32 thoughts on “Welcome to Sugarville – J.J. Haas

  1. God Helps Those Who Help Themselves

    “Crossing a bridge over the Chattahoochee, he looked down to see pine trees covered in a dark-green shroud of wilted kudzu alongside a bone-dry riverbed.”

    Even here in UK, reading this today, mention of ‘kudzu’ tells me exactly the nature of the place where this text with felicitous style takes me. I follow the compelling, increasingly desperate and bedroughted quest for water (away from his wife and gated community), the quest of Dr. Albert Cole (ironically, perhaps, a cataract specialist) as he reaches what I can only describe as an encounter with deeper reaches of this land than just water. A dire duel with another Doctor by dint of PhD (a native man with the name of Agaska and, incidentally, my first substantial work that I wrote in 1984 was called ‘Agra Aska’, later published in 1998).
    The ending is perfect. I also learnt a new word: giardia. I am already entranced. If I can, I intend to eke out this book’s stories towards its novel gestalt, and savour it slowly, as if it is a long-sought after watering in short supply. And I noted in the first story that even Lake Lanier was somewhat bedroughted.

  2. The Greenway

    “After all, she needed to keep her heart rate up in order to meet her cardiovascular goals.”

    Lucy Beaumont who lives on Sugarville Greenway is three years younger than I am. Out for her constitutional. Recognises some passers-by as younger versions of her own family past and present. Poignant ending, where I recognise the term ‘green way’ as almost a fairy story’s vanishment into the forest. (As a reader here about her walk, I deem it OK that I was following on behind, wondering who she really might be, hoping she might turn her head to face me.)

  3. Waiting for the Apocalypse

    “People are getting uglier every day, evil is everywhere you look, and Satan has established a stronghold in this world.”

    I am a mere Brit, but I think I can see the satire here of an American town in its heartland, and that end blast upon God’s Trump at the brink of apocalypse, but I may have got the wrong end of one of the Tentacles across the Atlantic. Whatever the case, he made me laugh, this man who attends Sugarville Baptist Church and thinks himself in cahoots with God and the survivalist kick and then leaving his tedious job to sell holes in the ground and call them bunkers against mayhem and other ways and means of manly gumption and so forth. But, as someone else said to him: “happy wife, happy life.” I think we all shall be mulching down for the night soon. “Net-net”, a story that sort of chews the final day’s fat with any sympathetic reader.

  4. The Waiting Room

    “The walls were unusually close together and contained amateurish paintings depicting the history of Sugarville—the Train Depot, the General Store, the First Baptist Church—“

    Jack is persuaded by his wife to seek a second opinion by a doctor on his cancer. The waiting room bears out all my nightmares about such places and my own hopefully erstwhile cancer. [And it seems, with its ‘getting even’ and ‘tie-breaking’, to somehow chime synchronously with a short short I happened to write two days ago here: http://www.ligotti.net/showthread.php?p=146250#post146250 ]

  5. The Black Parade

    “Your job is simple: make the kids laugh and keep them from getting crushed by a float.”

    Sugarville Corolla Fallstaff dollar-bills City Hall Mr Willis – but without this double L fulfilled was Bob’s cologne!
    Mimic and learner red-nosed clown at the town band parade, pubertal teenage Andrew is out for his early oats with Amy (she just shed her now previous boy friend), plus oldster Santa Claus with a secretly stowed bottle of what did him good, I really think I now know Sugarville’s gestalt thrust : a larger than life sinkhole aka Hell. And of course that umbrella at the end.

  6. The Disappearing Man

    “, sat directly opposite him but a foot and a half taller…”

    Disappearing – after a Friedrich Nietzsche quote – starting with his feet, the double L gone as it were, the calves and shins soon following. That made it one all, till all was gone. His young beautiful black personal trainer woman in attendance. But she didn’t notice. A sort of fading into one’s own background as it were, something that one and all of us face during departmental meetings at work. I knew it all so well. Thank goodness, with age, I am long gone from all that. Incredibly telling, this fell fable. That Sugarville sinkhole in another form?

  7. The Package

    A wonderful short short about a Sugarville man suffering from anxiety. Is he another nervous survivalist? It also helped cure my own anxiety about having enough ability to interpret books properly when gestalt real-time reviewing.

  8. Soulmates

    “I only have one rule: it’s easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission.”

    From a morning’s decaf vanilla latte, via Mozart and Monet, met or match, we follow a woman who once started VR liaisons work as a home office job for the money to help a redundant Husband, now, it turns out, for something more than she thought she wanted, as we delve into realms of sexual identity, erotic orientation and how WiFi turns a Wife into a real self beyond the masquerade. Give or take the odd helpful computer virus.

