20 thoughts on “Nothing is Everything – Simon Strantzas


    “A bus that’s twenty minutes late is a bus that’s not coming.”

    Harriet Myers, a bit of a loner at university, wary of noisy parties, goes home for the weekend, trying the bus service from the bus station as a new means for such travel. With her oboe in a case. Beyond twilight; more night, I’d say, judging by the scarcity of other travellers, except Charlie Hand who starts talking to her, waking up, as he does, from sleeping in the bus station. A philosophical trip about darkness and light pollution, it turns out. A theme and variations, I guess, on this whole book’s title … as a concerto for oboe and orchestra? I could hear the music in my head. Somehow the words of conversation between them magicked up more than they said. Harriet’s fear of being stalked by this man onto her bus homeward is slowly assuaged… And Harriet’s core backstory that had been nagging at me at some unconscious level is revealed. I had never connected moose and music, before now… A provocative story that is still resonating with me. It’s never too late.

    “Until I opened my eyes and found myself reassembled.”


    “, but we agree it’s beautiful, filled with sweeping woodwinds.”

    Taking up where the oboe left off…another music beyond the music. Memories of childhood, old phonographs, lost loves…
    An engaging first person plural narrative of a school’s talent show for their children, a regular event run by a rather downbeat teacher with an unknown nature of relationship with his own wife. Unknown, that is, to the narrative of the town’s wives who narrate this story, or one of them narrates it on all their behalves, one of them as specifically named by the end. A telling portrait of such a township’s social politics. One wife, not really part of the universal ‘we’ of wives, her being a newcomer, arranges a second talent show, having had her nose put out of joint by the previous talent show, a second one, that is, to showcase her own son and the other children. Their acts are now more accomplished, and sometimes genuinely chilling. Then a third show transpires, for the wives alone. This story defies gravity, as it were, with again a music one hears that wasn’t there before. Like their names are said to become something else, something more. “The gift of connection.” A Gestalt of sisterhood, perhaps, with strengthened bonds. Made me feel transcendent, too, as a connector, as I hope it did other readers. We all have that talent, now. An agape.
    A song beyond all else, one boy not able to hold his mouth shut as the song is emitted, this music beyond music. “Our jaws remain agape as we wonder who will take the stage next,….”


    “The pattern of flames on the walls looked like wings, spread outward from the depths of the hall.”

    …residual evidence of flames, after the fire had gone out. For me, a story less connective to my own mind’s expected path in this book than the previous two, but who knows it may be leading to other paths, different paths, ‘bled forth’ in the same way as Samantha’s own path back to her childhood home whence she left years before to gain life’s freedom, away from her parents and her soulmate twin Lemule, whom she had thus abandoned. The results reminded me of a magnified CS Lewis portal and the forests beyond where….magnified as a different Lemuel once seemed relatively magnified? Another Houdini trick…? No, I shall put this on the back-burner of my mind, instead of revealing more, with the chance that it will fit into a pattern of paths in this book I cannot yet predict.

  4. My previous review of the next story when it first appeared in Nightscript #3, a review based on that context –


    “Sweat was cold at the base of her spine, and a hinted dizziness unmoored her—both multiplied by the mixture of floral scents.”

    The telling tale of dowdy, almost invisible, office worker Candice Lourdes, Ms Flask her boss, a tall man called Ben Stanley, and an off-kilter Corporate Horror scenario with uncaring colleagues, officious duties with files between the many floors, an elevator, a roof garden, and an awakening….
    I took this photo while on holiday last week in a place where I had never been before – a photo taken before I read this story today, one that seemed perfect to illustrate it. This story was meant to be. It sort of seems right. Without losing its disarming offness.


    “I can feel the sparks and embers.”

