A fearless faith in fiction — Employing a Kantian or Jungian sensibility and an ‘intentional fallacy’ consciousness — Various passions of the reading moment — Walter de la Mare, ELizabeth BOWen, Robert Aickman and many others old and new — Please click my name below for this site’s navigation and my backstory as intermittent photographer, writer, editor, publisher & reviewer.
I estimate being able to start reading this in about 3 weeks.
THE HARDER IT GETS THE SOFTER WE SING
by Steven J. Dines
1. Never Open A Story With A Dream
“A rain to drown all rains and the memory of rains.”
And never open a gestalt-review (here of a novella) with personal connections or with contemporary observations that have happened since the work was written. But that is a picture of me in Salisbury a number of years ago, a photograph from Black Static itself at that time. And yesterday in Middle England there was the Mother of all Rainstorms. And in Salisbury, in recent weeks, there has been that Russian nerve agent business. And here the rain seems to leave handprints of that very patina or deadly veneer of mould? And so this first chapter starts with the author’s dream. Or is it the narrator’s? A real-seeming dream of being in a bar in Los Angeles with Bukowski and Bradbury and their typewriters, and I imagine a laptop’s keys clogging in a pecking order bunch of spindles when several keys are pressed simultaneously, as if with these writers’ old typewriters in the dream. A dream that does seem to end.
A more striking start to any fiction you would have to go far to find.
(“I saw Elvis at the mall last night. He was eating pizza with DF Lewis. Can’t think why they’d ordered anchovies.” Karl Edward Wagner’s published mention of a dream in the 1990s.)
2. Never End A Dream And Enter A Flashback
“The House of Mould.”
Never quote the first sentence of a chapter. Never reveal anything that can be considered a spoiler. So I will simply say I LOVED the wordplay here, gritty, but witty, too. I infer past interaction with his wife and three year old Alfie. A scene of Domestic Dire. And Alfie’s Twilight Zone vocabulary’s neologism: gwibber for squirrel.
3. Never Start The Story Proper In The Third Scene
But once a scene never forgotten. Never rubbed off.
“We are going to be okay, I think.
We are going to be okay.”
This scene in the garden of their new rented abode. He – do we yet know his name? – and his wife Sue and toddler Alfie. The backstory crystallises here whatever is found against its place in the structure now. And the ark of words being sought in hard copy to prove or disprove such stricture of narrative structure? I loved the observational detail of their new neighbour, including “the raised island on his lawn” of “dandelion rosettes.”
4. (Future chapter titles withheld from this review)
“The House of Mould.”
One of the most touching scenes of a Domestic Dire you may ever read, especially when couched in Alfiese. I infer the narrator is a writer of fiction. With a post-it forest. Not a spoiler in sight. It is helluva strong stuff, when things are inferred. That typewriter’s miscarriage, now for real.
“Men are the outsiders: slow, dim-witted animals rolling in the mud of denial…”
Mud or mould, we reach a relatively airier stage where mould is more a formed shape that the past holds. Now more hope than woe-cake? But can you take horror out of horror fiction, when you simply know these typewritten words are housed here in the formed shape of horror you read? Alfie’s antics outbidding the now slowly retreating black static of the Bukowski-Bradbury dream, I guess. Some sort of belief in Darf Vaver as just another plaything?
“See, everything is connected for writers.”
Even the mention of Salisbury District Hospital in this chapter. Even his father’s condition, bodily and mental. A detached baby with a spreading growth. The father’s senile dementia akin to paranoia or schizophrenia and, separately, a love-scattering rain and “a tsunami of guilt” in this Dines chapter, somehow connected with the same publisher’s concurrent Crimewave book being real-timed here. One day the “fractions” of medication, however small these fractions, will build toward a whole number, I guess.
“I think we learn more about ourselves from the bad things that happen to us than the good.”
…says the nameless (?) narrator to Sue over Red Thai Curry in a restaurant. A darkly illuminating Socratic Dilaogue about Horror writing and its metaphors or a type of typical (an expression I use advisedly) marital dispute? Alcohol as words, or vice versa? Mix them and get a thicker mould? Monsters or Miracles? A Special or not? Well, not the curry as tonight’s Special, but another tiny thing that crawls and follows them home, wherever home is – or was. It is as if eking out this story chapter to chapter, is waiting for it still to be written rather than already committed to the pages that lie ahead.
