TREPIDATIO PUBLISHING 2017
When I real-time review this book during 2018, my comments will appear in the thought stream below…
TREPIDATIO PUBLISHING 2017
When I real-time review this book during 2018, my comments will appear in the thought stream below…
“All I wanted was a mocha Frappuccino with soy, right? Same order, every time. He never got it right. Milk, vanilla, always something wrong.”
Aleatoric Gestalt Angst – not what this subtly frightening story says the acronym stands for – but I need to cover my tracks about reading it, as I have now a nagging paranoia that I suffer from the same lethal innocence as one of those two men here engaged not necessarily in laddishly random pub talk but in its more targeted cocktail bar ‘proximate cause’ equivalent of fateful conversation. A story that is bound to get me the wrong drink the next time I order one, then what will happen to the barman who mixed it? Out of my hands? Good job my wife does not collect knives.
I reviewed the next story in 2016 here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2016/04/24/hyde-hotel/#comment-6945 and this is what I said about it in that context:
Lost and Found by S P Miskowski
“Always comparing things to other things.”
I am, indeed. And before I tell you that this story is a perfect one for me, I need to excuse an embarrassment of riches in this book so far, one gem following another gem, from room to room in this hotel where my favourite writer stays in turn.
“The hallway is curved, which seems odd in a building that looks square. Optical illusion, or an architectural compensation.”
That is the previous story’s domain, I guess.
Anyway, this story blends the literary features of two of my all time favourite writers, Robert Aickman and Elizabeth Bowen (link is to my Bowen site), as well as of a writer just as rarefied who is SPM no doubt. In fact, Bowen in her own photographs strongly resembles, with her cigarette, the description of the photograph seen by this Hyde hotel stayer (a Canadian woman out of her comfort zone in Britain to visit the haunts of HER favourite author, an author who I reckon, despite the biographical differences, is Bowen herself with a pseudonym, and who also surely must have written some of her fiction in various rooms of the Hyde).
This story is this book’s deadpan aura to the nth degree, reaching out to reside forever smouldering away with an inability to leave the hotel at all.
“The sheets are damp with sweat. They don’t smell like me,…”
I am so sincerely taken with this story, as if it were written specially for me (I know it wasn’t) – and I can’t bring myself to leave it. No irony intended.
But needs must.
“…the tantalising aroma of bacon and eggs reached me. I let my hunger lead me down a passage with streaky black stains, apparent scars from years of food trolleys banging against the walls.”
A masterpiece. It really is.
“Only a real mom would sew an original gown and plan a perfect party.”
Despite the beautifully conveyed frivolities of a children’s party – near Halloween, but when the birthday girl has to wear a specially made birthday dress while envying her best friend who is allowed by HER mother to dress as a witch – there is an insidious turn of events that I think will stay with me, by contrast with everything else going on. Someone being let through the front door by another mother, someone who is a seemingly unknown smelly woman guest and makes a very oblique switch of events that it would take me an age to describe to you, but is done deftly here within the story. This turned out to be a far more significant work than I anticipated at its outset and even throughout most of it…till I ended it and suddenly gasped!
I reviewed the next story in 2016 here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2016/11/24/the-madness-of-dr-caligari/ and this is what I said about it in that context:
SOMNAMBULE by S.P. Miskowski
“You can never know how quiet rooms are until you’ve seen them full of kids laughing and fighting and playing, and then empty.”
Earlier today, I was talking generally on FB about ‘nailing’ stories for this real-time review site. I think some people thought it an odd expression to use. This story has levels of narrator and listener, some listeners becoming narrators about someone else narrating to them; in fact I am now so obsessed with this recurrent rhythm, I am not sure how many layers there actually were, probably less than I remember. Indeed the exact nature of the linking might be inadvertently misrepresented above, too. It has sort of nailed me with this onward compelling drive of its nested narrations but also with a desperate feeling that I haven’t yet seen the point come out the other side of me. This story itself, to my mind, thus needs a full nailing in the context of this book’s eponymous madness, with a plot involving women giving childcare services, and other women accepting that childcare, often a regular childcare routine, at other times it is more emergency childcare than anything else, together with a recurring cigarette habit, a perfume as part of hypnosis therapy, sleepwalking like I may be sleepwalking as I write this, marital cruelty from a husband, brotherly relationship to a sister, a boy child who’s caught up in such interlocking issues, a perfume bottle that’s endlessly threaded like a baton from narrator to narrator, from the story’s end back to its beginning, just as I sense this whole book will become a ouroboric gestalt of nested narrations, with each reader (sleepwalking or not) serving as the means of the book’s cohesive stigmata.
“Mary had to laugh, thinking of Brenda trying to unsnarl the nappy curls on a terrier’s back.”
I had to sit here for quite a while dwelling on the meaning of this piece, which is a good, not a bad, thing. I also became tinged with an element of dog smell and flea that I could not shake off from simply having thus to think of them, as I believe there have been other unshakeable-off smells in this book already. Was the name of Mary the reluctant dog-groomer significant in the light of the over-the-top Christmas decorations and the serpents that her boss Brenda seemed to prefer to dogs? Was the rabbit-fur garment once given to Mary by her ex-husband significant to the zoo’s sample of bear or mink fur showed to her by a blind date who specialised in drive-in takeaway meals because of his otherwise wrong body attached to his perfectly handsome head?
