15 thoughts on “Behind You – Ralph Robert Moore

  1. I read the first two stories where they first appeared and below is what I wrote about them at that time and in that context:

    ***********************

    NOT EVERYTHING HAS A NAME

    “I lost track pretty early on how many hands I let grasp mine as they shuddered and went lifeless.”

    You MAY be pleased to know that this is up to the high RRM benchmark of disturbing fiction that lingers afterwards with you and continues to grow increasingly disturbing for possibly years afterward. This work has a last line that is something else – one, with its implicit meaning, exceeding even THAT benchmark.
    Without giving away spoilers, this is a tale of an 18 year old girl, a virgin in two out of the three ways, and a 30 year old swaggerer in a bar who wins her in a bet over pool play from her young diffident boy friend…
    She has four tests for him, the fourth one being a bit like coming out of this work’s closet, if fiction CAN have a closet to come out of, a closet perhaps more powerful than what the closet-leaver alreaady is. Like she has her own Dines gloryhole from earlier in this magazine’s fiction, built in as a portable voyeur. You won’t get it from that, and if you do get it before reading this RRM, you may wish you hadn’t EVER got it, depending on who or what you think you are or who or what you see yourself becoming.
    I think now that I must have seen, relatively recently, RRM’s thin things retreating while I was in a hospital at the point when I finally let go of someone’s newly lifeless hand…

    ***

    MEN WEARING MAKEUP

    “No sadness like a child’s sadness. They haven’t learned yet to hide it.”

    A boy called Buddy, I imagine, caught in the headlights… But that is not whom this story is exactly about. It’s about YOU. And that’s just the author striking a note for his orchestra of words to start proper, I guess. And, indeed, this proper story — telling of another one of those ‘special needs’ kids, bullied and bashed out by humiliations of life, now grown up as that very YOU in this off-the-wall, off-the-forest-track fable of clown tribes and haul masters — is, excuse my language, f**king inspiring.
    For the ‘lost boy on the beach’ to the ultimate YOU, this ultrafiction does its own bespoke Holy Hosanna! A perfect coda to this set of stories. For all woe cakers, coffin makers, door turners, stamp lickers, rabbit owners, dying drowners et al, a perfect exhortation of a story. A perfect story simply in itself. The only way to do justice to it and to discover what bits in it I have missed out telling you, just you f**cking sit down and read it.

  2. *Even the Cops Didn’t Make Jokes*

    “Years went by. She learned not to smile. Hard at first, then after a while, you know what? Not so hard.”

    A social worker called Claire, her backstory, elements of gender and other chauvinist presumptions surrounding her in the world, default Sapphic herself, I guess, and her somehow visually pregnant 90 year old female client in a poor area of the city, later a scene with people arguing about plastic surgery on that client’s TV – and I invite you to project from all that into your chosen audit trail of what happens next and you have a RRM work, amid a canon of his work that is like being mugged by literature. If you wander into one of his books, you simply ask for it, even if you are armed with your own pepper spray and indestructible molars.

  3. I read the next four stories where they first appeared and below is what I wrote about them at that time and in that context:

    ************************

    All Your Faces Drown In My Syringe
    “Maybe it’s enough to just remember that at one point in our lives, early on, there was that time of unconditional love.”
    One gem follows another. I am sure horror writers are working exponentially these days, reaching further and further in their art of fiction, one upon the other’s shoulders, old shoulders and young shoulders, dead or dying shoulders and shoulders still being born.
    This story is a serial version of the single umbilical throughput entity of this magazine’s first story as well as a resonance with the normal restoring and restauranting life that feeds such exponentiality. This RRM story is a devastating one, sensuously conveying a young couple’s love life with a sense of passing along and exorcising — with the passive help of some mule-like creature akin to Cluley’s ‘Crow’ — the ghosts of the past as living forces within the child-bearing produce of their love. The ending is perfect and cannot be given away here.
    “To get through life, you have to ignore so much.”

