Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Volume Five

A4EA7FB9-C99D-48DD-A117-2FDD12240BC5

Edited by Robert Shearman and Michael Kelly

UNDERTOW PUBLICATIONS 2018

Stories by Kurt Fawver, Ben Loory, Brenna Gomez, Kathleen Kayembe, Daniel Carpenter, Michael Mirolla, Ian Muneshwar, Claire Dean, Kristi DeMeester, David Peak, Helen Marshall, Joshua King, Jenni Fagan, Alison Littlewood, Chavisa Woods, Carmen Maria Machado, Eric Schaller, Rebecca Kuder, Adam-Troy Castro, K.L. Pereira, Camilla Grudova, Brian Evenson, Nadia Bulkin, Paul Tremblay.

When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

23 thoughts on “Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Volume Five

  1. The first story I reviewed when it first appeared in LOOMING LOW, as follows…

    ===========================

    The Convexity of Our Youth by Kurt Fawver

    MENTION OF POSSIBLE SPOILER (a rare occurrence in my reviews)

    “We have achieved a level of contentment and stasis in which our primary worry is losing our contentment and stasis.”

    This is the tale of the orange ball that is rumoured to have been ‘born’ in the rural heartland of America, a tale that becomes a relentless, obsessive, subtitled extrapolation-report on the orange ball’s violation of those Americans whose page-upon-which-reality-is-printed is a single trusted page rather than the wild excesses of the Internet. And while I was reading and shaping this Swiftian vision into a gestalt, or ‘rorschach’, I suddenly thought of Trump. And it all fell into place. Powerful stuff, in hindsight.

    ===========================

    My other reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/kurt-fawver/

  2. THE ROCK EATER by Ben Loory

    “Okay, said the man.
    And that was that.”

    What the title says. A man who eats a rock – not good especially when it grows while inside him – get it out, then – but emptiness ensues. What is worse, being too full. Or too empty. This story leaves me empty. But that somehow feels good. No mean feat. Sporadic typographical adventurism, too, as a bonus.
    As Gertrude Stein once wrote: “ A rock is a rock is a rock is a rock.”

  3. CORZO by Brenna Gomez

    “, his hand in a ragged chest wound the size of a plum.”

    …its stone or tiny rock now out again?
    No, this is a more straightforward bodily part, a tale of a husband and wife, where Spanish spoken is almost shameful, I infer, and they have a dysfunctional marriage, and he asks his daughter to be the narrator of his heart, I also infer. It is about not a zombie that or who lives after his heart is excised (helped by his daughter’s narration of her own squishy actions to help him do this), a heart diced and pickled in the eponymous tequila bottle, no, not a zombie but still the father, if rather less caring? The young son, the narrator’s brother, is naïve and open about this event with his school friends, while his sister now gains an enquiring nature about her own boobs, activated by a boy in her class… The corzo and effecto of what happens next is what you will not predict but once it happens you wonder why you did not predict it. This story teaches you that about life, and more, with such a weird deadpan numbness that I have tried to echo in my own heart’s status now under review…


  4. You Will Always Have Family: A Triptych — by Kathleen Kayembe

    ISOBELLE: THE WHISPER OF DOGS

    “Midnight has power in the West: it is the witching hour, the time of night when ghosts are most powerful. It is the time when Uncle and I are in our rooms and there are footsteps in the hall and down the stairs.”

    The first trip of the tych.
    Isobelle’s backstory intrigues us, her Uncle who loves folklore, Congo and otherwise, her cousin, her Uncle’s son, Mbuyi. A son — whose name indicates he has a younger twin who does not seem to exist — and who returns or did not return to USA from Kinshasa. Is that a dog in Mbuyi’s old room, as the Uncle maintains? Truly frightening stuff ensues. Should all be in a Horror book as well as this Weird fiction one. But in a literary one would be best. Or in some book even more apposite and real? The monster as corpse — and the Uncle, earlier — both seem to like touching her forehead?… Isobelle helps by typing up her Uncle’s interviews about folklore, magic, a man from Florida, footsteps and falls…and more I can’t encapsulate yet. Trips here, trips there. Not sure I’ve got there, myself, yet.

  5. KANKU: “MY FATHER HE KILLED ME”

    “People come and go, Mama said, but you can always rely on your family.”

    But can a reader be relied upon? We want to be part of the family, too. But none of us cut the mustard, I guess. This is the spoken second trip of the tych, this time by Kanku, the lost twin of Mbuyi, now masquerading as the corpse that was once Mbuyi whom Izzy heard as a dog in the room where her Uncle, the twins’ father, claimed he had put Mbuyi. But who hears whom? Who reads whom? The Uncle of Izzy (aka Isoebelle) seems selfish, the man that the now single gestalt twin calls Baba (ironically, a baby-voiced mutation of Papa?) You need to be selfish to prevent yourself from becoming someone else?
    This is genuinely consuming in its horror, especially as I was listening to Utrenja by Penderecki as I read it. “As death knelt close,…”

  6. MBUYI: WHITHER THOU GOEST

    “I ignore how my heart breaks in three.”

