25 thoughts on “To Charles Fort With Love – Caitlín R. Kiernan


    “, dingy plaster walls and faded Catholic icons, the oilyfaint smell of fish,…”

    That ‘oilyfaint’ is a constructive example of many other such examples in this work of arguably unusual double-barrelled ‘words’ without a hyphen. Not that ‘footprint’ is such an example, as this is not unusual. The scientist Anne has been called to Catholic-superstitious Ireland as her possibly romantically backstoried male academic colleague has had a fatal accident while investigating the ‘footprints’ in an area (Valentia Island), marks and other more mysterious aspects of pre-Dinosaural creatures who could not tell their fins from their toes, it seems. Marks that have been vandalised. And there’s another sudden death of a girl student at the end that we witness alongside Anne. A perceived felo de se. A girl that might have assuaged Anne’s loneliness the night before, it is hinted. I shudder with a frisson of dumbfounded inability to link one step with another, putting one step before the other, but still hoping that I might thus get somewhere when I have eventually gathered the Fortean gestalt of this book that keeps its secrets guarded by its conceptual eponym and dedicatee. For later deployment of such secrets as clear truths? Tell me what you think. Am I a dimehead or a dinosaur?

  2. SPINDLESHANKS (New Orleans 1956)

    “, maybe, or a line of footprints in the snow between her and Emma.”

    …footprints in her dream that, in her later second dream, are as if “in powdered sugar”… this story, between these dreams, is about a female writer who is struggling with her latest novel, and now moved to a well-characterised abode and environs in New Orleans, with her lover Emma, so as to help clear the creative air, I guess. Emma is more sociable than the writer and is embroiled with the “voodoo” set. Part in jealousy, part with stoicism, the writer watches a séance with planchette in their house beside the Lafayette Cemetery near where earlier a woman had been murdered by an entity who the police thought to be a human trying to appear an animal. Part in suspicion of the otherwise compelling results of the seeming charlatan nature of the séance, part in feeling that I have been allowed to watch this séance as a genuine uncolluded unclouded event of the supernatural, in part to assess the Fortean nature of my reviewing techniques, I remembered I was only eight in 1956 and hardly able to travel that far…but, as the planchette’s letters spin…
    “‘D . . . L,’ someone says,…”
    (Are there not only 4 girls in Sargent’s Boit, not 5?)


    “And for a kiss she shows him the place where Lovecraft is buried,…”

    And with the help of many unusual double-barrelled words (a phenomenon that I earlier observed above), this story’s absorption by reading runs the world away, smoothly intoxicating my musical brain, without too much ratiocination of what is being told, with ghouls and vampires and waxworks, introducing me, with heady words strung together like a string quartet, to Dead Girl and the other characters’ names that surround her. A river that changes its own name partway along its riparian path. “….a small drift of snow at his bare feet,…” Wings that bruise the sky, and a dark flow like another book of indelible wings and other dark inchoate characters on a feathered bough that I am concurrently reading and reviewing by chance here. I think I understood Dead Girl’s instincts of progression in this realm of existence, but do you? And then, of course, there is the woman’s reading voice who wrote it…someone else knowing seven words for grey…

    “, her ice-cream voice against every vacant moment of eternity.”


    “Shanna’s holding a black umbrella over both their heads, a stifling scalloped-edged shadow and the two of them huddled underneath.”

    (Cf AIAIGASA – Japanese for an umbrella for two – amazingly that I reviewed earlier this very morning here, quoting the words “We share the umbrella”)——
    As if an umbrella for this book’s doublebarrelled words, to hotglue them together without a hyphen, a phenomenon discussed above and exemplified again in this story itself. Here, the umbrella is a sunshade for a couple who recently split up but need to work together in a bookshop. The books are not always shelved in the correct alpha order. The sunshade is needed because a long burningly hot period in the city still prevails. But, strangely, there’s a mud puddle of water and earth that the male half of the couple spots outside the bookshop, despite everywhere else being scorched dry…. a puddle whence now years later we can imagine has that ‘shape of water’ about to loom, some Fortean thrust of power about to emerge from mere mud….until the weather tellingly breaks. The universe and its scorched earth policy manqué…I guess. Memorable, flannery, literary, portmanteau, portmanitou, quietly cinematic, till the end.