  9. A Model Citizen

    “He ate a lonely breakfast of cold cereal at the kitchen table in his Sugarville home and watched the news on TV. President Trumbull…”

    A blend of the identity morphing in the previous story with the earlier medical waiting room traumas, this is the story of a septuagenarian like me, who decides to buck the system by spending an old penny. When he does, bearing in mind his exact age, he leaves appropriately on a road called I-75. With poignant, telling, paradoxically cathartic results, even if we have already had our chips.

  10. The Last Book

    “, and looked like he had melted into the bed.”

    A telling brief vision of an old man dying and giving his grandson a book…

    I found this even more powerful having just finished a few minutes ago reviewing this work where the narrator IS a gestalt book….an ironic connection among many other connections perhaps about death, generations, leaving things — perhaps half-baked associations on my part?

  11. The Content Provider

    “He appeared supremely confident in spite of the fact that he was impersonating a pseudonym.”

    A darkly satirical caricature of publishing fiction these days as well as becoming a human dildo. A story that should become very popular and make its author a fortune as based on its own assessment of the potential audience for such as itself. Sugarville’s own.

  12. The Theory of Doors

    “In fact, not choosing is a choice in and of itself, a choice that’s not forced on you, the only choice you can really make on your own.”

    “In a sense, God is a collaborative art form.”

    “You have to have the courage to be an outsider.”

    With such contradictions embedded, the three internet-arranged ‘romantic’ dates after his widowhood in search of suitable suicide pact material, constitute the momentous story of an ageing professor, each date with situations and each situation’s props as objective-correlatives, such as a picture of the Great Wall of China, and we are led to what can be seen as an occasionally recurring pattern in the gestalt of Sugarville, a pattern that ends with a climax of utter overkill. Skirting between the coordinates of a desperate desire not to die alone and a Ligottian anti-natalism and a philosophical macho quality in order to transcend uncertainty’s certainty and a gestalt that is God, we have here perhaps an ineluctable pattern for our times — if one can use ‘perhaps’ and ‘ineluctable’ in the same breath? The same final breath! The overkill that is us today. Drinking another human’s blood for lack of water?

  13. Setting the World to Rights

    “Some whodunit. I just read for fun now that I’m retired and don’t have to prove anything to anyone anymore.”

    I keep thinking I can retire soon and give up working on literary or intellectual books like this one. Still, it has its moments, this story disguised as a whodunit while ironically pinpointing popular genre fiction as always ending righteously with their various worlds put to rights, ever with those comforting genre templates created. No more need for me to struggle with sinkholes or sudden gratuitous overkills. Hell, I’ll really be able to put the ‘l’ back in sugarvile.

  14. The Bag Man and the Bag Lady

    ‘Early is on time and on time is late’

    That has been my motto all my life. Good to see it here, expressed for the first time in my hearing or sight. But never too late.
    The story of the man escaping the Cosa Nostra by returning to his childhood home in Sugarville where he assumes he’d be forgotten but isn’t. Another wise saw of going back to base being better than running all your life. Even if death ever comes on time?

  15. A Frank Discussion

    “How could I ever explain what happened?”

    Two men named Frank in prison. One tells of the ultimate crime of passion.
    But then, I think, passion and prison have at least visual assonance as words, hmmm.

  16. Peccadilloes

    “The Piccadilly Cafeteria was always crowded on Sunday afternoons,…”

    A satire on the competing churches of Sugarville’s American heartland, the thirst for funding, and founding extensions, and this particular priest with wife and precocious daughter, involving fantasising to enable marital sex, coercion of worshipers’ estates, and trafficking for favours… An unlikely scenario, but what do I know?

  17. The Firing Squad

    “Our commanding officer explained that one of the rifles contained blanks to ease our consciences,…”

    A powerful short short that reminds me that I have been happenstantially in concurrent episodic watching of the nine hour film ‘Shoah’ while experiencimg a Welcome To Sugarville. And I dwell on the fact of the unknowable loophole in a killing force’s gestalt being the only way to get humans to do such things to other humans. The victim, though, is a gestalt.

  18. The Man Upstairs

    “, Harry held the unspoken belief that while New Testament forgiveness applied to him and his family, Old Testament justice applied to just about everyone else.”

    This is such a telling piece about a holy heartland evangelist finding an intruder snoring in the attic of his new house. And about such blind righteousness embodied in the previous story staining humanity’s book of concocted devotions with the blood of the Masterbuilder or His Carpenter son. The evil is in those below not in those above.

  19. Watching the River Flow

    “There’s no such thing as a metareality. You might as well claim there’s a bearded man in the sky.”