    ***

    NEARNESS

    “…isn’t just one dark colour. There are speckles of emerald and sapphire along one side, and a jigsaw splotch of pale topaz on the other side,…”

    I have been looking forward to this, having read much work by RRM previously in Black Static. This story deploys the highly believable and importuning viewpoint from a toddler as she learns to walk, and as we follow the slow-motion pointillism of, say, grass blades and a butterfly, and the approach of birds like pigeons, and the tutelary shapes gradually growing definition, from the lessening attenuation via a small child’s adaptive sight, the definition of two women looking after her. Alongside her, we eventually reach our own growing definition of what might be going on. The experience is tantalising and disturbing. I am still sitting here dwelling on what I found out about those two women and what other things the toddler saw, with increasing disturbance of my equilibrium. Subtle and exponentially worrying. Nearer and nearer to nearness, without quite reaching it, like a nightmarish Weird Fiction version of Zeno’s Paradox in media res.

    ***

    Ghosts Play In Boys’ Pajamas
    “His dad told him, never pet a dog while it’s eating. Even a dog that likes you.”
    The dad who is the pa in pajamas? – as the parallel between the cynical sex of our society’s regrouping adults is mis-reflected by their own mid-teenaged children, and this is a worrying story, an oh too too dangerous story of our times, too effectively written, where giving or losing slimy head under the azalea bushes resonates mutatedly with both previous stories. The ghost nested in the pajamas connecting friend with friend, boys who should be playing with better monsters in the fields outside, I guess, than with each other. Not an elbow fight or a wrestling match, but who’s the biggest monster? Being a year younger at a certain age is a thousand years at another age especially where growing out of things matter, till it’s too late.

    ***

    TRYING TO GET BACK TO NONCHALANT

    “The manufacturer doesn’t sell coffins for their dolls.”

    A truly startling story with quite an unpredictable audit trail, where section-breaks work along with plot-breaks until there is no section-break at all at the biggest plot-break imaginable, a plot telling the story of an ex-boxer man at the doctor’s suffering, one guesses, more than just a trivial illness, who befriends the doctor’s receptionist and her young daughter named Jasmine, a daughter, precocious for her age, a girl with a doll.
    I could go on, leading you through the plot’s audit trail, the man’s physical affair with the widowed receptionist, the imaginary games of his relationship with the daughter. You would not believe any of it if I told you. But you DO believe it when you read it in the accretive context of this story. About the semi-cremation as mock healing and later burial, as perhaps prefigured coincidentally by the previous story’s planned cremation and its buried bones in the desert. The later discovery of paperwork such as the ex-boxer’s high school diploma and copy of his will, and the wetwork of his goldfish aquarium. But that tells you only part of the surface plot and its potential meaning. Only the text itself will suffice to take you deeper. A question remains: who leaches into whom, the woman-the daughter-the ‘cancerous’ doll, and their own battle-scarred action man? You will hopefully discover your own answer, as I think I did.

    “He used to love swimming.”

  4. *The One Who Always Gets To Sit in a Chair*

    “With my large scissors I cut the genitals off his corpse so he cannot continue his bloodline from beyond the grave.”

    That’s only the least of it, perhaps!
    Also poached eggs, poach as in steal although via the candling of my own eggs for chicken elbows, I scried that it was also a method of cooking them. Poached fish, too.

    “To steal is a terrible sin. But to then lie about stealing? Unforgivable.”

    Which is all about the Trump/Brexit tipping-point in my book. Meanwhile, in this Mexican ambiance – very well characterised ambiance amid the reader’s mugging – you learn of the poacher’s punishment by being in his head while walking to the boat for escape assured that you will never reach it. What ACTUALLY gets you would be a spoiler to reveal. But you must know that already. Some readers recognising they are already side-finned with disarmingly poached ballast.

