“The Flower Unfolds” — Simon Strantzas
“A Place With Trees” — Rowley Amato
“What Little Boys Are Made Of” — Malcolm Devlin
“Grizzly” — M.K. Anderson
“Might Be Mordiford” — Charles Wilkinson
“Palankar” — Daniel Braum
“The Gestures Remain” — Christi Nogle
“House of Abjection” — David Peak
“The Undertow, and They That Dwell Therein” — Clint Smith
“Downward” — Amar Benchikha
“The Familiar” — Cory Cone
“Liquid Air” — Inna Effress
“The Beasts Are Sleep” — Adam Golaski
“The Witch House” — Jessica Phelps
“On the Edge of Utterance” — Stephen J. Clark
“Homeward Bound Now, Paulino” — Armel Dagorn
“The Affair” — James Everington
“When Dark-Eyed Ophelia Sings” — Rebecca J. Allred
“We, the Rescued” — John Howard
“Twenty Miles and Running” — Christian Riley
“Something You Leave Behind” — David Surface
“Young Bride” — Julia Rust
“The Other Side of the Hill” — M.R. Cosby
Edited by CM Muller
My review of Volume II HERE
I expect this to be delivered to me on 1 October 2017, but there shall be some delay before I real-time review it. When I do, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below….
THE FLOWER UNFOLDS by Simon Strantzas
“Sweat was cold at the base of her spine, and a hinted dizziness unmoored her—both multiplied by the mixture of floral scents.”
The telling tale of dowdy, almost invisible, office worker Candice Lourdes, Ms Flask her boss, a tall man called Ben Stanley, and an off-kilter Corporate Horror scenario with uncaring colleagues, officious duties with files between the many floors, an elevator, a roof garden, and an awakening….
I took this photo while on holiday last week in a place where I had never been before – a photo taken before I read this story today, one that seemed perfect to illustrate it. This story was meant to be. It sort of seems right. Without losing its disarming offness.
A Place with Trees by Rowley Amato
“Who lived here before? What sordid things did they do in this apartment? What strange doors did they leave unlatched?”
This story has a crack in its wall with neighbours, neighbours like the previous story with its own roof garden and stories yet to be read, and this current story with people of all races and insects nightmarishly intersecting, and the story-teller as insane or strangely sane soliloquist yearning for another awakening, not to some place new as happened with Candice in the next door neighbouring previous story, but to some yearned-for place old and previous, with trees if not flowers, most of which perhaps adds up to the same thing, not only stories already-being or soon-to-be-growing beside each other but also stories above and below each other? It’s always better than bad where you once were or hope to be. In Hell or Heaven, or next door, with other people, or worse?
What Little Boys are Made Of Malcolm Devlin
“But reality was relentless.”
When I was myself a waxing child in the 1950s, there was only one channel of reality, one programme I could watch before bedtime: Watch with Mother. And one of the scenarios under that label was of a highly strung family that I then or now imagined developing as this family develops in the story. It is one worthy of the Devlin canon of fiction, and, as you know, that is important for those of us already aware of this Devlin canon.
Here the life of the brother and sister from birth to diminuendo of adulthood, echoing the roof garden and place of trees in the previous two stories, with an awakening from appleseed back to awakening: “unseen pages; the sweet, sweet smell of something on the turn.”
I also imagined, while reading, that I was their father, a man sent mad by his books, by all the sorts of books I have been reading for my gestalt real-time reviews. Something I dreamed of once telling the author.
“the ink already loosened into black whorls corkscrewing into the water.”
PS I am indeed, in relentless reality, the father of a boy and girl.
GRIZZLY by M.K. Anderson
The clue is in this story not being about the eponymous swimsuited twelve year old girl at all. So, a skilfully disarming account of grandparents taking their ‘difficult’, perhaps feral, granddaughter on a trip to a secluded house in the wilds, with an attic ladder, and near to an island, where we as readers are allowed to semantically and/or phonetically infer as much or as little as we want about the outcome. Krohn or Lispector, eat your hearts out.
Might Be Mordiford or Charles Wilkinson
“‘No names,’ the man said nervously, although not without a touch of faded menace.”
A perfect segue with the previous story where we were explicitly told by one of the characters that it was not about its eponymous name. Here, not dissimilarly, the names are somehow missing or wrong by default.
