35 thoughts on “The Ammonite Violin & Others – Caitlín R. Kiernan


    “Show then a baby orangutan sewn to a fish’s tail, a little papier mâché, and they’ll see what they want to see.”

    Here we develop what we see, too, through the eyes of the ultra-rich worded narrator and the ‘you’ in either bathtub or sea cave, and what love means between a woman and a mermaid, and why is it so painful yet so beautiful to feel. It takes flensing or flaying to accomplish? Or fabrication like the above quote imputes? Or sheer fiction as fucktion made real? Or simply are we taking the words’ littoral contortions of shore and body too literally? If not all us taking the words thus, I may be doing this as the new reader today of this book’s incipient gestalt?


    “Language is only something that’s there to mean what you need it to mean at any given moment,”

    …thus in real-time. whether pangaeum or pangaeus, this is a gestalt of a ménage à trois, seeking the underworld of the city. two women & a man, with the male pov addressing female you and she, a journey filtered through orphic themes from mythology. akin to the previous story by including love’s pain. and hard means to physical ends. your teeth filed sharp. there the language stops. when the light goes out. with me still thinking about it. ultimately provoking. mounting as subbasement. the latter as both a place to reach and a form of oppression? the ambiguity of control? pangaeum sounds like a body part, really.


    “Already, I’m indulging myself with digressions that have no place here.”

    Think Orlando who swung her leg over the donkey with the bridle. Think kelpies, unseelies and selkies. Think selkie as selfie? Think scenes from Red Tree and Drowning Girl. Think paintings and recurrent dreams. Think sexual molasses or sharp teeth or the prow of thighs. The bridle chafed, I suppose. The author will bridle, resentful at my not getting to the bottom of this work. A failure on my part.

    “More words I can’t understand,”


    “And what happens next is never quite the same thing twice, as though the truth of that day is more than she can bear to remember exactly and whole,…”

    Fiction (reading or reviewing it as well as writing it) seems to be the only real means of finding one’s self – here possibly seen as the seeking of the ultimate sealing of self as selfie. This engaging story of one such, a seeming woman out of water as it were in the big city – seeking, as if instinctively, a shop called “Greye’s Anatomy (from 1962)”, with a green door; she is wearing green galoshes and there is a green curtain inside, and in the seeming,y differently recurring dream where she lost the part of her self’s gestalt (“where the land turns green”), she now finds it here in a chest under the piccolo of the beautiful boy who stole it.
    It all seems to make sense to me, instilling new dreams for others. Skin and seek both bring the k back to to replace the f of fiction in self or selfie. And piccolo, like the pangaeum earlier, seems like a body part in the context. Two different body parts now fitting together as a self in its rightful skin. A thought that seals this as a story to recommend others to read if not write in the first place, given a different ending. And thus I seem to be the old man who said: “Mind the difference between the way things seem and the way things are.”

  5. CC6893A2-CD37-4659-8DA6-D1FC5D8796EEODE TO EDVARD MUNCH

    “and she begins to devour me so slowly that I will still be dying in a thousand years.”

    Something that literature also does to men like me. And I have a dream this story is my dream. The wink on the í in the author’s name, notwithstanding. And the sweater is the previous story’s sealskin, and we have Grey’s Elegy here to resonate with Greye’s Anatomy (should be ‘Gray’ in both instances) and another Orpheus on a lake at the bottom of the world. 80A8F351-72AE-4971-916E-EFE8F7A84471Central Park and its Cherry Hills, also notwithstanding. The only difference is – I do not play piano in a Martini bar. And despite the slow creep of dunes, this is not Dune, but something soon to become Coleridge’s Christobel, I guess, while I am stuck in my Pleasure Dome, on my own. Man ever is. Filled with bottles.

  6. THE CRYOMANCER’S DAUGHTER (Murder Ballad No. 3)

    “—and no, it matters not that I do not even now believe in the existence of evil beyond a shorthand phrase for the cruelties and insanity of human beings.”

    I somehow seem to know this substantive, richly textured, Gar Fish Street work was not written recently yet it seems to concern a daughter and her bearskin clad father who abuses her like a puppet, a father who her other Doppler half — reflected in or by a magic shard of mirror, with “gin-addled” grin and “gray eyes” — thinks is a wizard and tries to shake off the life of whom or what was “spent peddling pussy and Clark Stanley’s snake oil liniment.” A message for our times, still panning out even yesterday. The relationship between his daughter and this Doppler woman in Gar Fish Street boarding house seems a Sapphic wonder, but with mixed dreams and hopes and despairs and thoughts of the Snow Queen. All very telling. Too much here to itemise. Yet I cannot leave without mentioning ‘the sympathetic stone’, giving us at least a musical dying fall as consolation, alongside “great reptiles and ammonites”, but “Coleridge’s murdered albatross” as hope.