  5. 7B580BFE-AF36-4906-85C7-37D10A939732*BEAST*

    “Fortunately, the roots are thin.”

    But which roots? Hair or plant roots or even cables? You know, the disarming quality of this story spurs me to mention that RRM has an aura or audit trail in some of his stories that resonate with that of Ishiguro’s THE UNCONSOLED (my review here). And I mean that as an enormous compliment. There is ALWAYS something or someone BEHIND YOU in THE UNCONSOLED. If you have read it, you will know what I mean. I think RRM has got a style that is irresistible if your mind is mine. Here, meanwhile, a relationship built up between dental hygienist and her patient, and then an AMAZING set-piece scene on the outskirts of the town, where relationships shift in the shadow of a big brown beast and trail tracks caused by tyres if not by giant brown toothpicks. I made that last bit up. Seriously, a story I found immensely satisfying, in spite – or because – of its thin inscrutability of disarming progression. My mug now being caved in by missing teeth inside it. My scalpel of critique now registered, though.

  6. *Grappling with Urine*

    “Keep walking backwards down the wall.”

    In many ways. So simple, yet so complex. Dealing with walls, including the walls of self, and sense of disguised ‘white goods’ embedded in the walls like air conditioning units and their vents, the OCD of keeping them clean, entailing spelunking or pot-holing as an indoors mountaineer or aerialist, and this makes a good mutual companion for my coincidentally concurrent review here with a M John Harrison book. Sense of Beckett, too. A report on the logistics of probabilities. And digging bodily into oneself beyond the sex barrier. It is as if the woman on the floor level is remote controlling, from behind you, a grappling penis aloft to clean her vent.

  7. *You Dry Your Tears If They Don’t Work*

    “Carlos’ two hands, grasped together on the kitchen table, struggled against each other, knuckles whitening, like angels.”

    Carlos is an altar boy, or I reckon alter boy might be more apposite. Boy come amid two priests, one of them new to this church, practising his beguiling ministry on the boy.
    “Splashed deep down inside the pit, helter-skelter across the caved-in sides, lines and triangles of what looked like metal.”
    Talk of God and confession but what if the confession, informal, outside the box, in kitchen with a TV depicting riots in the snowy area around, it is as if we are embroiled in a Weird Fiction as dark and strange and knee-licking as this one with an abrupt gobbo-gritted ground-breaking spiderous explosion outside in the courtyard, and then we as two of its readers arrive on site while dressed as Homeland Security, and the other one as Doctor come to inspect the boy…If all these things, then our lingering unconsoled emotion makes me laugh. But makes you curse.

    “Cursing. When something terrible happens and yet you survive, that’s what the evil do. Curse, instead of laugh with joy at being spared.”

  8. *PICKLE JUICE*

    “In Indian culture, we believe the coal that takes time to light eventually burns longest.”

    This is EITHER a previously unpublished and genuine absurdist masterpiece satirising the politique of sexual relationships in a triangle of knowing and unknowing permutations, a theme and variations embodying race and seafood OR it is the most outrageous tentacular cock-teaser in the history of literature which should be condemned.
    Seriously.
    It ends with the word ‘laughter’, arguably making it also a Brian Rix Whitehall Farce of the old school, whichever of the above shoals of thought you are. Or Whitebait if not Whitehall!

  9. *ZOMBIE BETRAYAL*

    “A woman must convey her sexuality with her body. A man can do it with a look.”

    But by the end of this work, it seems the reverse is true?
    This is another example of Ralph Robert Moore’s Literary Sordid or Sudden Absurdist Shock genre, which I imagine both repels and excites, sometimes – but not always – with both these conflicted effects simultaneously upon a single reader. This substantive work is about a middle-aged woman who tells others, with attritional obsessive relentlessness, about the history of her sex life, over breakfast and while her husband deals with his loose bowels elsewhere, involving a filmic horror sex genre community surrounding this scenario, with its tactile, literally-sick Weinsteinery. The transformation of one film director’s pervading pent-up brinkmanship of cockteasy culmination with this woman, as a bodily degeneration, through cosmetic and culinary filmic make-up and other aberrations, is heart-rending. And the gratuitousness of various objective-correlatives induces acceptance of the repellent-as-read with the disarming at-one-remove diffidence of authorial voice in collusion with a reader’s own at-arm’s-length reading that hardly veils that same reader’s potential literary admiration for the consuming sordidness, even while still trying to veil it upon recognising this tendency.