Some might say this story is the apotheosis of the Wilkinson canon (see link above), but others might say it is a caricature of that canon. Sir Thomas Browne, included.
A sensorily atmospheric general post office that also has a tea room and dubiously named tenants, post officer and customers, that interact as if in a Pinter or Beckett play plotting coded crimes after a stay in some disarming prison where they first met up. And it also imports an urn from Strantzas’ roof garden….”filled with pale flowers, a green and white profusion, which must have accelerated so fast the stems could not be cut.”
I am sure Browne was mentioned in another Wilkinson story, but I can’t currently locate it.
Palankar by Daniel Braum
“Zeroing in on a place.”
Hawling as diving, I would put it. What’s in a word? Two brothers, grappling their own dive through life, as a well as real ones, to echo each dive with another, the one when their own father risked them as teenage boys without proper training, and another dive in later middle-aging life (cf Succulents synchronously reviewed here yesterday) within the Braum as zeroed-in to a characterful Mexican ambiance. But who is the monster, life itself, man himself, yourself, lounge bars, women with one leg showing or with unfinished tattoos, or that amorphous monster that life’s sea around us conceals, pulling, hawling us in?
“Dad always said, life is dealing with impossible situations and finding our way through them.”
“We make meaning out of things even if it isn’t reality.”
“…only achieved by those with nothing but time to lounge.”
Or lounging around enjoying such stories with amorphous rifts or reefs? Where you realise that abyss rhymes with kiss?
Coral now as this book’s roof garden?
The Gestures Remain by Christi Nogle
The gestures or the “muscle memory”?
“I’ll have the loft. I climb the trunk into its palm, its nest. I make my lovely bed in the soft layers of quilts and embroidered pillows…”
A gentle story, so laid-back I fell in love with its inscrutability gradually disenfolding a blend of this book’s earlier roof garden and later coral underwater foliage (even a reference here to “old coral”), as Janey the narrator and Cole start cleaning the house and doing other chores together (their relationship tantalising to fully understand, with its shifting ending of reconciliation or parting, vague talk of connected family roots or not), roots connected with this house in the desert built by her grandparents. A word-tactile house, that we gradually accrete in our minds through sometimes dry prose poetry, pottery, soft clay, their cleaning, and the intrusive mice & memories, and the tree loft with its cathedral stained glass colours from cactus and flower alike, Klimt or Parrish. A perfect start to a laid-back day, I hope.
“and I see the flower shapes slither over his face, their violet and aqua like neon.”
“The colors shift and the light moves on the glass, in the glass, from the other side of the glass. It’s like watching a flame. It’s like trying to peer down into dark water with moonlight skimming the surface.”
By ‘dry’ above, I mean dusty.
House of Abjection by David Peak
“There’s someone else in the room with us.”
With Freud’s old fainting couch, a loveseat, ‘astuces’ and a woman’s handbag called a clutch, the dust drifts in as undusted by those in the previous Nogle story, a disarming double bluff of a horror (like going into a haunted house at a fair for fabricated horrors and finding the horrors real), here we join a dysfunctional foursome, husband, wife, their daughter and daughter’s husband in this scenario, and vicariously experiencing more fears and perversions than the hints between the lines perhaps justify us experiencing. A blend of Bartlett and Wyckoff, but unique in its own way. And ultimately emotional when the ‘winner’, from among the foursome, is eventually revealed. The winner of the story’s ‘reversed’ tontine, that is. (In liaison, too, with this book’s earlier crack in the wall, and another garden here this one with a fountain and lopped statuary.)
The Undertow, and They That Dwell Therein by Clint Smith
“the rhythms of responsibility associated with unilateral parenting”
As in the previous story, a potentially dysfunctional foursome going to a place of supposed enjoyment mixed with initially welcome exciting fears (here of sharks, and the diveable, unhaulable ocean as in Palankar), this trip also being the specific impetus of one of the foursome. Here a single mother, 12 year old son, younger daughter, and this mother’s mother whence the impetus derived. A well-characterised group of people, told in satisfyingly serious but tractable texture of prose. A working out of various hang-ups of the past, the tensions between the two women and who was to blame for their various breakages of marriage, a transcending inevitability, fears fulfilled. Coincidence and suspension of disbelief. But with an intrinsic pre-iconic weirdness of a single vision of seashells in a past inland field and a simple man (the older woman’s late husband) in his working clothes but prefiguring, for me, the beach of Death in Venice when Dirk Bogarde had a haemorrhaging dyejob. There is no way anyone can spoil this story by retelling it, as its inner rhythms of self-help and sometimes religious development are untellable without reading it.