This was like Flannery O’Connor and more. But hers was about a gorilla suit.
“Only when they reached a quiet pause did they notice two elderly women on the other side of the hedge.”
‘The Other Side of the Hedge’, a short story by EM Forster mentioned in a concurrent review only yesterday (https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/12/27/the-drone-outside/#comment-11409). This SPM, though, is a sister to FUR, a story of three penniless students eking out in a far from satisfactory house share, or the Hedge-gossipy reputation of this story house itself defaults eponymously when they have to extend the rent share to a fourth student, one man and three women now, instead of one and two. Prehensility in a prose style to die for. Just hirsute horror or what else? Think about it. No easy default now.
Also an interesting depiction of fire-fear OCD in one of the students.
In June 2016, I read and reviewed the next work – STAG IN FLIGHT in STRANGE IS THE NIGHT – and below is a copy and paste of what I wrote about it then here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2016/06/01/stag-in-flight/
STAG IN FLIGHT
Pages 7 – 20
“Anticipation was the same as anxiety.”
I have become a fan of this author’s work. Simply that.
Well, I follow this character study of a young man called Benny who seems to blend a number of factors that make him uniquely him. Followed and pestered by busy-bodies who want to meddle in his life for his own good. He has a cursed life, in many ways, Asperger’s or OCD, perhaps, anxious absurd dreams, and so forth. But he also has a blessed life, being given free access to a therapist by one of the pestering do-gooders. But that does no justice to how all this is told. The witty turns of phrase, wise homilies and objective correlatives. There, I have just used an expression I usually keep in my head, being afraid to appear pretentious or simply confused about their meaning. And no justice, too, to the characters involved. And now upon the page where I have reached in the middle of this story, where the cover image is the latest busy-body on his sleeve. Climbing up towards his face, under the gaze of the therapist. And the internal artwork illustrations, so far, by artist NICK GUCKER are highly complementary to these my thoughts about the text, the text itself climbing up toward where it might like to reside in my head, if not for these images in the spaces-between so as to save me by making me afraid to continue beyond this point?
How to exemplify what I mean about this story’s accomplished style? If the author and publisher will forgive me, upon those dim shores where I see them standing beyond the text… I will quote a typical example of how happy people need to keep reminding all of us, as well as themselves, of their happiness. This leads to a simple deadpan ingenuity of fiction expression: “Benny thought of the newly happy as a frayed wire, compressed by duct tape and sputtering with a current they couldn’t handle.”
A frayed wire soon becomes afraid wire for me, I find. Crossed and unearthed.
(This chapbook is signed by artist and author, and is numbered 132/150.)
Pages 20 – 33
“Through tunnels and sewers, night clouds and falling leaves, he had a dim awareness.”
The mirth that can move the earth.
Sometimes you read something, and you know it works, but not HOW it works. The best way to work.
Whether, here, it is EITHER some retrocausal-gradual version of Kafka’s metamorphosis instead of a sudden forward-linear version OR a fabulous instinct from that shamefully pretentious ‘objective correlative’ expression I used earlier: an instinct where a fantastical thing happens for real, a language metaphor having taken physical passage upon me, a living metaphor, where I am the 43 bus and the passengers all different bits of me, a therapy by accidental blatant unmasking of utter self-absorption where ‘therapist’ becomes the rapist full stop dot period end.
It is, I suggest, none of those things. It is something quite else, taking you by the positive scruff of the neck. Just look at the stag’s head, its antlers at first tumescently stiffened wide apart as shown in Gucker’s depiction of this stag upon a breast, then, at the end, its antlers finally poised nearer, tantalisingly about to touch each other, wire to wire, like God’s and Adam’s fingers upon the Sistine ceiling shortly to complete their circuit.
MS. X REGRETS EVERYTHING
“After decades a youthful memory becomes paper-thin, almoost too fragile to unwrap.”
A life story shown to us in random chunks of time, making the gestalt of this woman that at the end I hopefully do not misunderstand, but sadly those people important to a decision upon her last few future years wilfully do misunderstand it. The danger of all gestalts and interpretation of them. A vivid portrait emerges of a woman who is blamed for her past evil but we need also to factor into this portrait the worse evil that caused her evil. There are degrees of evil. A gradation and graduation.
“Nine. The number nine, so sacred it must be spelled out every time.”
A CONDITION FOR MARRIAGE
“…to clean the inside of their house within an inch of its life. That was Sandy’s therapy, her way of working off mild frustration. This was the first time she’d ever attacked the garden itself.”
A tantalising sororal interchange between California and Seattle by telephone and later FaceTime, one sister feeling responsible for the other, but glad to be out of range and able to lead her own life now without dealing with the other one who is now married, albeit married to a frustrating anal-retentive man. But which sister, I sense, and perhaps I am wrong, is really the most vulnerable as things get completely out of hand? Or are they in fact not sisters at all, but two halves of the same hysteria? Unreliable narrator or someone who just mixes up Tiki and Tyke, with such sororal sensitivity to views of a lethally pacific madness being stronger from that side of America?