  5. Pingback: Synchronicity rampant… | DES LEWIS GESTALT REAL-TIME REVIEWS - 10th Anniversary


    “Aye, there’s the very reef…”

    Whether reef or rêve, this relatively short, sometimes double-barrelled-worded, evocatively tactile account of sea dreams within a woman in various rôles of rêve (dreams as a life choice of perceived realities, some more seedy or visionary than others) is also, for me, amazingly (again!) making aligned patterns elsewhere, i.e. with the reef and the tactile visionary sea described in a work I happened to real-time review this morning, i.e. ‘From Whence They Came’ here. Not only that but also aligned significantly with the whole of that ‘Book of the Sea’ itself. “…all these fin de siècle painters”, all such fins et al.
    That “fleeting pocket of saner wind” still being sought?


    “A dog barks.”

    “Hoy” is Spanish for ‘today’, and the name Charles Hoy Fort is tagged or pinned to some Albert Perrault paintings, and the narrative is diarised under each month, with verbs in the present tense of each today, and there is a letter sent to Alex (a struggling writer as protagonist who goes with her art reviewer girl friend Margot to a Perrault exhibition, paintings that disturb her too much, with the Red Riding Hood extrapolations I have seen before in Kiernan, I think), a letter from another girl (an art groupie) whom she met there, a letter with a typed dropped aberration of each ‘t’ as if symbols of each ‘today’ put into the past and gradually below attention or memory or palpability. Beyond pinnability, too. And Alex is visited upon by synchronicities, the first being of an unexpected projection in a cinema instead of the advertised Bergman, and the next being a video that later arrives with the art groupie’s letter, a video that starts blank till a new today of dog and girl ensues, a scene that arguably matches a phone call from Margot, red cap or not.
    Innuendoes incommensurable.

  8. ONION

    “Where he’s standing, Frank can see into the bathroom, just barely, a narrow slice of linoleum, slice of porcelain toilet tank,…”
    “…and Willa’s eyes seem to flash and grow brighter, more broken, more eager to slice.”

    Frank rings work earlier to arrange a sickie, ringing from the toilet ‘head’, “…this is only going through the motions.” This story seemed steeped in a city heat wave, similar to the one I am suffering onward from today. There are no such things as coincidences, as McAvoy says. Meanwhile, this story is a compelling, poignantly moving, word-evocative novelette-length, of Frank and the ambiance of Forteanisms, I guess, from a child when he sees a vision through the crack in the basement, more Stephen King in nature perhaps, but, later, more Flannery than Horror, but Horror shapes, too, and his relationship with skinny or skinned Willa, a woman we grow to love amid all her frailties but feisty strength of mind. 6C69100F-B3A7-462E-9AA8-711A3006EC1F — Amid trying to reconcile alien visions, say, over the Arctic, attending meetings about such phenomena, Frank working at the copy shop, Willa at a food bar, hard life, gritty, seedy, yet with naïve hopes perhaps, but less naïve visions, by dint of the characters and the visions creating themselves from within the mind of Kiernan. A climactic vision in their bathroom, with a weight of water stacked above, a shape of water, too, I guess. Oz as a symptom of madness rather than a childhood wonder. Sacred or scared. Knowingness of dead leopards. A trilling, not a trolling. A mysterious painting’s smile as a Fortean phenomenon couched as a Fortean man’s doublebarrelled name on a business card? A classic to read but not pin down. ‘Pinhead beads of nectar.’ And another painting, a Cézanne, possibly with a real onion or two.


    “It was like a dog.”

    She works in a shoe shop and has a phobia about dogs; she read Riding Hood as a child? And the stain on her wall in the hall was like this book’s earlier mud puddle, or like Gahan Wilson’s inksplot in Again, Dangerous Visions, or here a symbol of the haunting by a near-dog in her hall that her man doesn’t see, or the painting of countryside by her grandmother that she has known for years, relegated to the hall from the bedroom by her man in favour of a Rothko. The figure of a girl she suddenly sees in this painting during the haunting by the ‘dog’. I found at least one onion in the Cézanne, and now I realise that the words ‘dog’ and ‘doll’ may be phonetically like each other. Without looking back at the story to see what else I can see in it or what wasn’t in it before, I empathise with the title’s catharsis, nevertheless. As if it was called something else when I first read it? The broken aquarium earlier soaking through the floor from the above floor, apocryphal, notwithstanding? First broken water or blood?