    And that is me with my emerging gestalt! So, there.
    Less seriously, or perhaps more so, this is a very thoughtful, if eventually important, cathartic argument between an atheist and another who considers God as a metareality beyond the grasp of science and its meteorreality. (That last word is mine, not the story’s.)
    Important, because it is within the developing evolution of movements of this book’s Sugarville or Storyville symphony, movements as divided by emblematic pictures. And I can imagine, as that bearded man in the sky, the Storyville river flowing like an audit trail through eternity, while those who have arguments about it are cathartically, if not catholically, drowned within it.

  20. The Last Known Believer

    “You threw the Baby Jesus out with the bathwater.”

    A hilariously absurdist teaser of a teleological or ontological loop as a conundrum telling of a request for advertising the Second Rapture of an archetype of God, an archetype depending on one’s own particular otherwise irrelevant sect or faith, a request from something claiming to be the Angel Gabriel who has appeared before a publicity-potential TV host in his pajamas who is currently an atheist, a lapsed past believer, in fact. Why the need for an advert? Well, because nobody had turned up at a previous attempted Rapture. But that’s when the whole story shrunk to a dot like an old TV just switched off. An instructive fable about self-serving that only this book could have managed to pull off by dint of its own foregoing context.

  21. Things Not Seen

    Compared to a “skinny latte”, a cross-stitched fabric is far more textured and substantial. Particularly if the words stitched upon it mean something substantial to at least someone. Very telling fable of a pragmatic jobbing actress, who meets a man in a café whose wife was lost in the recent substantial aircrash. The cross-stitch means nothing to her but it may mean everything to him. God included. A blind faith towards happiness or healing that she passed on to someone even if she did not have that blind faith herself, is an ACT that will take you to Heaven, too? Altruism, by withholding your own scepticism, as a blind faith in the emptiness of reality? An Act of Creative Fiction? This fable.

  22. The Holy Terror

    “…the family’s very own Tower of Babel, rising from the red Georgia clay in a hubristic attempt to touch the face of God.”

    A substantive work to end the book. And here that drought in Georgia is mentioned again, the previous mention being the cathartic or ironically gratuitous ‘overkill’ with which this book started, and it’s very telling seeing that this book ends with a drowning.
    “…his preternaturally white smile shining down from the pulpit like a beacon.”
    The Reverend Blackwell appears again here at the end of this book’s own preternatural gestalt, and his actions take on a new aspect here in view of his backstory-ville we have learnt already, before reading about him again now. His recommendation for Bobby, the ten year old eponymous adoptee boy, to be submitted to the Christian based “attachment-therapy” to see if he can be cured of his exponentially worsening behaviour. His uncle who has been forced to adopt him by some Will, God’s Will, Free Will, Legal Will, and the extended family involved and the family business all take on a susceptible backdrop to this holy terror at its core. With the further backdrop of this book’s earlier adumbration of Christian sentiments and the absurdist nature of God and His philosophical existence, factored into Old Testament versus New Testament sentiments. A frightening mixture from a religion that propounds the virtues of a fiction called Christ? This book itself as fiction, too, is here to face that mixture out with its own still fermenting literary mixture of fable and overkill. The only way to meet overkill is with another overkill, one with better ends to its means. My own attachment-therapy is an attempt to force things into a gestalt, a fight where I look every book in the eye, making it submit to my will. This worthy book thankfully fought back. And it has finally shuffled into its shape of a novel metaphysical thrust by dint of its symphonically-movemented pattern of stories, despite whatever I have still to discover from it. A gestalt review of certain books can never be complete. Virtual stories that master-build a new Babel Tower upon the side of a river, one of arguable riparian ownership. Virtual and virtuous reality in synergy. I could go on. About the plane that crashed earlier into the sugar beet?

    “All I can say is you have to let God be the tiebreaker.”

    end

  23. Many thanks for this fantastic series of reviews, figuratively and literally. It’s a great pleasure for a writer when someone “gets him,” and you certainly do. One question: if you had to locate this book in a marketing genre, which would you choose?

    • Good question, Jeff. I would call it modern literary. But I could never categorise my own stuff! Thanks for writing a book I found fulfilling. And thanks for your comments on my comments.

      • Thanks. There does seem to be a lot of cross-pollination going on among the genres these days, and I count that as a good thing overall. Perhaps my attempt to merge elements of fantasy and crime fiction could be seen as a literary experiment. My goal through the Sugarville stories has been to heighten the drama by combining those elements in order to place my protagonists in moments of crisis that reveal their true nature. My main influence has been the black humor of Flannery O’Connor and Kurt Vonnegut, though I suspect that my results may be even darker.

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