“You see parents in lame superhero costumes tagging along, checking their cells and pretending to have fun while the tykes beg for candy.”
In March 2015, I read and reviewed the next story here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2015/03/20/black-static-45-interzone-257/#comment-4181 and below is what I wrote about it then:
The Second Floor
“The one exception was a collaborative project funded by the city, a sprawling work combining musicians, acrobats and found text.”
A found text like this, read out of order, on the second floor, above backstory’s ‘basement’, I guess. This, for me, is a high-literary work, as if by Elizabeth Taylor or Elizabeth Bowen, where Jane, once starveling theatrical student, now found good and gala-ised, returns to the bed and breakfast establishment where she originally lodged with those acting colleagues of her backstory, almost an enforced mission, by text or taxi, to dirty her hands again. Find the theatre again, where once she found her self, later lost, now due to be found again, like a friend’s text, a friend that is her own self as well as other passing strangers masquerading as friends upon the trodden boards. A theatre with a backdrop of scenery hung on hooks or those earlier grey men now on hands and knees? A found drama. A place that once had a backed-up toilet.
DEATH AND DISBURSEMENT
“People told me I was good at customer service, a real ‘people person,’ and I accepted the compliment. But it wasn’t true.”
Reading between the lines, as I did with an earlier story today, about the telephone claims enquiry operator as the narrator and what she tells us about her vulnerable colleague who became upset by rude customers and just reading the implicit runes of that narrator’s mind by what she revealed to us during this Halloween period, I wondered who was the maddest mover and shaker of what happened subsequently – whether it was the aged demented customer desperate for his monthly cheque during a snowstorm to thwart the demons he thought to be at his door, or the vulnerable female operator, or the narrator herself or, as I eventually suspected, the author of this story itself. But now looking around me for fear of what might creep up on me, I come to the conclusion it’s none of the above!
In 2015, I read and reviewed the next story here https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2015/12/20/cassildas-song-editor-joe-pulver/#comment-6108, and below is what I wrote about it in that context:
Strange is the Night by S.P. Miskowski
“He would lie in the pale dawn while the city cast jagged shadows across the art deco building where he had lived for twelve years. He would stare at his five hundred square feet of hardwood floors and fluted glass door knobs,…”
As satisfyingly acute as the 20th century mad Machiavellianism of Bulkin and the fin de siecle elegance of the entrepreneurs in Tanzer, this is another tractably ‘al dente’ prose-textured theme and variations of things Yellow, here retroactively retributive with a truly dramatic closing scene that the false balcony would have been in the Tanzer, if Tanzer hadn’t left the whole book’s avant garde climax for Miskowski to wreak.
Not tangible Yellowness like paint or wax so much as Marmalade.
Again gender and office or business politics take sway, and the abstraction versus representation Aesthetics debate from the Tanzer becomes here the different traditions of reviewing plays: encouraging versus condemnatory etc.
This is a hilarious, page-turning story of a failed playwright who plugs away in an office’s hive of carrels, with a sense of the earlier geometric glass ceiling; he represents the bullying with racial implications from the Chesya Burke, and unlike the more subtle retributive distaff machinations of the Bird and the Tobler-Walters, there can be nothing more clear-cut as theatrical thick-cut marmalade causing all of us unequivocally to cheer on the radiant actress whom he had earlier called ‘porcine’ in his review.
This makes a perfect witty scatology / eschatology of a Yellow coda to the whole book, and I, for one, now replace tears of sadness with tears of laughter.
In 2016, I read and reviewed the next story here https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/autumn-cthulhu/#comment-7197, and below is what I wrote about it in that context:
This is a both a hilarious and poignant portrait of a woman, from her own point of view, of her relationship with a live-in man friend, with marriage in mind, and he reminds me of myself at least in his poor d-i-y skills (particularly plumbing) and with his head in the whale-shaped clouds! But I can’t see myself wanting to watch blobby cartoons! Such a description – with its wittily sharp turns of phrase concerning character and bureaucracy and about the place where they live together – is, however, only one aspect about this story.
There are darker, more cosmic and more thoughtful shades that fill this believable woman with disarming visionary power. Her stoical wandering, seeing from afar the place where hippies go to die (utterly haunting), and suddenly encountering a building of apartments that is reminiscent of an ocean cruiser. There also seems to be a fearfulness about life, a fearfulness that stems from affectionate memories of her father and of his tale to her during childhood of a giant’s accretive vibrations that he concocts to disguise an earthquake’s horror – but now, today, there is a parallel accretion of “slow leaks” of infant terror-visions in the ocean cruiser building into which she is tempted almost in rebellion against somethings she’s leaving behind – leaks that no plumbing can stop, leaks building up into a frightening grown-up flood of images…
An entertaining fable but with an amorphously indirect moral that, for me, has more force than if the moral had been direct and confidently clear.
“Maybe everyone should be a little bit afraid of the things we can’t explain.”
In the last few years, I somehow knew that this author had become a favourite writer of mine, a literary tantaliser supreme. This book finally shows me exactly why this is the case.