like me to sing to you?’ asked Swan.
‘No thank you.’”
That may give you some idea. This initially Blakean vision on a suicide bridge over an evocative genius-loci of the Tyne in Newcastle, is nothing if not compelling. Compelling to get to its end to see how utterly off-the-bridge it truly is. So worrying, more horrific than any other work in this anthology, so horrific, in a mad sense, to conceive that anyone could have actually sat down to want to write this work or find himself writing it, then someone sitting down to read it and then deciding actually to publish it! A dive by a man called Elton Perdue whose life and marriage seems to have taken their own dive, a dive that perceives itself as if in this book’s gestalt of the changeling pareidolia as a back-upward soar from the water patterns in the river that his (attempted?) suicide had brought him to be poised above, in his act of a swan dive rather than just a manic jump. Back to the bridge and a winged shadow a bit like the Gateshead angel, to my mind, that starts a train of events that seem to mimic a terrorist event with a marital conflux of human players in that personal drama back in his flat, and much else, even attitudes towards gay men in certain pubs or diners in Newcastle. There is no way this work can be reconciled with any meaning. Not politically incorrect or correct, but one where the words give your mind some sort of gratuitous inquisition or correction. Or it just is.
“The traffic still didn’t care. It had places to go.
But this was where I had to be.”
The swan dive of this book itself? The New Fears taking on the final gestalt of involuntary pareidolia and the changelings of insanity.
“I wondered when the fear would come; wondered when the utter emptiness inside would be filled with it.”
“The fear hadn’t come. The fear might not come at all.”
THE SWAN DIVE honourably listed here:
Cross-referenced The Swan Dive with Get Worse Soon here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/11/06/the-alchemy-press-book-of-horrors/#comment-14200