    “There is no need of time when despair would serve so well as the past and all possible futures.”

    More richly textured than Clark Ashton Smith, these sinuousities, as a parallel is made by the mutually mirrored pecking-order in the previous story with now a faerie girl and the Queen of Decay, the former lambasted by the latter for turning over a stone when following a green lizard. The girl’s wings clipped off and virginity pierced by the Queen. Then through ‘scat shat’ as scatology of some abyssal eschatology, being passed through the Queen’s metabolic system as some form of reverse rebirth. Told like that, in my trials of summary, seems mind-cratering and also takes no account of the various creatures lurking in the margins of the text and of the scat itself. Rarefied text that needs sipping and resipping, not resisting, if you can.

    “There is always farther to fall.”

  8. 67460333-594C-4029-805B-E82362478853THE AMMONITE VIOLIN

    “He lives in a small house in a small town near the sea,”

    In that much, I am similar to this story’s Collector, but the resemblance stops there, although I empathise with him about the sea’s “gray eyes” and about collecting things. Images of the sea and sand for my own music of thought. Górecki and Glass, included. But it’s not a Glass Violin, here, but a violin combining his two otherwise separate collecting obsessions, one of which obsessions you can tell from the title. It is a compelling story, important enough to be recurrently collected itself, not so richly textured as some others so far in this book, and indeed it conveys a breath of sea air between the words to make the pages turn over. The air he took from others is now yours. And the implications are indeed grim, but ultimately satisfying for those who want closure to what men do full stop or what men can do to safeguard those left behind when all men are gone. The world is now “hers and hers alone.” Yours and yours alone. Perrault willing. That voice in Górecki’s symphony no. 3. Not a fat man’s gar-goyle violin, but the sound of “a goddess who has cradled them all, each and every one.” Even though a man, beer-bellied, I am still this story’s go-between phantom with its message in a new language of gestalt… “And sometimes one must look closely to even begin to understand how one thing connects with another.”

  9. Not a violin í but a pennywhistle?


    “, even if she has been a god’s lover,”

    Tell me if this is significant, too. A densely, Proustianly paragraphed work, about the exact inverse of what I happened to see earlier today at the local cinema in the snow – here, now, a woman (a sort of Pied Piper with a pennywhistle not a piccolo) who liaises, at the “dead heart of winter”, with the God of All Rats to obviate the River Snake. Not a Frankenstein or King Kong or Beauty and the Beast, but something far more endemic. Not Prufrock’s mermaids singing each to each but rats.

  10. 04EB8A98-1275-4951-A29F-2776F29C613BMETAMORPHOSIS A

    “Because I saw the film, remember?”

    A film made years after this story was first published. Not sure but am I now riding a momentous synchronicity (as a result of the chance event of my wife persuading me to go for a rare visit to the cinema yesterday) so fast or so slow, down to the “black lake”, another “subbasement” as abasement, some “endless Stygian sea”, whereby the masturbating woman (in the film’s bath?) becomes in metamorphosis the gender-triggered creature itself (hopefully that, rather than becoming the story’s masturbating man in a cinema (the cinema in the film under her flat?)), but the woman now is in the airlocked “isolation chamber”. “The man in the lab coat never even smiled once.” “…the grotesque parody of a penis, lolls from that bloodless gash,…” There is so much for a reader to work on here. Where does the “burning dirigible” fit in, for example? Open to suggestions. Maybe it’s me, trying to frame this uncontrollable review, trying to work out who the first person narrator in this ever-tantalising story is!

  11. Pingback: Synchronicity rampant… | DES LEWIS’ GESTALT REAL-TIME REVIEWS

  12. “It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite…” – opening of ‘Earthly Powers’ by Anthony Burgess.


    “It is only like itself.”

    Earthly powers indeed via this Eyes Wide Shut intoxifest of shlong-dangling tableaux and pungent interaction of participants in animal and bird masks – and of Louis le Dernier and other historical rôle-playing, overlapping with the mutually male orgiastic, ended by a snuff drama. With one example of Transcgendering Powers, too.
    This work is for its own sake.


    “Clever men build clever toys.”