    Possibly one of the most consuming descriptions of incubation or poignant possession by a self you thought to be someone else, even if an identical twin. As we hear of the relationships involved in this Congolese triptych beyond even the most yawning and stretching of the Francis Bacon ones. Separate from the possibly false audit trails of narration we are shown by dialogue and narration and inner versicals by all three trips of the tych, I wonder if the inferred forcing in and out of these selves, is akin to rape. That later ends up with a real rape, as we understand it sexually. And regarding the younger twin, was that how he killed the mother, as Baba claimed, i.e. by being the last out before she died (then or later) – a reverse form of rape? We shall never know the truth unless by preternatural lores of this earth in the dark and in the light … or unless we continue to get under the skin of this work and try to re-configure what ‘one learnt and has forgotten about’ and ‘what one never knew but now remembers’? Inside and out. Like tychplankton?
    Three days to read. And just now (an hour ago, in a book from the same publisher) I read a story about ghost dogs here that co-resonates in my mind with this triptych or triangle: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/11/01/nothing-is-everything-simon-strantzas/#comment-14026 (also cf: the dog noises in Mbuyi’s room)

  7. FLOTSAM by Daniel Carpenter

    “A BAYONET, A DOLL, A HELMET, AND A SHOE”

    A series of such headlines (some being questions) that document the story of a creature that is hard to Gestalt by the town’s people, having being driven onto the beach by the sea with other detritus listed in one of the headlines, the doll having more arms than two. I think of the orange balls, the rock eating, the heart extracted from the human body by that human body, and more, so far in this book, also hard for most people to Gestalt. Yet I swallowed it whole. So I know. This story is full of the cosmic and particular, with those who ate bits of it the eaters, the other non-eaters, like Swift’s little- and big-Enders. A story that will stick with me as a reconciliation of the obvious and the recondite in human behaviour. (They sort of ate piecemeal things and each other or were swallowed by things and each other, too, in the Triptych.)

  8. THE POSSESSION by Michael Mirolla

    “He insists the possession is real — and somewhere to be found. The problem is they haven’t searched well enough. And he feels it is quite possible it will turn up at any moment, fresh and unharmed by the passage of all these years.”

    I love what is arguably the best fiction take on Brexit I have ever seen, regarding that possession, that ultimate or optimum possession or deal, beyond the potential no-deals within a breaking marriage of multiple orientative sexual or feistily intellectual or possessively
    synergous and/or negative symbioses. Here two men who strike me as sharers of Andy Pandy’s and Teddy’s picnic hamper home together, or the two tramps in Beckett. Whether that optimum possession is a table lamp cover or indeed this story itself, I am glad I turned up at the end in the guise of a woman called Basha with astrological/gestalt powers of telepathic preternaturality to make it so! The diverse articles of flotsam in the previous story and the articles of weaponised possession here, notwithstanding.

  9. SKINS SMOOTH AS PLANTAIN, HEARTS SOFT AS MANGO
    by Ian Muneshwar

    “Harry expected this, though. He feared, sometimes, that the beast knew his mind as well as his body; he stayed up some nights imaging that if it pressed its long tongue to curve of his brain it could taste his intentions in the sparking of his synapses.”

    An Indian story from history close or distant, sort of, with, of course, us Brexit Brits involved, a River Demerara river, I guess, for Harry’s family’s sugar mill and “Provenance”, not Providence, for that “imaging”, not imagining, a big difference… except Harry, a youth with sexual Alice awakenings, has not simple connections within his forbearing family, say, uncle, father, another father, mother, and we sense that the beast within him – a very striking imaging of something that stirs and has appetites within his body and lips as part of his own organs – is ‘objective correlative’ for something far more than we can image for ourselves, related to the swallowing whole and yearnings of the Francis Bacon triptych I happened to image above for the swallowing Kayembe story, as I now will continue to hawl and dreamcatch onto the innards as well as flotsam of this still resonating work…“…hauling crab pots out of the water, throwing nets, dragging buckets out of their mud-streaked boats that writhed with the morning’s catches: eel, chiclid, bushymouth catfish, snook, croakers, and lungfish as long as Harry’s arm.” … Harry, I infer, meanwhile, even eating vampirically his forebears close or distant for the ravening beast of history within him, within us all…?

    My previous review of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/09/21/black-static-65/#comment-13753

  10. THE UNWISH by Claire Dean
    My previous review is shown below in the full context of the Nightjar Press publications by her that I reviewed together:

    ================================================

    BREMEN by Claire Dean

    2DFD5B9C-4D65-448A-9477-4C74F3BBC27AThis is copy 33 of an author-signed 200. Beautiful glossy paper in this pamphlet of 14 pages.