Downward by Amar Benchikha
“You tell yourself this, but know it not to be true, realize the one thing about life is no matter how abject it already is, it can always get worse.”
A second person singular narration starting with the sweet apotheosis of tasting and buying apricots in the market, the perfection of simple things that make life worthwhile, thinking of your loved ones at home, but then the seeming cruel meaningless Brian Evenson-like, but essentially unique, thrust into a cell or pit! Eventually an “existential void” from which sleep is the only refuge. An attrition that makes you forget the blessings you once had. And there I shall leave you, even if the author of the story as its god may not do so. Whether you escape or not, whether it brings you enlightenment or not, brings you an exit or not via a crack or fracture in captivity’s real or fake wall, you will need to re-read this story, this time with the upward pluralising of the singular “you”.
“See how the light tenderly love the apricots, it takes them over completely, enters into their pulp, light them from all sides!” – Paul Cézanne
Many thanks for the review, Mr. Lewis — not just of my story, but of all the stories in this anthology. It’s gratifying to read thoughtful comments about our works.
THE FAMILIAR by Cory Cone
“…and for a second time tonight I’m embraced by someone I don’t know and who smells like clams.”
An accretive study of the narrator returning to his home town after ten years, a town in connection with which Temmish kudzu is mentioned, and much else. Simple on the surface, a study becoming an exponential mutation of his expectation of the familiar, like in his old bedroom the green bridge he once painted, and his relatives or friends changed or gone from this world or only recognisable as strangers. His sister and her pupils. You will now not forget such people and things as the narrator seems to have done, giving the word ‘remind’ perhaps a new dreadful meaning. A railway bridge as well as the green or dental one.
Liquid Air by Inna Effress
Tertullio Ramone. Neches River. Wit and Kris Church. Vegas Vic.
“What was she doing here again, in this backwards place of her childhood?”
…and Kris, as in the previous story, a homecoming, starting with a giant model figure called Vegas Vic. Was the nature of the equivalent giant model in the Cone? Was it a bear there? Can’t remember now. This story, with mad-scientist contraptions of chemical, colour and light, has made me forget everything, even forgetting the nothingness or existential pit in the Benchikha. It is a powerful story with a weirdness that somehow exceeds weirdness itself. No mean feat. Yet it has an audit trail, and with another expectation of the familiar, one that is thwarted, here to some nth degree, within an effectively idiosyncratic semantic-crepitating style, Kris and her husband Wit back in her childhood home, he playing with his small-child-sized dolls-with-breasts, she with the paid job of getting flashing road signs fixed by Tertullio, with whom she goes more-than-just-skinny-dipping just before the Neches floods. The flotsam of the flood is another model figure as an art installation with the dolls, but is it Wit, Vegas or Tertullio? Or a gestalt of all three? This story, I predict, keeps its most powerful punch for later, when I next go to sleep. A script for night?
The Beasts Are Sleep by Adam Golaski
“Another animal noise rose up from the pit and John said, ‘What is that, a bear?’”
Although I cannot believe there are any conscious or deliberate connections, I sense, especially with the onset of this story of a grizzled bus driver wearing red high-heels, written by the celebrated Golaski, that there are absurd as well as sinister connections between all the separately written stories. Connections that were not there until the stories had time to settle into this book’s vehicle (a bit like this story’s bus) then to mature and send out touchy-feely flirtations to each other. Nightmares, too. I feel this not necessarily because today is Halloween. But there is a horror-traditional walk in the dark woods after the bus breaks down, then skirting an ominous pit, a walk by the directional light of phone maps & apps. A potential ménage à trois of young people from the nearby college on the other side of the woods, a potential comparison, too, of sleep’s beasts at the end with those of abortion at the beginning.
The Witch House by Jessica Phelps
“I wondered what it must be like to remove oneself so thoroughly from the rest of the world that you don’t even have photos to frame.”
