A fearless faith in fiction — Employing, since 2008, 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.
My previous reviews of Nadia Bulkin: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/nadia-bulkin/
Intertropical Convergence Zone
“He wants to be Forever President, Lieutenant. So he can fix everything.”
This modern classic from 2008 seems to have morphed from an effectively grotesque fable about Indonesian history, into a fable for our times. A president who wants to be loved forever, and a daughter who has now filled in the face.
Morphed, that is, without its text changing at all.
THE FIVE STAGES OF GRIEF
I wondered if the Dignitas organisation being based near Zurich is significant (see Zurichia in this story) … and earlier today I read and reviewed here ‘The Head’ by Reggie Oliver about ‘assisted dying’. I often have a sense of things-meant-to-be when Gestalt real-time reviewing books. This story itself is a conceptually staggering as well as deeply poignant vision of what I shall call Resisted Dying – where humans hang about in various states of dying, Bleeders and Benigns, with mixed emotions of ridding oneself of them or desperately keeping them close, as we have spotlighted here a family where one girl’s small sister hangs on and maybe, with mixed emotions, She Said Destroy? The family eventually faces a plague of, not mindless Zombies, but unique entities-with-original-selves, entities that surely exist somewhere in this our fast-changing world, entities I could not possibly have conceptualised on my own.
And When She Was Bad
“He is, after all, the monster.”
A very powerful and unusual take on the Beauty and Beast theme, where the human condition itself is transmuted between them, amid a massacre of the human beings around them. She said destroy again. A wing and a prayer. I would just compare the circumstances of the Bleeders on the roofs in the previous story with the winged monster in this one. It would spoil it if I say more about a work that really requires to be read raw.
As an aside, I somehow thought it significant that I read this Bulkin story today straight after reading TAWNY from (again!) the book in my previously linked simultaneous review above. There is a line in that story: ‘There are bits of baby all over the bloody nursery.’ Another hybrid monster, in a possible more humorous human massacre…
Only Unity Saves the Damned
“The entire town had grown up with the same story about a witch who aborted babies back when the town was still being sculpted raw out of the rolling prairie, and they all knew the matching nursery rhyme as sure as they knew Happy Birthday—“
The tale of some wild group of characterised youths skipping stones at Goose Lake; they take a film of the witch by a tree that goes viral online and elsewhere, but was it real or was it fabricated by them? And did the tree move? Or break our skin with its bark? Much more to this story than that and there is some beautiful writing. But it did not work for me as anything as special as the previous stories in this book.
“…I thought to myself that the pattern read like some kind of message. But I don’t know what. I never figured out what.”
The pattern of parallel differences and similarities between this book and the one I am concurrently reading and reviewing. Linked already twice before above, linked again in last few hours. There, Baskerville’s Midgets in an old boarding house; here, Pugelbones in the Warren. The Warren in this wonderful body-incubating story, a story wherein today a mother is being interviewed whether her self-admitted breaking of things as a girl in the Warren extended to what cruelty to others she blames on the Pugelbones. I am inspired by the darkly evocative vision of the Warren or hive of crammed humanity with their loose or stray bones that become Pugelbones as creatures in their own right… and I am still working on understanding the dystopian didacticism of state control over her that prevailed thereafter.
Red Goat, Black Goat
“—these were fat, gentle livestock, happy to spend their lives in a backyard enclosure before being sold off to butcheries.”
The last bit is retrocausal…changing what was said before.
Another Indonesian story, one that chilled me to the roots of my hindsight hoofsteps tiptoeing towards death. My wordplay sometimes in my reviews should not reflect back on the compliments otherwise embodied in them. It is just my way. The baby-sitter finds the children already have a baby-sitter that the children acknowledge more than they do the real baby-sitter – and their original baby-sitter is the Goat-Nurse. And the latter, as if to avenge the more gentle goats in the area, makes inimical things happen to the children, but without affecting their confidence in the Goat-Nurse, and there is the most engulfing frights to all involved that radiate backwards into the story. A bit like being inwardly and outwardly swaddled by Pugelbones. So, if it not too late to do so, read this story first! Some swooping and weaving of goatfur, a teasing and worrying of threads into a sense of being read yourself by something – after having read about it first. Resisted dying, back goat, read goat. Destroy she said.