    “He returned to the Findling again and again.”

    But I have been to Bremen only once, on a single day a number of years ago. And took this photo. Enough of a visit to be able now to imagine the market stall and its old woman who creates the Foundlings (or do they create her?), Foundlings who need to find each other before they are lost, it seems, some whose heads we enter. Amazingly this Bremen (breed-men?) piece also has many references to crows (ends with them, too), and only this same afternoon I have just finished reviewing here today’s episode of the novel KA by John Crowley whose characters are crows and have heads we can enter, too. Amazing coincidental resonance in my day’s gestalt, thanks to this Dean. Haunting, its style precise yet ornate, rich yet stark, obvious yet oblique. Was there a miracle working here?

    *

    THE UNWISH by Claire Dean

    Copy 32 of 200: 16 pages.

    “…where all the leaves were really birds…”

    Whether Goldfinch or Crow, that seems something to help any reader keen on finding words for things that hide between the otherwise plain lines of this engaging story, more easily expressed than in Bremen, a story with a duty only unto itself, but containing implications towards things that remained concealed since the characters were last here. A family of parents and sisters returned to their holiday cottage of yore, the girls now grown up women, and everyone now beyond pooh-sticks except possibly for the Dad.
    One sister happily settled and pregnant, but here alone because of her husband’s business commitments, the other sister waiting for the arrival of her new boy friend whose texts about his planned arrival are not up to loving scratch. I’ll leave you there balanced between a modern Austen and something quite else, creeping up on you as all good literature should. But not only what was lost in the past but also lost today? Another breed-man wished away? And who is that in the window above?

    “In Scrabble she got F.O.U.N.D. on a triple word score…”

    ==============================================

    My other reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/claire-dean/

  11. My previous review of the next story is shown below as in the context of the author’s collection ‘Everything That’s Underneath’….

    ================================

    Worship Only What She Bleeds by Kristi DeMeester

    The utter nightmarish imaginings of a girl, and the house she lives in that bleeds. Her laissez-faire, laissez-fur of a mother, her daddy who never came back after going on an errand for his daughtmonger (as I playfully called my own daughter when she was small – and now my daughter’s married and in her forties) but does errand imply errant?
    Then her own Mum leaves – on an errand?…

    “Let me in, let me in. When she leaves, I hold my breath. Quiet. Quiet.”

    Fog … black & white ants on a TV screen – when the signal vanishes – indicate the TV is not a current digital model. But a TV from my own past. She becomes a pig not a rat in the house’s increasingly furred up walls? And there’s a new Daddy thing brought forth from the vein-seamed belly of her Mum that threatens to find her there…?

    “the reminder of a smell instead of the smell all by itself”

    This has a sort of disarmingly simple wording but with a deep and dark that can send you mad if you forget it was actually written by someone. Too easy to accept and understand it might have been too easily created exploitatively. But I fear the words are autonomously parthenogenetic not deliberately written at all. Underneath everything, it is too easy to tar all of us with the same laissez-faire brush.

    “Underneath everything, the beating grows louder, and the fur stuff twitches.”

    *
    Just to note that the girl’s name is Mary and ties the above story more firmly with the story previous to it – amid the Christian Mythos.

    ==================================

    My other reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/kristi-demeester/

  12. My previous review of the next story is shown below as in the context of the Nightscript 3 anthology…

    ===========================

    House of Abjection by David Peak

    “There’s someone else in the room with us.”

    With Freud’s old fainting couch, a loveseat, ‘astuces’ and a woman’s handbag called a clutch, the dust drifts in as undusted by those in the previous Nogle story, a disarming double bluff of a horror (like going into a haunted house at a fair for fabricated horrors and finding the horrors real), here we join a dysfunctional foursome, husband, wife, their daughter and daughter’s husband in this scenario, and vicariously experiencing more fears and perversions than the hints between the lines perhaps justify us experiencing. A blend of Bartlett and Wyckoff, but unique in its own way. And ultimately emotional when the ‘winner’, from among the foursome, is eventually revealed. The winner of the story’s ‘reversed’ tontine, that is. (In liaison, too, with this book’s earlier crack in the wall, and another garden here this one with a fountain and lopped statuary.)