“They treat cancer with fragments.”
Or fragments or fractions with cancer? So much coheres in my current book reviewing.
But don’t use other writers’ books to talk about yourself or your reviews rather than talking about the books themselves. Just as the writer of this story or this writer’s writer-protagonist (talking about his own protagonist who is not a writer) says “never write about writing” in fiction. Whatever the case, I am increasingly confident this is a seriously important work of fiction that uses such writerly self-referentiality within the Domestic Dire of his life in a unique and powerful way. This short chapter sort of clinches that fact, if I was in any doubt about it.
Still, I buy all the books I read, so what I do with them or say about them is my business,
“I shrug it off and get to work proofing the words of others while mine sit at home, unnoticed.”
A shareable experience of one man working in an office with women. They call him Steven, not his name at all. An Office of Science (as Alfie might say), if you only count what ‘Steven’ says, I guess. The chapters now seem to grow longer, as if the author wants to hurry along my reading of this story chapter by chapter. (Less chapters but filling up the space of more chapters.) And then there is the clownish old man whom ‘Steven’ finds sitting on a bench near an empty children’s playground. The reverse progression of the chapters otherwise enlarging?
“: if you lose your mind first do you know you are dying — can you still feel the pain?”
My diurnal Dire of this work continues. A Dire of the nameless narrator’s own Dire. Here, the mix, of metaphors, similes, italics, is questioned. About the process of becoming dead and a dad’s dementia. The who of self. The latter as a “short-range time machine.” And just the diurnal attrition of normal life, like a child’s bullying, like a child’s strain of expressing things, like this strain on oneself as a writer from day one. And its miscarriage of miscarriage. One cancelling the other out? Like those tangled letter keys, I guess. But, as a strained message to self: do not overuse tricksy reviews as ruses for real critique.
“I want to skip through time and space…”
More than once. And if you do, too, then it’s because of this story’s phantom birth of dire denial, at the sheer abrasive interface between fiction and reality, and you surely suspect that nowhere else has that cusp ever been reached in surrogate literature … till now. And you tempted to skip chapters, too, to get to the end, but you simply know you won’t. You would only do so, if what you were reading were valueless. And this is somehow invaluable. And did you notice, in this chapter, that the narrator’s real name is used by his wife? If so, and you then skip back in this work, would you already find it had been used and you had missed it or, incredibly, has it now been inserted since you first read the earlier chapters?
“A tiny patch of mould.”
Even a tiny patch may stop addiction to that nerve agent of pain, those “Tales of Ordinary Madness” of Bukowski, and Bradbury’s “Illustrated Man”, his father’s backstory trans-dressed in italics, not listening to his own advice about italics, and other methods of self-referentiality in writing fiction. Makes it all the more powerful now. A thousand cuts dressed as a Post-It Forest, words as their own illustrated men. A surrogate dementia. A surrogate madness in which we all collude. But outwardly we have to spurn such madness. Inside, though we harbour affection for Alfie’s dark invader not his white stormtrooper. The meanings and resonances continue in my mind, keys striking all at once, and I deem it a major intense vision where our sort of literature truly works. Its surface diffuseness skipped, played out over each dire day. Words that work because we can coo at them under their hoods. Give them names.
My other reviews of Steven J. Dines: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/steven-j-dines/
Cross-referenced by my review of the Steven J. Dines work subsequently read here today: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/06/05/interzone-275/#comment-12728
RAINING STREET by J.S. Breukelaar
“I manage to get the Donald-thing in the groin…”
Not that this is necessarily a reference to a shapeshifter of the infamous Donald, but this Donald does seem to own a cat with an orange ear — and there is also mention of the two Kims that must have been written here before it happened! (“…the way Little Red Riding Hood looks like a Kardashian and Prince Charming more like a Korean alcoholic.”) These considerations aside, RAINING STREET proves that Black Static spoils you, because this is yet another of its classics. Like the writer in the Dines, this narrator is a writer coping with today’s Dire of Life, here the poverty of a single parent in the city, then encouraged by elderly neighbours, Marie and Donald (characters you will NOT forget easily), to go ‘beyond the three bridges’ for better foodstuff at a cheaper rate, ending up on Raining Street (and this is a place you will NOT forget easily, either!), with such direcity then being at least partly assuaged by reconnection with the narrator’s loving partner who died some years ago. A place that also resonates with the other Dines fiction in Interzone I reviewed yesterday. TTA Press spoils me rotten. Has done for years. You will not forget the snake beans and the stoical encouragement that the well-characterised narrator benefits from against the direcity of life. All in a style that crepitates semantically, syntactically and phonetically. And to inadvertently echo the title of the Dines novella above: “…and all I can recall from Raining Street are instruments lowered at the end of the song.” Literally unforgettable. Even if.
