CHTHONIC MATTER 2019
Edited by C.M. Muller
Stories by Tim Jeffreys, Clint Smith, Patricia Lillie, Chris Shearer, Shannon Lawrence, Charles Wilkinson, Craig Wallwork, David Peak, Jason A. Wyckoff, Esther Rose, Steve Rasnic Tem, Jack Lothian, Gordon B. White, Nina Shepardson, Timothy B. Dodd, Farah Rose Smith, Tom Johnstone, Jess Landry, C.C. Adams, Tim Major, J.C. Raye, Erica Ruppert.
In due course, I intend to read this book, and when I do, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…
“FEATURING 22 UNIQUE VISIONS OF THE DOPPELGÄNGER”
SALVADOR by Tim Jeffreys
I intend to read these unique stories slowly, with prophylactic gaps of time between in case they get too close and form a gang, their uniqueness foregone in favour of Gestalt.
Onanism incarnate. Gaps of unmeltable time, discrete and separate.
A strong tale with a twist in its tail. Having been told by his parents that he was the reincarnated replacement of his dead brother, Salvador suffered various forms of death-and-birth paranoia, with feared versions of his self-in-body intent on destroying his own uniqueness. A story that is so archetypically unique I wonder how it hadn’t been written before, as I am sure it hasn’t. It was just begging to be written, a singular archetype that never existed till now.
My previous reviews of this author: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2012/02/27/the-haunted-grove-tim-jeffreys/ and https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/tim-jeffreys/
DETAILS THAT WOULD OTHERWISE BE LOST TO SHADOW by Clint Smith
“Boundaries have a certain ‘charge’ in peoples’ minds because of our recognition of zones and gateways (often tacitly so).”
…boundaries here in a residential area explicitly akin to sovereignty of identity and today’s nationalism. Whatever I go on to say, this remains a totally compelling first-person narration by a woman, self-seeking as well as self-conscious, ruthless in her ambition and optimisation of her nuclear family, husband and daughter. She gives her old clothes, though, to charities like Goodwill. Finds herself in the house opposite where she had not yet met whomsoever lived there – a house described by her in a wondrously hypnotic mannered way, a sort of House of Leaves blended with something completely unique, with fleeting shadows and angles, a starfish-shaped shrub outside, where she trespasses and sees herself from there outside her own house opposite uncharacteristically abrading her daughter, with much of this echoing obliquely with some near-death accident she once had in a car. She foolhardily leaves her signature as it were, some written boundary of statically unique self-identity, on ‘stationary’ as stationery inside this house, a house aptly named Motley House – sometimes Motely, just to prove the point. Not convinced by the change from first person singular to third towards the end, but another Clint Smith work to cherish. If I tell you more, I would spoil it.
“There seemed to be something, here, in the ritualistic aesthetic — an enduring, holistic ethos.”
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/clint-smith/
A couple of my reviews of subject-related books:
ZWILLINGSLIED by Patricia Lillie
“Smoking is not yet illegal in private.”
A quiet quilt of jazz singing, of only a mildly talented girl called Frankie born to a legendary woman in this field, an accretive emanation — from this quilt’s sections or movements — of a balance between the two Frankies, girl and boy, not siblings or lovers, leading to a compositional synergy of mentor and self that provides a worthy Gestalt of legacy in tune with this book’s subject matter, factored into by passing reference to a noted singer who had been led by voodoo lieder. The transitioning stains, or not, on shirts, notwithstanding. “The rest is history.” Told twice. A double l in title and author’s name.
Pingback: TWICE-TOLD: A Collection of Doubles | Clint Smith Fiction
STATIC by Chris Shearer
A well-written story of the younger or more gentle of two growing brothers, the younger’s narrative, the return of their father after years in the ‘service’, a space to fill with thoughts of a father’s bravery or not. A father still estranged from their mother, even upon his return. A moving static moment when his mother sitting on the toilet is inadvertently seen by the younger. The older brother (if indeed older) is growing into the image of the father, unlike the younger (if indeed younger). The lake the father takes them fishing for carp, a lake space that once was filled in upon a passive population. The snake (rhymes with lake) that the older one kills, then keeping it gorily alive even it were really dead. A trophy of war, like the father’s? The younger once had dreams of flying but now actually does he do the opposite by growing into the image of the lake’s version of himself already beneath the carp of teenage turtle static? Twice told, twice cold. “This is life.”