    “If it wasn’t happening to me, if it was happening to you instead, and you were trying to convince me, I wouldn’t believe you.”

  10. 25E5A563-D3D7-4C9C-AFA9-8CF723878DADLA PEAU VERTE

    “‘Me, I was always rooting for the wolf,’ Peter says, ‘or the wicked witch or the three bears or whatever. I never much saw the point in rooting for silly girls too thick not to go wandering about alone in the woods.’”

    I, too, study this story closely. And put myself in the shoes of the woman being dressed as the absinthe green fairy as a paid model for a private party. And, despite myself, am captivated, too. A collage of agonising, e.g. the death of her sister as a child, and her possible part in it, her father’s well, her older chess playing mentor, her shrink, mouse or fairy, stones with words etched, the names of various famous painters including Perrault, and Maignan’s Green Muse that I just took a look at, a mention of Charles Fort, a convergence of music, the history of absinthe, fireflies, Verlaine, Rimbaud … all couched in some transcendent language to die for — towards a growing gestalt and a stag before whom she self-revealingly bows under absinthe’s gaze? “The one, and the other.” Follow or fall, I think it answers my question above about the Sargent painting, unless even mentors are as fallible as those they mentor? Or words scratched on stone just as a reminder of some intrinsic truth? We are all perhaps “a race of tiny beings.”


    “I wish to all the dark gods that they could make me like them. But that’s not what happens. That’s not what happens at all.”

    …says the changeling girl. But does she mean to be like them, or just to like them? This is also about the mentor from the previous story, here ironically known as the Bailiff. The power of ordinary man to provide the necessary coin of entrance? And his unofficial student is Starling Jane, the changeling girl officially tutored by the monsters — amid the well-characterised characters and their dark environs, in Kiernan’s rich words again to die for, including vampires, ghouls and others, plus ghul-pups, (foiled alongside The Same Dog sort of yellow-brown dog in her seaside dreams of childhood?) — a girl tutored to pass the initiation trials or, if not pass them, be eaten! A telling fable.

    “What makes us brave isn’t lacking the good sense to be afraid, it’s looking back at what we’ve lived through and seeing if we faced it well.”

    Heading for the last three stories in this book.

    I previously reviewed the next story in 2011 when it was published in the VanderMeers’ THE WEIRD, and below is what I wrote about it in that context….


    BD60CC44-6040-472B-9AEE-79775E638A0BA Redress For Andromeda – Caitlín R. Kiernan

    “They played Bach and Chopin, and there was only one piece she didn’t recognize.”

    Redress: revanche or reappraisal or costumed in synergy with the Gahan Wilson story earlier  – or reva-mending, in the context of the whole of this book?  This is beautifully written (“the hollow clock, clock clock of their shoes”) and tells of a marine biologist’s (Tara by name) visit to an empty house grouped within by those who, as we are soon to learn, are to enhance her ichthyologist expertise with something beyond science.  Another Autumn story – here the house lighthouse-lit with 111 Halloween jack-o-lanterns (the last page of the fiction in this book is 1111) and people who — as Tara (another house or plantation home herself by name?) imagines — look like ‘crows’.  There evolves a symbiosis similar to that in the Spencer story and to an Allyson Bird story I’ve read elsewhere if I am not too much mistaken (or was that another story?) – but this Kiernan one o so discrete, discreet, with a coin [the same once golden coin now silvered by the moon of this story (the moon that is to become a moon within the sea itself), a design that  JaNell Golden produced for the cover of Nemonymous Three (2003)] to be dropped as a dashed wish and as the same wish’s actual fulfilment together.  Into an “anemone-choked crevice“?  The woman-creature in the sea at the foot of the house now disembarrassed by any such (scientific?) ‘machine’ that dogged the alephantine creature in the Spencer story now slips away, bargain completed. It is also as if this story is a premature piano-study coda for this whole book: hinting at the coin’s ‘quantitative easing’ approach of Chopin’s ‘Winter Wind’, yet confident that it is an unyet (lobster-)cracked code to something more, something yet to come.