“I should forget it — just have a nap, write that review…”
Cross-referenced with the Hynes here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/06/05/interzone-275/#comment-12733
BONES OF FLIGHTLESS BIRDS by Matt Thompson
“Spatters of rain began to drizzle down. By the time they turned for the looming bulk of the prison compound it was falling in sheets.”
…not streets. And Dines’ mould here is explicity more a code than a metaphor. Ways and means of transcending today’s conscious or subconscious denial of any sharp division between truth and lie, here by means of a gestalt of human remains into the extreme means towards a way of finishing evil — the evil of an attritional war. But essentially, a dark and disturbing vision as standalone nightmare, arguably appreciable without any such thoughts of didacticism, a vision of that attritional war on a mysterious gull-infested, rainy, mouldy prison-island and an accretive illness of the bodily architecture in the turned-around prisoners, creating an exhumation of different creatures into one (even, explicitly, involving Hynes’ crab men.) A striking osseous-like recalibration with prose and characterisation to match .
Just cross-referenced with ‘The Storm Brood’ here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/05/29/book-of-the-sea/#comment-12743
Again cross-referenced, this time with the Devlin story here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/06/05/interzone-275/#comment-12745
PYRALIDAE by Kristi DeMeester
“and the amber liquid pooled. […] — great leviathans of metal and oil roaring — […] washed everything in a yellow reminded Josephine of something sick,…”
This is DeMeester’s Josephine demystifying, becoming who she is, not what today’s miscultured mystique of social need and accepted living and presumptive partners has long denied to her, returning alone, having willingly abandoned her now pursuing pest of a boy friend, returning as a forty two year old woman to uncluttered basics, to where she had grown up as a girl with her (now deceased) father, inheriting the orange grove of her childhood. Assisted by some moth-like agency in amber aspic, a matter-thick substance disguised as pesticide, this passed off in such disguise by the sounds at the other end of a phone (“The line echoed back static as she held.”)… and the pursuing pest is indeed subsumed. If not the pursuing past. A significant sense of cloying atmosphere paradoxically as the only clean clear demystification of self and self’s roots.
My previous reviews of Kristi DeMeester: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/kristi-demeester/
THE FIRE AND THE STAG by Nicholas Kaufmann
“Was that what had happened to April? Had she been caught up in nature’s cruel game,…”
I think the word “pitiless” is used three times in this story. It seems to be a potential avatar, if a word can be an avatar. Is it an avatar for the one who can wield pity if pity is warranted but does not wield it, or is it for the one who warrants pity but there is nobody around willing to wield that pity on that person’s behalf? On its surface, this story is a well-written, plain and simple, relatively compelling narrative of a boy to man and his sister April from girl to woman, he of fragile mental health, she a professional anthropologist. She who, when child siblings, helped rescue him from a wild fire that killed their parents. On her disappearance, in later age, seeking a strange (foreign?) race in the future’s wilds or wasteland, he finds her campsite, which the police had failed to find. The outcome is one of again differentiating words: now ‘mirror’ and ‘mimic’. And life’s avatar in the form of flaming stag from that childhood rescue and now during life’s telling pitiless denouement. A coda not only for this fine Black Static gestalt of self-sacrifice to dine out on, but also a coda’s coda for the concurrent Interzone and its own version of self-sacrifice, eventually as a Christ Loop. There in that loop a bear, here a stag. Meanwhile, this Kaufmann story will hang about with me tantalisingly, but perhaps not for the reasons its writerly AUTHORity expected? A well-characterised sibling nexus, nevertheless:-
“‘Wouldn’t you care if you were dead?’
‘Probably not,’ she said. ‘I didn’t care before I was alive, why would I care afterward?’”