    Clever women, too. Or a blend of both genders, or each gender a changing voyeurisyic sideshow for or of the other. Meanwhile, I’ll try to keep this simple, when talking about this highly textured imaginarium of visionary and erotic fictionatronics. See, I’ve failed already! Try again — A quite amazing tour de force of a person in a childlike contraption that reminds me of my own 1950s childhood toys like a kaleidoscope tube or some ratcheting stereopticon device with changing choices of views or dreams, a contraption that is a sort of sideshow controlled by someone called the Barker who also interacts with us and his real-time audience customers at the surrounding fairground. The person in the stereopticon contraption is himself a voyeur and we readers also become the customers as voyeurs, too, voyeurs of him and what he happens to see upon each choice he makes with the colour-coded ratchet device. This work also has deep implications of meaning that I cannot hope to unpick it here, even if I could do so at all! [As an aside, I have often seen myself as a sort of siDEShow, a dabbler, a voyeur of literature. In many ways, I see this particular work being completely different from Ligotti’s SIDESHOW AND OTHER STORIES but also somehow a sideshow of a theme and variations upon its actual Ligottian hoaxish nature, and, if so, such Kiernanian variations are in ultra-imaginative overdrive, beyond even the scope of Ligotti – as evidenced by what work (great as his work surely is) that he seems, in my estimation, to have summoned from his muse so far. Note, I say “so far.” For completists, here are my two previous time-separated real-time reviews of Ligotti’s SIDESHOW AND OTHER STORIES:
    2008: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/08/06/teatro-grottesco-by-thomas-ligotti-my-sixth-real-time-review-christmas-2008/
    2015: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2015/11/22/teatro-grottesco-thomas-ligotti/#comment-5827 ]


    “And I remember a dream where the sky was filled with gulls,”

    …resonating with the gills you – or your mother – wanted returned as a symbol of regaining self (echoing the earlier inverse or reverse of the metamorphic shape of water in the A that preceded this B.) And indeed being all gill is the opposite of full, I guess. And so I sense this is a tale of pathos and bathos as you the daughter of your mother as mermaid stolen from the sea by your father, and impregnated, are spoken to by me as reader, a reader who is a character in the tale, opening the bathroom door to see the intimacy of such a metamorphosis which all the time has the bathos of the rôle playing antics in the Sphinx’s Kiss, glueing pieces of shell on your body like pitiful masks for each set of open pores. All with the redolent wrack of words used to describe you, words that I begin to reshape by having my own conversation with you outside the bathroom, nearer your natural abode, your covenanted sea, or your mother’s. I am not salacious with my unspoken desire to rip off those shells after you have glued them in place one by one on and around your nipples, I insist. Or perhaps it’s not me at all, but the author masquerading as me or imagining I am truly like that, so putting words into my mouth? As well as into yours?

    “I shut my eyes and listen to the age-old interweave of waves and wind and gull voices.”


    “And then you begin to sing in one of those ineluctable, inscrutable coincidences that attend these long nights.”

    …ineluctable, inscrutable – a simple and better review than I can ever give this book, whatever the genuine coincidences or Fortean synchronicities so important to my own reviews. This work is part of the ‘you’ syndrome to which I am becoming attuned by this book. A me and another person as you: a you with one other person within or a genuine blend of two, here, in this work, a possible blend involved in turn with ‘your’ victims of lycanthropy or with ‘your’ backstory of forced Oedipal connections or with something as inscrutable or ineluctable as it can come or come — so, with me involved, too, a literary, mythic ménage à trois that these works create not so much as a gestalt but certainly as an archetype unique to this book. A shape of words. Any handcuffs, notwithstanding. An archetype that is a creaturely skin game or sphinx’s kiss or, indeed, an ineluctable, inscrutable dream, often set to or by a form of music in or as a sea- or seal-skinned language, and more. Seal in both senses of the word. A, B and Sea.


    “This is her story. The story she told me.
    That is what I recall of her story.”

    But I arrived to fill in that hole, or rather feel that hole, a Fortean experience based on studied cosmologies, quantum physics, the balance of black holes etc. It is as if I have arrived at the central ‘hoax’ of Ligotti that I have drawn attention to when gestalt real-time reviewing the Penguin Classics book of his early stories. His sideshow, with the ‘carny folk’ living outside his trailer, now her trailer, the central character in this story as truth. I came for an empty healing but found something far more, holding my hand under her breasts, to sense what is in or working through that hole, whatever her implied looks otherwise. Like Orpheus daring the subbasement, as his abasement. I’ll leave you to discover the epiphany I found in this work as the woman’s book that contains it. That includes leaving other women to do so, too, their belly empty or full…

    “Or a man might come because all his life he’s felt so empty, all his life he’s felt there’s this terrible knot of emptiness trapped in his belly or behind his eyes.”

  17. (I had cause to exhume this earlier today on a current FB thread about slack and slacks.
    Note particularly its last line in view of my latest review today immediately above.
    First published in ‘Psychopoetica’ 1991)

    WHITE SLACKS by DF Lewis

    The beautiful girl stood upon the sea’s roof as it sloped from horizon to beach … and sloped back again.

    Her hair forked in the gusty wind, legs straddling in sharp-creased slacks.

    The rafters of the sky were a striped storm, the sun’s rays twirling down like spotlights.