  13. THE WAY SHE IS WITH STRANGERS by Helen Marshall

    “She saw it in the way he longed to sink himself into her so deeply that direction would reverse itself, like a tidal flow, and he would come back to himself:”

    Here we have marshalled a forest of maps as well as that mutual bodily immersion of the Great Undertower of books I happen to be reading at the moment… and this particular story is rather special, achingly poetic-weird to the nth degree, an apotheosis of what these Undertower of books are essentially about as gestalt, seeming to strain between a small community where its streets are not named since everyone recognises them and where people deal with their dead properly, and the city where Mercy, the woman who travels to live in the city from that smaller community, finds she needs to struggle to help people through the named streets, and thus creates that pattern of paths as a “warren” of paper maps in her dwelling… her small daughter Mercy visiting her now and again from the previous community to this city where bridges are suicide portals — and handymen like builders (with whom the hiring women often find themselves liaising, I find, in literature at least) hint about city houses housing the dead somehow. A city of dead with no borders. Comfort herself vanishes or just does not turn up for her next city visit, merging into a time when Comfort’s own eventual daughter Solace exists and Mercy is now as grandmother, finding each other again through such tenuous margins of death and life… never to truly become the “shut-in” that angst makes us all feel, if I infer correctly that all of us do feel that.
    An essential work.

    My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/helen-marshall/

  14. THE ANTEATER by Joshua King

    “Women were practical and humble.”

    So thinks the main protagonist, Peter, and one day an anteater moves next door, in a standard residential area, and eventually he suspects his wife of having ‘private meetings’ with the anteater. It seems disarmingly natural that an anteater lives next door, not a nickname, but the real thing. Almost as natural as a plague of orange balls and rock eating? Such naturalness reminds me of a similar naturalness vis à vis a pelican and its new clothes in Leena Krohn’s novella that I once reviewed here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2016/07/20/the-pelicans-new-clothes-leena-krohn/, the outcome with the anteater being a horrific one not unrelated with ant-eating as a two way thing, but I personally blame the “antennae” logo on a label briefly mentioned in connection with Peter’s favourite real ale called WOODLOUSE!

  15. WHEN WORDS CHANGE by Jenni Fagan

    “Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. The thing about words is they can alter the molecular composition of things;”

    A moving narration by a woman who is allowed a pod, not unlike a Japanese ‘room’ in a capsule hotel. Allowed to witness things in her own life, including moments where she appears to be waving to herself. A detailed and sometimes delightful tale of Proustian selves, where she is next door to a pod where a man is also re-sharing his own life. They are witnessing lives up to the moment when they have the potential to witness their lives ceasing to be their lives and they become more (or less?) like bystanders. Words, though, like the pods, are Jungian? Part of the Kayembe syndrome of entering not only one’s own body or pod but also the body or pod of each other, as particularised pods, or remolecularised gods?

  16. THE ENTERTAINMENT ARRIVES by Alison Littlewood

    “I need a volunteer!”

    Potentially, THE classic Punch and Judy horror story. The arrival of the man doing it in the booth, the dowdy seaside hotel genius-loci, the show itself, the audience, all seem spot on and frightening. Especially for me as a child brought up by my two parents as an only child in a dowdy seaside resort in the 1950s. When I often saw such a show. I feel the three of us were already subsumed then! An inverse Kayembe syndrome, with our skin loosened from within? And this story gives me the realisation of having done something wrong, by proceeding, as, until now, I thought I did, with our ‘that’s the way to do it’ culture.

    My other reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/alison-littlewood/

  17. TAKE THE WAY HOME THAT LEADS BACK TO SULLIVAN STREET
    by Chavisa Woods

    “She told me she was terrified of worms, and that at night she had dreams that copper worms were eating their way through her skin.”

    This is only one aspect of Kali’s schizophrenia and tripping, but two stories reviewed within a few days of each other, both with worms dogging a vulnerable woman, almost as if that word nearly contains the word worm. (Other review here). Though, here, Kali attends her well-heeled parents’ Mensa parties with all manner of strange genius guests there characterised, and Kali’s Sapphic relationship – amid tripping and more schizophrenia – with the well-characterised narrator becomes erotic, mind-openingly physical, and involving shared hallucinations. Threatening, too. The concept of the shared hallucination is a rarefied one, and is dealt with here with brazen creativity.

    “What is insanity?”

  18. EIGHT BITES by Carmen Maria Machado

    “It sits on the bed, and I feel the weight, the mattress’ springs creaking and pinging.”

    Pinging like a duck, or as unquestioning as oysters about to be sucked off? This is a momentously powerful work about a woman’s bariatric surgery, in the light of her relationship with her sisters, but, above all, with her own daughter who disagrees with her mother having such surgery. I have someone similarly close to me about to submit to necessary hysterectomy for different reasons. Seemed appropriate, even if obliquely, to have read this story first. A story where the sense of the Kayembe syndrome — and the Bacon triptych I mentioned alongside it above — builds to a sloughed-off self haunting her as if by a creature equivalent to a new pre- pubertal daughter. A story with its own figure of 8 as a vertically standing lemniscate; she ate only eight bites to gain the full taste benefit of an otherwise gestalt meal.

    My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/carmen-maria-machado/

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