And what happened between these two quotes? So far I have only written in this space “And what happened between those two quotes?” But as you can see I have managed to continue writing in this space, about Ramona (in marital difficulties and fussed over by her phone-distant mother) taking over her late Aunt Elaine’s fly-ridden house in the middle of nowhere. An Aunt who was reputed to have been a witch, a witch with all the witchy trappings of sometimes nakedness and ritual. This otherwise plainspoken text is ever effectively increasing in its power and I sense myself blending with some sort of eventual outcome. Perhaps just ‘gestures remain’? Or flies?
“My voice sounded deeper in my head, muffled.”
On the Edge of Utterance by Stephen J. Clark
“Words were the vessels and servants of silence.”
That irony leashes this substantive weird fiction story, arguably a genuine classic of its genre, especially in the future retrospect that it itself conjures up.
In its honour, I will try to keep my own words abstemious amid a babble of voices represented today by the Internet medium where I am able to write this review in the first place.
A beautiful texture of prose telling of two cousins, the female narrator and Jack, having now grown up, who recall, with a sense of a depleting state of being in denial about certain things, their childhood with her now late Uncle Ray (Jack’s father), with the added irony of a ceremony or land of silence with, for me, a kindred spirit with literature’s secret garden, an irony as it is conjured by hoarded papers of words that make his house a labyrinth of such papers, corridors leading to rooms some previously barred by belled leashes during their childhood. Papers that the workmen clearing the house have called garbled rubbish, even though two workmen seemed sucked away into the realm of these papers’ words. If you find my own words garbled about this story, rest assured that I remain proud that I was able to publish the world’s first blank story in 2002. Meanwhile, I see I have not done justice to this story, a story that in the Nightscript’s growing context of stories or papers contains even more power to suck you away into it.
“We could have lived simple lives if it wasn’t for him.”
Homeward Bound Now, Paulino by Armel Dagorn
“Like—he shook his head, as if it were one of these snow globe trinkets and he could just jumble his thoughts and hope a better one came around.”
Nelson, 18, recently employed as the local policeman’s proud assistant in the Paraguayan wilds… Curt communication in a rainstorm as he is given the almost impossible job to float a seemingly foot-fanged corpse of a man back up the river in boat and its own canoe to its wife for burial rather than it being marooned here and landed on the policeman. Where rain and human bodies almost become one. I felt sodden just reading it. The outcome? Don’t think Grizzly but drizzly hisses.
THE AFFAIR by James Everington
“But he was overthinking things again.”
…as I do, too, in dwelling on this story of a rusting relationship. Older, but still young enough, as a couple, to have a young son for whom they need a babysitter. A perhaps mistaken role play that some tired marriages enact. Or a double entendre of sickly rosé and a pub that has grown beyond the music that accompanies all our lives, giving counterpoint, thought thinking thought, even grown beyond its roof spaces of anachronistic renovation. A telling fable with oblique moral. I am still overthinking it. Constructively so.
“… the associations fluttered free from his thoughts like things lost from his grasp before he could place them.”
Like that earlier snow trinket In the previous story. And the silent land of the Clark previous to that one….
“The silence between them created space for the echoes…”
When Dark-Eyed Ophelia Sings by Rebecca J. Allred
“In the center, the corridors converge, expanding to reveal a vast garden rotunda.”
A garden in a rotunda seems about right for this book…but, meanwhile, this story itself is more like music than fiction to read, and I am entranced and do manage to follow somehow (especially with Lord Desmond as my ancestor) the audit trail of harvesting the Ophelias from just below the surface of the water, eyes staring up, an offering to the ‘droit du seigneur’ that all such Ophelias should be mine. Before they fall to ashes? I depend on this story’s Mira (Millais, R.A.?) to supply them….
The above photo is mine from a few weeks ago at the edge of Storm Ophelia in UK which invoked a red sun in the sky.
I can’t pretend to understand the machinations of Mira and the loss of her daughter etc….but the whole work certainly captivated me whatever my lineage, especially with the unique powerful image of the harvesting of many Ophelias who often then turned to ash under my gaze. As if under gothic eyes.
“The girl’s lips still bleed, and every morning the water is stained the color of a doomed sailor’s sunrise.”
We, the Rescued by John Howard
“He had gradually woven them all, his Berlin, into a fabric that he could roll out across the empty spaces that more and more often seemed to be in wait for him when he let down his guard.”