    The land separated out into barges, manned by some she had loved … others hated. Their horse-drawn faces were mooning.

    Tilting to and fro, she aimed to dive into the space between … where her heart had been lost.


    “Like when you say to me that it’s not lycanthropy and not vampirism or schizophrenia or merely some glamor you’ve called up from the terrible old books you keep locked away behind glass.”

    …or like the terrible old films in the Orphean subbasement or black lagoon? This core powerful work lushly evokes again (and effectively preceded) the physical aspects of sex from The Shape of Water, a cinema film that I saw by chance last week and was created long after this book was first created. Also this work blends themes from the rest of the book so far, and perhaps the convulsions of an Oedipal motherhood birthing creatures for her son’s sexual and spiritual experimentation. With the seed sown by this work’s title and its…”sort of Darwinian imperative at work, survival of the most imaginative…”


    “You stand and help me to my feet, then lead me the short distance to the vivarium tank.”

    A gorgeously paced texture of life-refetching and fetching poetic prose with mythic, erotic and undead streams, building on this book’s I-You gestalt with themes that I have adumbrated so far in this book, this time with a Mad Scientist tinge. It also seems to encapsulate its creative linkage with the movie (that this book preceded by some years) that happened last night to fetch back the Oscars for best film and director. And I have just realised that the texture and ineffability of this book so far remind me preternaturally of the developing gestalt of the around one hundred luxurious books so far published by Ex Occidente Press from 2009 (all my reviews linked from here https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/complete-list-of-zagava-ex-occidente-press-books/ )

  20. ECCB91A1-B3F5-4036-9DED-2483AA9F6D3D“…observing to water them gently, until they have taken route,…”
    From ‘Fragile Anamnesis: Four Fragments towards an Understanding of Matter’
    By D.P. Watt in his Ex Occidente book ‘Dehiscence’

    Also see ANEMNESIS IN EXTREMIS by Dominy Clements, the famous flautist.
    In The First Book Of Classical Music Horror Stories (Megazanthus 2012)
    The misspelling possibly a reference to Nemonymous.


    Ammonite anamnesis or a patient’s account of their own medical history, or a memory of a past life via a route of dreams as a girl with a mirror reflection, a blister and a psychiatrist. Of the essence of this book so far, as well as standalone, stepalone, up and down, whether seeing top or bottom, subbasement or top attic, Hell or Heaven, I guess.
    It starts on page 211 instead of 213 as the contents of this book at the beginning state, a phenomenon that seems strangely appropriate, as if intended, with the Zeno’s Paradox of catching sleep in this story and its “time-stretching trick of dreams.” The sea oats and the beach, notwithstanding.
    By the way, last night I saw GOTTA LIGHT? In isolation with its Penderecki music. The creature that comes out of the ripe plum blister and enters her here seems obliquely concomitant.

    “I might break off a bit of my shadow…”

  21. SCENE IN THE MUSEUM (1896)

    “‘I’ll keep my boots on, thank you all the same,’ says Mary. ‘These marble floors are cold, I bet. I bet they’re almost as frigid as the goddamn bottom of the sea.’”

    A touching, suspenseful, painterly, mythic-tinged story of a geologist with inscrutably covered blind eyes on a regular assignment with a young whore called Mary in friction-sounding red dress (a name compared by the geologist to a Biblical Mary), the assignment in the museum after it is shut for the day. Mermaid and shark-riven men as memories of one or both. The revelation of razor blade and eyes is a musical dying fall ending, incredibly effective. Not as you would imagine, by reading this review alone. Bunuel or Dali, notwithstanding. Though you might or might not easily imagine the murals in the museum.

    “I only suffer from lesbianism. I am not a vampire.”


    “Elise: The grave is but a covered bridge, leading from light to light, through a brief darkness!” – LONGFELLOW

    Tennyson in the previous story, Longfellow here. But we do not know quite HOW long till the culmination. If we know then, that is. This seems to be a coda to this life-changing book, to its “improbable symphony.” In many ways, I keep my wig’s powder dry, but I will say I thank whatever forces allow such books to be written and that I read it before I passed on to that ‘covered bridge’. These stories first published in 2005-2007.
    This final one is about a dressmaker, sickly since a girl, who is not exactly a medium, although there is gossip about her visitations from ghosts, and these visitations are described in a language that is the apotheosis of Kiernan. How can one describe it otherwise?
    A room corner morphed, spirits “jealous of her flesh”, so seeking it carnally, and I infer, concupiscently, amid gas streetlights, and polychromasia.
    “…she was born to be a violin or cello or a penny whistle,” and “…she knows there would be tears if the dead did not, inevitably, forget how to cry.”


  23. Pingback: The Ammonite Violin | DES LEWIS’ GESTALT REAL-TIME REVIEWS

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