STUCK WITH ME by Shannon Lawrence
“, and I realize what I felt before wasn’t agony. This is.”
This is… life. Or a desororising death, after a lifetime of bickering, as rivals in flirtation with others. Stuck together like the previous story’s engagement with static or stet. The ambulance on the way even though your voices have been unable to ask for it. You are the sister of your own death, I guess, this being a powerful portrait of a twin sister dying or already dead beside you, as you wake in bed. Twinned in so many ways, ways here deeper than just being identical while separate. The ultimate gestalt connection, now breaking, before fusing again? A Zeno’s Paradox of which of you two sisters reaches death’s goal first? The ultimate doppelgänger disengaging?
THE FIFTH SET by Charles Wilkinson
“, uneasy twilight, the black facts of night.”
…a bit like ageing?
In spite of myself, I am going to dislike a story by one of my favourite writers. I assume it was written by his doppelgänger. Or I am a reader who has become my own dopplegänger. Not ghost writing, not ghost reading, but more a situation and a story about tennis where we all have perfect serves in endless sterile rallies involving sets without tie-breaks, Isner and Mahut vying to forget their own hang-ups and worries in this New Town with a middle-aged population who regularly have barbqs, none of us older, none of us younger, and permeated by a sense of colour synaesthesia mixed with an aspiration for perfection. Everyone works at the Institute in New Town, endlessly reading stories like this one, all with the same expression on the same facial features.
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/charles-wilkinson-christopher-harman/
MURDER SONG by Craig Wallwork
“Net curtains clung like ghosts to the windows.”
There are many haunting clues to themselves, not to each other, thus, arguably, a unique story without connections or ultimate gestalt, in this darkly tantalising Wallwork with much inferred wallwork, I guess. The untoward frame of Stanley’s mouth of teeth, the rendered “frame” of Katharine the estate agent and the crucifix between the cleft of her bosom, the linseed poultice like gruel, the conjoined house, with two self-contained abodes, where a wall-boarded tunnel by Stanley’s fireplace threaded between the two abodes and where a “pry”-crack could be eyed through, and where he witnesses a recurring murder scene between a mother and her baby and a male visitor … whereby the policeman later subconsciously puts one and one together and makes two. And much else, as Stanley remembers his deceased sister Iris with whom he had lived before arriving here. Things that I fail to remember, too, as I only just remembered his sister myself. Strange, in such a relatively short work. A memory of someone’s “dementia”, also. Too long in the presence of ghosts, I guess. And a “boarder”, not a border for flowers. That wallwork again?
Pingback: New Short Story – Little Bitty Bad Things
THE FINAL DIAGNOSIS OF DOCTOR LAZARE by David Peak
“…somewhere in the shadows warbled a stream of static in which he discerned faint weeping sounds.”
A complex account about someone called Malcolm, with ‘fracture lines and pieces of reality’ beyond the Gestalt of self, including sections from a self-referral or -diagnosis in academic written terms, a dissociative amnesia within a sense of identity. The space between two cubes that are otherwise eyes or ‘I’s, an emptiness between the margins of the schism ‘nested’ in today’s violent polarity? A ‘dilemma of rings’ as a sort of chasing one’s own tail as animals sometimes do? We ourselves wander around motiveless in this story with our own feeling of paranoia and disguised by our own white-coat syndromes? Go outside my comfort zone, do something unexpected, you advise me? Well, I just have. Listened to a Malcolm Arnold symphony, in honour to this story. A composer who had schizophrenic tendencies.
“The sky was limitless, the air clean.”