    A genuinely consuming trip into the mind of an author seemingly on another plane, his mind on that plane at least when writing – or ‘living’ – this work. I understood everything in it, but somehow I also understood nothing. No mean feat. And, in that regard, it does have a sentence, one that again relates to this book’s title…
    We follow the narrator child or young person (and her friends Jody and Dennis) as part of a misangled triangle into the ‘skirts’ around a droughty, dirty place called Whitby where ‘a sandbag’ is what you call a stupid person. But suffocating sand is ironically better than water to extinguish out-of-control fires in a place suffering from drought… But not an ordinary drought; it has the fire realities and, indeed, fire residues of the third story in this book. Smoke, sparks and embers. Not just sand, but dirt, dust, flour and ashes, to sprinkle ghosts into being, I guess and maybe smoke again when we reach the dog ghosts (that you need to discover for yourselves without my added help, if indeed it would be help at all) and the sort of klaxon city where such ghosts roam as if around or inside that fenced or walled city with sirens like dog howls or a township with the fire’s residues as tall smoking buildings, and figures in brown pyjamas.
    The young narrator, one of indeterminate gender, I think, but mentioned earlier as being offered a skirt to wear, and has now entered an area outside Whitby called the skirts, without the rest of her triangle (or skirt?) of ‘friends’, while her real mom (not her adopted Mama) is suspected as being one of the ghost dogs – or a woman-dog?
    You might have a different take on it. I have long been advocating the triangulation of coordinates by several readers of a fiction work by means of Gestalt real-time Reviewing, towards a final core that we can all share together as some ultimate truth, but that, of course, may spoil it. I think it may be worth the communal journey, though, for its own sake. This story, and perhaps this whole book, is the prime candidate for at least considering such an approach. If so, I can give it no greater compliment. But the dog ghost we seek is said to be invisible?

  6. My previous review of the next story when it first appeared in Shadows and Tall Trees #7, a review based on that context –



    “Baum’s knot-holed eyes have sunk so deep into his phloem that they are hidden.”

    Into this phloem or poem as prose, too.
    This is another potential classic, in my view. How can a single book spoil you?
    A story that takes you by the spiritual or nature-ravelled scruff of the reading neck. Ravelling not with bones but with bark and branches and foliage. It revisits and unravels and ravels again VHL’s motherhood and a foundling and a metamorphosis that I reported on with regard to that story, a metamorphosis that has spread its physical metabolic roots throughout this book so far. Here we have a woman’s bereavement with the loss of her man and now with the onset of this parthenogenesis of a ‘son’, whom she takes, as if ‘Flannery O’Connor’-infused, to the city away from the farm in whose tall grass he was born. Then her travelling with him, motel by motel, human interferer by interferer with his course of fate, and back again, as with the homing journey across RP’s earlier lake. And the end epiphany or catharsis is a masterstroke. Beautifully expressed throughout.


    “I was left to clean our house alone, a single old woman who moved slower than ever, who thought slower than ever,…”

    Ironically, that passage in this still resonating story follows one of the fastest moving sections of any otherwise slow story I can ever remember reading. Beforehand, we were with Elizabeth the narrator as a girl slowly growing towards puberty, and meeting a boy, who, after that quoted passage and her discovery of the fifth stone, turns out to be her husband, then giving birth to three daughters, and Elizabeth, now growing old, daring to drive again so that she can return to the childhood home where we seem to have only just left her behind, still obsessed, while suffering her epileptic fits, with the four stones she randomly collected as a child, and then the fifth…. 4523DC48-B878-4AA2-ACCE-9F4FE24DB718Chaos is only just the other side of an onion skin, as I think it says somewhere in her narration. The methodical instinctive ritual with the stones, then going back to her childhood home as the woman in this book’s third story did, a story that continues in hindsight to take on more importance in building the pattern of paths in this book. Embers and stones. What now lies beyond her old bedroom door, when life’s mystery was still in front of her, not behind?…
    We ever endure the short fast phase of the many years in the middle of the two long slownesses that are the spasms of childhood and old age, each a grand mal.


    “It could be anything — in this moment of nothing, everything is possible, whatever you imagine.”

    …if you all imagine it together. And this work deploys the gestalt method, a mix of a scene that at first would not feel out of place in Ishiguro’s UNCONSOLED (that word itself most appropriate to it, too), in a dowdy restaurant-cum-theatre, with other characters as customers to match. Not much of a restaurant, it seems, but the trappings are there. But the action is the stage, and a second person singular narration with your husband of thirty years taking you here for your birthday. Some inchoate sense of disappointment about daughter Molly who is not present, thoughts dwelling in your mind as you wait for the performance, … THEN suddenly with some literary spasm what I said above about the previous story clinches into gear: more than once: astonishingly for me, like a rollercoaster at the top of a ride: “Our presentation of spectacle and show has reached its inevitable midpoint. […] Special moments are always gone too fast, and the hard moments always crawl too slow.[…], there were times when the world seemed to stop to wait for her to catch up, […], and no time has passed. But you know it has. It always does. The question is how much and how fast.” Also, this is a highly moving story, with regard to the characters and their catharsis, and the depiction of the dowdy show becoming something quite other with toucan, lion and horse: most memorable scenes, akin to elements in the earlier Talent Shows. The lessons for life and its disappointments very telling. The Great Accommodator meeting us halfway.