I reviewed the next story in 2015 when it appeared in Aickman’s Heirs, and below is a copy and paste of that review…
SEVEN MINUTES IN HEAVEN by Nadia Bulkin
“But you shouldn’t be scared of skeletons, Amanda. You’ve already got one inside you.”
I can immedIately tell that this is a story with tantalising resistance and traction, something I admire in Aickman-inspired literature, but I’m finding it hard to talk about this story, which is not necessarily a bad thing, of course. The ‘seven minute’ concept and “the coordinates of God”, together with what I see as this story’s life/death seesaw, seem to fit in well with the pivoting between dream and non-dream, between sense and nonsense, the disarming strangenesses in and out of focus, all of which are conveyed by the rest of the book so far. A seesaw or pivot like a miniature weather forecasting cabin with interchanging dolls moving in and out of it, a device that Aickman himself, I recall, used in his fiction, but this device does not appear in this story, but it made me think of such a device.
The story is about the Pilgrim’s Progress of a young girl toward womanhood, whose fulcrum is a town where she started living, a town that neighbours another town, a ghost town which was once decimated by an industrial toxic accident. It tells of the various physical and emotional influences of such an event upon her own life/death pivot, the enforced slants upon history to make reality fit a pattern that others want to believe (that the toxic accident never happened or was something else altogether?), the ‘objective correlatives’ like scarabs, Halloween with its demons, Christianity with its Angels, and much more, leading to another potential transcendency at the end common to previous stories’ ends. Here, tellingly, a pivot of fighter jet and angel. I hope that is not a spoiler.
The ‘pattern’ needing to be fitted together, mentioned above, seems a suitable template for my own real-time dreamcatching reviews, some of which happily do tend towards cohering, some of which, however, do not cohere, whatever my best endeavours. A personal pivot evoked by this constructively resistant story.
Girl, I Love You
“the enormous rage cloud that spawns when you’re shoved off a balcony by a jealous ex-boyfriend—“
“Yurie didn’t like the Prime Minister—thought he was a fatalist unable to grab the wheel and stop this car crash we were all in.”
The ‘She Said Destroy’ story in essence.
A complex story that covers a multitude of sins – wherever and whenever you live and, here, it is centred on three Japanese girls, with girlish battles of ultimate sacrifice and revenge and spite and love …
“a Good Nurse complex,” in assonance with the earlier Goat Nurse one?
AMAZINGLY and fortuitously , I watched THE FAVOURITE film earlier this afternoon in the cinema (the Queen Anne one with Olivia Colman). Another similar three girl battle!
“They requested Room 305 even though they considered paranormal tourism a low-brow cousin of dark tourism—“
A constructively cloyed and clotted would-be Endless Life account – emulating this book’s earlier Bleeders of Resisted Dying and meshing Pugelbones with humans, ghosts with human flesh, goats with nurses, too – this is of a historic military leader General Fest (or Jackal) haunting the hotel room where he supposedly died, but Melanie a maid (she said destroy?) now masquerades in the room as his meshing ghost…
“Death, it said. Death is just a way station, a point of transformation. Look what comes after. Not scavenger birds, not a solemn plot on a quiet planet, but a mirror in rapture.”
Meshes, too, with near death or actual endless death (bathetic and pathetic) as the Gestalt in Interzone 279 reviewed here in last few days – and in Reggie Oliver’s just discovered classic story ‘The Final Stage’ just reviewed here.
With also my meshing thoughts with Fest now masquerading as Trump and the Brexit calamity….
“this aching reminder of the biggest calamity to hit the post-independent nation.”