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/david-peak/
Cf “clear clean sky” in review I completed shortly before this one: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/02/02/blacker-against-the-deep-dark-alexander-zelenyj/#comment-14914
Also compare PURGE STATUS by Shawn Mann (shorn man?) with LAZARE above, and the two cubes on its cover: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2016/04/20/purge-status-shawn-mann-2/
ENDANGERED by Jason A. Wyckoff
“He turned back and presented the fat, white plug and twist-tied cord triumphantly, like the heart from his first kill.”
A phone charger as well as an old-fashioned fax machine as two of the objective-correlatives for a doppelgänger, and Len’s original family home as a boy, a large old one that was originally a flipped house, flipped by his father into a new social upper bracket, a morphing of mud and decay and dark spaces or basements needing being exorcised as archetypal dark-spaces towards modernity and a wine-cellar for the upwardly mobile. A wedding party. Another Len perceived vaguely as working on the reception’s catering. A lady with a complicated erected cast flip-built on her arm following a so-called skiing accident, she being Len’s future sexy stepmother today marrying his Dad. All objective-correlatives to bemuse us or for us to savour in flips of imagination. A later joke in a supermarket told by Len to a faxed missing girl, or did I misunderstand the difference between a selfie and a staged shot? Even doppelgängers are schizophrenic between shots, I guess. A typically artful Wyckoff that I can add as more Wyckoff trophies to all my reads or kills. Previously killed Wyckoff here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2012/03/03/black-horse-and-other-strange-stories/ and https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/jason-a-wyckoff/
“Getting the teeth was not easy. I had years of practice breaking and entering and I knew how to pick locks and find the easiest and most discrete point of entry,…”
This book’s endangering by Doppellgängerous syndrome takes on another unique turn here, where the actual mechanics of the process is evoked by narration of one of two women regarding their body reornamentation and manipulation, in slow motion as it were, in full deliberate consciousness of those being doubled, until they are operated on together under the anaesthetic of synchronised unconsciousness. The two women Mira and Mary recreate themselves as each other with various calls upon plastic surgery and bosom changes and exhumation of their mothers’ teeth – including pretend rivalry over a man, a rivalry in tune with the sisters in ‘Stuck With Me’… A slow motion, as slow as a Zeno’s Paradox, well, at least until one of them has life resewn arguably as or from the other’s death. But Mary rose from Mira, or vice versa? Whether discrete or discreet.
EIDETIC by Steve Rasnic Tem
“In his house accidents had not occurred in years. Everything that happened in his house, he thought, happened deliberately.”
A mentally house-claustral portrait of a man where, this time, the main objective-correlative is actually himself when seen separately in his customary places, even seen sleeping with his ex-wife and in his bath. In telling tune with this author’s own garb-of-age story of ageing dementia that I recently read here, and now the garb becomes self-striated with blood…
A very strong story, and one that also somehow reminded me of the mannered texture and meticulous self-awareness of Quentin S Crisp’s work. I think anyone who has appreciated Tem work would also appreciate that of Crisp, and vice versa.
My previous reviews of Tem here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/steve-rasnic-tem/
THEY ARE US (1964): AN ORAL HISTORY by Jack Lothian
“The book left me feeling oddly unclean. Do you know what I mean?”
A compelling series of statements by those individuals who were once party to a cinema film, including — as well as their reports on the actors’ behaviour involved — the circumstances of the book it is based on, the film’s direction, casting, make-up, and other duties. A gradual engulfment by a truly frightening yawning mouth as a Gestalt of Gängerism. A cinema film whose base negatives are engulfed, too. A story where, between its lines, are hidden characters different to those with which it started? Arguably, after due percolation in the mind or even later developments, this could become a classic story to remember.
For ‘yawning’, please also read ‘silently screaming.’
BIRDS OF PASSAGE by Gordon B. White
“, ‘Are you scared?’
‘No,’ I said, “but it is a little scary.’
‘Yeah,’ he nodded as he spoke, ‘but it’s also kind of awesome.’”