  9. snake


    “The spasms in her head multiplied.”

    A powerful – another powerful – work, this time with Alexandra, still tethered to her home whence her father vanished all those years ago, still anxious not to travel far, but here she is driven by Leonard towards the, for her, as yet unvisited Ocean, towards the Atlantic I am induced to imagine as wielding or containing or reaching Tentacles Across, by some vast gestalt of shoal or hive phenomenon in the cosmic mind. Her tether thinning out as Leonard drives, in some speed rhythms already set, in stop-and-start tidal or wind turbine motion, by this book. A trial and error driven journey, with a moment at least to unify at least bodily, sexually… Depending on a map not GPS, Alexandra’s point of view makes the story’s map one of understanding her relationship with Leonard and their yearnings in the face of this future’s world. And the good and evil of mankind. And the monster that haunts it or IS it.


  10. All Reality Blossoms in Flames

    Pages 189-198

    “Look at the strokes there near the top; like flames, each one protruding from the canvas. And the soft swirls […] distortions of light.”

    Cf the residue of flames in the Embers story, etc. And now there is another seemingly faster-than-light action (like this book’s earlier flash of one’s life between childhood and old age?) by a suspected vandal masquerading as an art expert on the restored, still wet with restoration, painting, Le Manteau, a painting the image of which these pages embed in words. We are drawn into the woman restorer’s mind (Mae Olsen) and, in passing, her troubled feet, by dint of conversation and interaction with other characters, amid the possibly dubious dealings surrounding fine art and its exhibiting and selling and evaluating, and those who protest against such methods…

    • Pages 198-213

      “Art is what connects us to one another. It’s the closest thing to magic we have left and it should be alive and take risks.”

      As I do, as it does, I hope. I think this is the first fiction I have ever read about “art terrorism” — but also reminding me so far of the more political angles in ‘The Good Terrorist’ novel by Doris Lessing, that I reviewed a few months ago. Much descriptive traction here about the work of a big museum, art itself and its meaning, the painterly ingredients, and the clandestine pathways of a big city, and Mae’s half voluntary, half forced involvement is intriguing, she being a painter in her own right, albeit so far an obscure painter, as well as a dutiful restorer working for the museum….
      I will no longer itemise the plot, for fear of spoilers.

    • Pages 213-237

      “— disbelief was the body’s way of distancing itself from trauma. Yet under the pulsating shower head, when her thoughts were most unbidden, that distance shrank,…”

      Trauma and hot showers in Thanatraum by Tem reviewed yesterday — and earlier in this book mention of Banksy, I think, now Banksy again mentioned …. and Dadaists as forerunners of the ‘Enfants Terrible’ (note the deliberate plural non-agreement) in this novella. Also earlier in the book, chaos is said to be just beyond an onion skin, again it’s mentioned here. Art for me is recurrence and connections, as well as sculpting from a blank canvas. And the plot develops around Mae, with a compelling narrative, a pent up set of circumstances bordering on the seismic. If I prematurely let you enter, by means of the side alley of this review, into the plot, a spoiling of it might ensue.

    • Pages 237-270

      “No one is going to make the connection.”

      It only seems like yesterday (it was early October, after this book was no doubt already printed) that Banksy did this: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/oct/08/why-shredder-is-banksy-greatest-work
      7AF4416E-04D2-40AE-8730-FB3070101CE0It is almost as if that happening was an incredibly synchronous collateral of this novella! A connivance between Banksy and Strantzas! Seriously. Mae now has Alexandra’s map from earlier and is tempted into that pattern of paths that I mentioned earlier! To save the art stashed down there. A series of ‘cave paintings’ with swirls and fragments galore near unto the subway, as ancient or modern graffiti explaining quantum physics as well as the Adam and Eve myth?
      The restored Le Manteau painting itself to be sealed within its own ‘manteau’ of cement? Also dilemmas on the nature and purpose and evaluation of art, whether to restore or rescue or, ultimately, destroy. The book’s whole title comes into full play… And the novella’s last few pages as coda, with a viewpoint other than Mae’s, seem as if Strantzas decided at the end to put the whole novella in Banksy’s shredder, as a personal statement and an aesthetic manoeuvre. Looking at the book, it was always built in, finally realised.

    • PS: As an aside, I was co-founder of The Zeroist Grouo based on Dada principles at Lancaster University in 1967. And I published the world’s first blank story in the 2002 issue of Nemonymous.

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

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