  10. *OCCULT LIFE*

    “…but I didn’t know what ‘intestinal’ meant. I thought it meant something like ‘insatiable’.”

    Somehow this rings a bell from earlier. An egg-shaped bell whence you see Jupiter and believe you are in an idea-sparking SF story with a nifty metaphor that the story itself reveals without the need of a gestalt real-time reviewer to discover the preternatural occult of its internal literariness. The discovery of alien life. And more culinary sex and shifting relationships for this book of 110,000 words.
    And a toilet that speaks to you to inform you that you have blood in your stool.
    And a moral that every item of supposed good news has to have its counterpart of potential bad news for the good news to exist at all. Stoicism and death running in the family.

    “Just asking, but are you guys deliberately synchronizing my colonoscopy with Brittney’s drilling down through the ice? Like it’s some kind of metaphor?”

  11. *THE GOLDFISH TRICK*

    “You think something is true, but then you glimpse the scaffolding.”

    An older man (who is you later?) warning you today of spiders in bananas, the dating when you are this young of an older woman, missionary position, until you see her meeting ex girl friend in your company and their sex role-playing tricks with fruit instead of goldfish and teaching a cat to talk like a parrot, then talking about making weird cooing faces at babies so as to warn them of the weirdness of their later life, the Weinsteinery of business life, and much more, living in a prop house where, later, actors will be acting out horror films. Take it as red. Take the broom pole prop for granted, skewering your eye socket. There is nothing like a RRM story like this. It makes you feel you were still that baby. Or a mindless banana. Deadpan. Sexy, even old men feel it.

    “It’s amazing to me we don’t fall over more often when we walk. Our feet are so small and our bodies are so big.”

  12. *THE 18*

    A long-seasoned married couple, new Balcony love at the youthful outset, now the last Balcony, the wife dies, he does not tell anyone. No funeral invites to any other than himself. I can empathise with this as in the near future this will be my own dilemma. Unless I go first. Much comfort in this IMPOSTER SYNDROME scenario of there being many of us only just a notch away from the real us. I gained extra comfort from this book being subtitled and advertised as ‘18 stories and novelettes.’ I wept, but I also smiled.

  13. *OUR ISLAND*

    “Fixing their teeth to the concrete.”

    That gobbo concrete again, but this is a refreshing contrast to death-from-old-age in the previous story. Here a sparsely peopled island where naive or native nakedness and childishness are no bar from their furthering the island race, even with first cousins still practising the inducing of almost innocent erections. Taken on journeys off the Texas coast to where those who are hard bitten still subsist … but I did draw breath when I later saw the two orange fish, upon a very young couple’s return to the island following their induction. Fish and flesh do not seem distant from this book. Oyster bites, too. Or goldfish.

  14. *BIG INCHES*

    “Long enough, diligently enough…”

    Staggering stuff, if you imagine officials searching anyone to the nth degree beyond even his teeth and the car he came in and even the gobbo concrete under his car once the car itself was sieved. EVEN the concrete under which he might one day be buried. I made that last bit up! An intensely relentless apotheosis of Evenson and Beckett toward even the umpteenth UNCONSOLED level where I still seek this wonderful book’s gestalt in a similar manner of ultra-grinding perseverance. Big inches that even small sexual urges can maintain.
    Too busy looking under every word to be able to summarise the hawlistic core of everything in this book. More and more Moore to the end of Moore is not even insight yet.

    end

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