A beautifully-written traditional narrative, with rapturous as well as awesome variations upon Blackwood’s Willows, enhanced by White’s truly unique elements, as we follow a father and son on their ‘adventure’ down the river into near nowhere, as seen through the eyes of the son looking back at it all in his older age. His father a more adventurous version of himself, yet a rite of passage as well as an echoing vision of campfire paper-burning ‘birds’ in delayed reflection across the darkness of life, a darkness here transcended as well as employed in the form of a lesson in existence and eventual death. I wonder though which of the reflected versions of essential self finally emerges and departs as his father at the end. My father’s name was Gordon.
THE HALF-SOULED WOMAN by Nina Shepardson
“A shroud inside a shroud.”
Of ‘sky burials’, and “the woman who’d been bird-caller in her youth.” No, not about that, but still about that in part at least. It is more a poetic, yearning, yielding story of a river and a boatman who takes the dead across to the other side, with residues of hope and fear on either side, the rumoured half-existence of twins on either side, too, and the creatures they feared within the river itself upon crossing it, and the many rules that needed to be followed by the boatman and his passengers on such a journey. And the boatman of which this story tells, one who in turn becomes a woman ‘boatman’… whether lacemaker or placemaker. Or maker of a hole or whole, I wonder?
“What if the next life needs a whole soul, too?”
Cross-referenced this Shepardson to the Tem here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/02/04/the-harvest-child-and-other-fantasies-steve-rasnic-tem/#comment-14972
RELEASED by Timothy B. Dodd
“That’s what people do on squares — watch each other.”
A haunting portrait of an old steel town, with strange residue of sculptures or ready-mades, and other bric-à-brac articles, the lugubrious found-art of a long-gone flood, a potentially non-descript industrial landscape that deserves this full description to fill your heart with the soul of the protagonist (recently in Iraq) now fighting the canvas of self with another canvas of self stalking him here, while scavenging left-over remains of meals outside eating places, building up his own defences of personal found-art of drugs, or therapy, or the cross, or trying to lead a normal lifestyle. “Plus a lot of signage…” plumbing and a wrench.
In the normal course of my marathon real-time review of Nabokov’s Collected Stories, I reviewed this afternoon SCENES FROM THE LIFE OF A DOUBLE MONSTER here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/22227-2/#comment-15056
AS WITH ALEM by Farah Rose Smith
“What is a worm but a nightmare of passion in small form?”
A painted portrait via mirror shards makes the eponymous Alem the male with whom Marid, married life performs all forms of regret, passion and dream, where the replicable ‘me’, the woman narrator, is created, destroyed, recreated, finally transcended as apparition or something more? Intensely poetic, often clotted, begging to be read again. Replicated. In case I got it wrong. Or it got me wrong.
Twice told, more than twice read.
My previous references to this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/farah-rose-smith/
“One of my dinner-party jokes was about needing enough space for both my brains.”
— DF Lewis (born 18 Jan 1948) quoted from ‘The Big-Headed People.’ A true observation upon the whole of my life into old age.
THE FALL GUY by Tom Johnstone
“Like my father and uncle, I was born in January, and have often wondered if there was some significance to this.”
And now due to this unique story, I realise what significance it might have. A memorably compelling work that constructively turns awry, accretively extrapolating from a straight biography of watching Lee Majors on TV in Six Million Dollar Man and the Fall Guy, and obsessively speculating about stunt actors, and somehow we are made to jump on tube tracks, to climb dangerous fells with or without falling, later failing to pull the emergency parachute when jumping just to dare the stuntster into existence and indeed reading this strange inveigling story in the first place! A story of a boy with his own more viciously foolhardy stunt-self: involving his family’s peaty farmwork, the concept of social snobbery, and impulsively having first sex with the landlord’s daughter — and this story plays such stunts in the figurative sense of that expression, inveigling us as if we are fall guys in it. Especially someone like me with internal “polycephaly”.
“Always keep your old man covered up.”