What can I say about another mighty John Howard story? Always a literary landmark. This one has his apotheosisation of Berlin, its past wartime tortured heat-exchange, its division and later healing, a once fractured city that a different writer Elizabeth Bowen created for a different city, i.e. London’s blitz, as a real-time reviewer of it. We almost feel that the author here in the shape of Sean has gone back to become a real-time reviewer of a past Berlin as a palimpsest of the future Berlin when and where as an Englishman forging a new career, his alternating lonelinesses and relationships took and take place.
“Water glinted, flowing rainbows in the sun.”
“That Buxtehude setting was most beautiful. And Johann Sebastian Bach wrote cantatas using it.”
“The intention had been to create the impression of individual buildings casually placed in a garden environment on a human scale.”
Twenty Miles and Running by Christian Riley
“We wasn’t about murdering folks, only wanted to lighten their loads some.”
A tale told by one of a gang of bad-doing criminals, characters, though, with a touch of affection for each other and for us, perhaps, making us almost, almost, sympathise when they are hexed by an unknown half-breed haunting or curse, stemming from a Stage hold-up when one of them unnecessarily murdered someone. A sort of strung up by an unknown force of a Peak’s inverse tontine, hung up over Evenson’s or Benchikha’s pit, where the ‘winner’ of Tonto’s tontine is the narrator, but what has he won? Us telling him later what it is like to die? Whatever the case, O lone one, gotta keep on going.
A hilariously told yarn with wonderful deaths described along the way.
Something You Leave Behind by David Surface
“At the peak of the clock tower, a tiny red light burned dimly against the black mountainside like a dying ember.”
Very much in tune with many stories in this book, the Surface one may be the most exquisitely poignant example, with David Peak in the shell of David Surface, a snailshell of a house disguised as a rusted car on a relentless dark highway between New York and where? With the onwardness of keeping going to beat death in the previous Riley story – here expressed by Surface as “That person, the person we were, has to die. To make way for a new one. […] I think that’s why we keep moving around, looking for the right place.” Death or a change of skinned self. Here the couple, strangers to each other, but married for years (many of you may know the feeling), still in some strange love with each other, but separated by the skin that you shed each night. A most amazing vision of a town along that dark highway, a cafe and waitress straight from the apotheosis of Aickman, and a large building with that clock tower at its peak. A pit as a peak, and vice versa. The house for we “Poor insane”.
Unforgettably, incredibly sad while strangely uplifting.
Young Bride by Julia Rust
“….and she understands why, in a book she’s read about childbirth, why they wanted to change the name from the harsh contraction to the soft, erotic rush,”
A powerful, eventually exciting, spasmodic tale that is so dissimilar to the previous story in style and tone and in sheer story, but so organically similar in fundamentals of marriage, seeking a home, the house as a shell of space that you tend, fix the roof when the sun shines, and now here a deep-seated, then convulsive rhythm of sex and guilt, sex and vulnerability, sex and childbirth, sex and death, a feared still birth but alive, still alive husband precariously on that roof, then the car, not rusted as in the previous story, but one that figures in Rust’s climactic catharsis, a house that screams in the tornado, the angel or what may be an angel that appears at each crux of birth and death. These two stories fit like hand in glove. Both great, but greater when shown together as here, as foils to each other, enhancements, too. A dual transcendence of we poor insane. The most power comes from inadvertence. Not intending it, but it happening nevertheless.
The Other Side of the Hill by M.R. Cosby
“I’ve got half the field on my shoes, Bec!”
Bec returns to her widowed father in England along with Wayne whom she met in Australia. The father seems to take a dislike to Wayne, and perhaps the father’s dog Kelso takes a dislike, too. At first plainspoken, it was a tale that I grasped. Grasped too easily, perhaps. Except when the young couple go for a hike, get lost into softer and softer ground, and I lost my grip, too. It was as if, for me, Bec was later planted as one of those earlier Ophelias but now into an apposite garden, the garden to which we were subtly introduced at the beginning….
“The garden stretched out to meet a brightly-colored flower bed, a pergola covered with blooms…”
A disarmingly weird tale that is intensely worrying. Revelatory and clinging, too, as to how different it must seem on the other side of the hill.
A fine coda to this fine haunting symphony of an anthology. Many genuine gems in its gestalt of rueful reclamation.