  13. “What matters it how far we go?”
    From The Lobster Quadrille


    “, turns a page and goes back to reading.”

    Bookworm or turtle, Argosy or page-turning dance, this is a weird story wordfest, about a 35 year old Julia and 20 year old Anna, in a sometimes strained sexual and professional relationship, on a motoring holiday or scientific trip for rare shells for their future backs or a writerly method of creating fictional visions for a wordfest cum story by the sea, and a haunted house with its own slow-shelled backstory. The fact that it all happens in some Zeno’s Paradox of how far they go between car and house makes me turn back to the beginning before I finish it, because if I try to finish it, I fear I’ll never reach the next one in the predestined cycle. Damned upon a ridge of reading by the timing of an “untimely joke”. Would I, could I, reach the red tree or an ugly house or the “endless sea-hued sky.” A story born from the loneliness of someone else.

    “Alone, alone, all all alone.”


    “The sea to take the entire world apart one gritty speck at a time, the sea that was here first and would be here long after the continents had finally been weathered down to so much slime and sand.”

    This fraught and rapturous novelette NOT ONLY makes the final Fortean connection to the BOOK OF THE SEA (earlier concurrently reviewed here by happenstance) and with other synchronous happenstance reviews of THE FEATHERED BOUGH here (with one of its own characters also explicitly called Old Man Machen and a ferryman and a catharsis of healing and madness in some far place of dream and nightmare) and THE DUMMY (here earlier this morning with my then writing about it, through serendipity of news stories or history: “A fiction dummy for reality itself. Perhaps ironically inducing that elusive cure for ills.”) and THE FALLEN WEST here (with its own mad scientist CERN ZOO retrocausality example of the BIRD BRAINS story as an endgame of Fossils as part of a reverse evolution!) BUT ALSO a connection of rationale to the same house’s backstory which Julia and Anna visited in the previous Kiernan story in this book, that deep place beneath the house with a portal near the sea, an overall SACRIFICTION to obviate wars and history, here a father called Old Man Machen (Machen Dandridge), his daughter Meredith and son Avery, all part of this hopefully healing simultaneity of sacrifices (to which cause his wife and their mother, too, already sacrificed herself) to the Deep Ones so as to obviate the First World War cause and effects in history all tied up with some astrological glitch in COMA BERENICES (my own daughter’s name, after a Poe story or a Queen of Egypt or a Handel opera or that very constellation) — perhaps it is also a sacrifice to Lovecraft’s Azathoth at the core of the earth (here in Kiernan “hole in the world”) as I had it in Nemonymous Night? Waves as flames, all school poetry silly, black eyes as stigmata in the skin, that black book as a forerunner or scion of BOOK OF THE SEA, a tattered curtain to be drawn aside from such meaningful or meaningless connections, till the young woman Meredith Dandridge rhapsodically “made her fear a shield and a lance and held the line” for us all… as the new saviour? Possibly, from my personal point of view, this being a connection with DOWN TO THE BOOTS: “But Avery didn’t laugh, looked away from the sea and stared down instead at the scuffed toes of his boots dangling a few inches above the water.”

    And with the following words from this final story, I finish my review of this whole book:- “Wondering if the quest had been a fool’s errand from the very start, and he’d wasted so many years of his life and so much of his inheritance chasing connections and truths that only existed because he wished to see them.” — the ultimate Fortean angst or dilemma. But this book has constructively forged a new confidence in me with its otherwise discrete stories of wondrous depth.
    I shall now read, for the first time, the author’s Preface and her several personal Afterwords plus the general Afterword by Ramsey Campbell. As is my wont, I won’t be back here to review them, but I am sure they will give me further food for thought. You see, I have, since I was 19 in 1967, been a great believer in the Intentional Fallacy allowing Fort to flourish.


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