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/tom-johnstone/
SCORDATURA by Jess Landry
“Mother’s below, waiting this moment, polishing her crow for another round. […] As her bow crosses the final note, …”
A powerful story that I would have loved to have been in my edited anthology in 2013 of Classical Music Horror Stories. A story of Odette who is due to fulfil her own mother’s pre-disablement cello-playing genius, a cruel mother who flays and flenses Odette psychically, even physically, towards this goal, a goal to be crystallised at Odette’s forthcoming début concert, a concert outdoing — and also seeming in mutual synergy, a synergy like this story’s telekinesis power of scordatura itself — my ‘Dabbling with Diabelli’ story, as Odette slavishly practises upstairs with a Bach cello suite, and with my favourite cello sonata, the one by Kodály, here called ‘impossible.’ Her mother wheelchaired in the room below. Music as tuning a Doppelgänger with the sharp chords of bloody revenge?
STRINGLESS PUPPETRY by CC Adams
“Justin gave Amanda a look of mock reproach. ‘Really? You’re just going to abandon me?’
‘Well, “abandon”, is such a horrible word.’”
Amanda should know! A girl’s night out in the bars around St Paul’s Cathedral, and she suddenly spots her double in current dress as well as physical looks. To retell the story here would be simply to tell the story, so I divert to say that my early fiction published years ago often featured St Paul’s Cathedral. Nothing is unique, and everything is, I say. And this story has a potentially unique slant on an agent being abandoned by its principal. Or vice versa. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principal–agent_problem
Saint Philomena was a Christian martyr – arguably abandoned by her principal.
But what of “…the nine of diamonds from a pack of playing-cards.” ?
THE BATH HOUSE by Tim Major
“He hauled at a rope. He might as well be pulling at a mountain.”
Age 42, as we know, is a significant age, and on this birthday, Mark (with seemingly plain backstory of marriage and two daughters back home) is given, by a friend, the gift of being hitchhiked as it were by a new self, via a ritual – which is compellingly imparted to us – within the genius loci of the eponymous replacement of an old church, a new baptism as it were where the water is hauled by Mark himself from a well, heavy by counterweight of his perhaps not-so-plain backstory’s ill-threaded pulley from the past, and the last line of this work is a particularly frightening one in the context of not only this work but also of the whole book so far. You will not forget that last line, I suggest.
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/tim-major/
PICKY YUUN by J.C. Raye
“They lived in peace. They lived.”
A stoical beauty to this tale, with at first experience a clipped cloy of a prose style that soon becomes engaging. It tells of Yuun and her husband Cupun, in a site where native-seeming or lethal hunting of the bear happens, but there is a town nearby of ‘whites’ and white goods like washing-machines, and a shaman of mixed motives, between religions as it were. Cupun one day has his parka fringed with his own dead flesh by a prey. Yuun later receives a sensitively-targeted amulet from the shaman, a process that effectively restores Cupun to her as his nearest double as he was but more aggressive or something “a site more terrifying.” Perhaps not terrifying enough! The next time he dies, after the harpoon prodding visitation, the next time Yuun’s ‘site’ for the amulet is perhaps a bit more flirtatious.
ONE LAST MILE by Erica Ruppert
“Des climbs the slight rise to the riverside path…”
One last story. Stalking or reviewing it, little difference, perhaps. But which riverside is which, I ask, in deference to this book’s context. Another hauntingly stoical story, here about a woman called Des who, in marked antipathy towards her husband back home, does her jogging in the vicinity of the river, and her own marriage is effectively dead, whence she had escaped out here. In the increasing heat, she strips down and hears footsteps echoing her own painful ones, trying to flee them and then trying to reach them. To synchronise with them. Seeking her own tabula-rasa self? Or something else? Name for name, against whatever “lifts its hand to her…”
My previous review of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/11/27/test-patterns-creature-features/#comment-14321
This book does for doubles what only uniqueness can.
My previous reviews for CM Muller: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/c-m-muller/
Pingback: Twice-Told: A Collection of Doubles | Cosy catastrophes
Pingback: Doppelgängers! | C.M. Muller