I reviewed the next story in 2016 when it appeared in ‘Year’s Best Weird Fiction Vol. 3’, and below is what I wrote about it in that context…
VIOLET IS THE COLOR OF YOUR ENERGY
“–tiny shriveled kernels bounded their grotesquely swollen cousins like rings of baby teeth–”
This second story has cats gone missing early on, too. Then, dogs. And the cob’s teeth. A meteor, a colour out of space, a genetic engineered sowing of the field, and I have never seen a marriage and its family disintegrate so successfully, all with literally gut-wrenching implications that cannot be told here. This is fast food narrative. It eats how it tells it as if it surprises itself with what it serves up. It left me quite devastated how I had not noticed its joins and how quickly it went. If a ten page tightly texted story is a sudden meteor itself, then this is it. Dare dig its ground no further.
Truth is Order and Order is Truth
“Once you have looked into her eyes, once her fingers have grazed your scalp, she is hard to shake. She was my mother. I should know.”
The storgic power of family as truth and of family’s diaspora or exodus, conveying that power across fantastical lands that mix with our Asia and Europe, whether controlled by monsters or whether you are the monsters yourselves. Here the narrator is one such pioneering woman, imbued with her Mother, her Father, too, dealing with half-brothers, in a challenge-and-response of Toynbee history as a game with toys or being? Or the ‘heavy gong of truth’ as a heavy going? Against those men or a single man of history whose own power faced her. Monster against monster with some synergy between.
Whether gilled creatures from Cthulhu upon the caravan routes of Rl’yeh, or whatever, the core of truth in this inscrutable work might allow us to battle against what besets us today. This story’s “brick split gate” allowed me in, with a serious, sometimes drearily droning narrative as a morphing of history’s academic account, but with a sensed, often sorcerous, passion underlying it, and I feel as I have been granted enormous wisdom through that straitened gate without really knowing how! Nor knowing what exactly that wisdom contains! She said destroy as well as create?
“Fish do not tame elephants.”
“Yes, we are monsters,” I said, “but so was my father. You live in a monster’s empire. You’re only upset because you’re not the biggest monster, anymore.”
“You’re mad. You’re mad if you think you can run a kingdom with salamanders. Do they even have brains?”
“Insane people are the reason I never got bored.”
Cross-referenced this story here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/01/16/the-rumour-lesley-kara/#comment-14643
“Of course Max knew what this Creeker was, in the bowels of his soul. It was the Stag-Man. It was his . . .” (sic)
“Cripple Creek seemed filled with broken pre-war churches and painted-over signs: the skeletons of older towns.”
….like a sort of Twin Peaks community now taken to the nth power of monstergasm. A monstrous synergy evoked in this book’s previous story. Disturbing, powerful, ultimately engulfing you in a hyper-nightmarish, Beauty-and-Beast sort of way. Max Beecham first sees his Dad lurking in his Mum’s Polaroid. Later, in a Freak Show, then factoring into his unrequited love: the Monster and the Mallory. Then, goat-nurse…
“It was the middle of the night when I heard it howling. It killed my favorite goat.
The Stag-Man was some kind of witch, Max decided. In all the years that he had known these people, nothing else had warped them so.”
Then… If you want me to pick my way further through this novelette in more detail, then I would need to read the whole thing aloud to you, with its words ever bulking out within us.
No Gods, No Masters
“…the terror of an incomprehensible universe where dead stars ate other dead stars.”
Battling against an ancient pact, the storgic women of a family help each other to prevent the demon having himself be given birth by one of them, in whatever generation of their family it happens to have happened or will happen.
“Aunt Tess came in with a bowl of ice cream and Beauty and the Beast on video. It had been her favorite movie—“
But giving birth is the ultimate synergy of creativity, I guess. An eternal paradox of monster and mother. This story of the storgic women’s battle spins off any known gauge of horror literature with such a conceit, with this truly body-breaking text. It is meshing gone magnificently mad.
This final work seems to give this whole book the final push to the most susceptible parts of your solipsistic brain. You desperately have to believe that it is your brain alone that has this book in its perceived world of having been written and now read, otherwise it would seem intent on making the world outside itself appear to actually subsist without your consciousness having created its existence first. And you simply know that can’t be true.
You see, it is easy to forget, when reading it towards the end of ‘No Gods, No Masters’, that Dez is explicitly described, at the beginning, to also have a demon swimming in his blood — a shared burden of love…
“there is a curtain around you. A big red theater curtain.”