32 thoughts on “Everything Is Fine Now – Steve Rasnic Tem

  1. The Woman in the Attic

    “There was a large wraparound porch attached to the front of the house with a roof of its own.”

    The old house opposite. And the seeming rainwater that came off it like a waterfall, was it rainwater at all or was it water used to put out a recurring fire in the attic? A short haunting tale of the old house opposite whereby no one who left it seemed to leave it happy. Or left it at all? The woman in black in its blacked-out attic echoed or kept in existence by the passing generations of women who saw it from opposite? Jane Eyre, fire and water.
    (NB Mr. Rochester wore a pearl necklace under his cravat as a reminder of Jane’s love.)

  2. The Hideaway Man

    “They just have to know. He guessed we’re all just tomatoheads that way.”

    Tem often seems to get to the root of things, using fiction as an entertainingly imaginative or darkly worrying game of leapfrog where we use our touch upon the story to perhaps reach even further than it has reached, even if that further leap or reach stops with us alone who have just thus leapt. We cannot return that favour, as we do not have the similar skill to become the spiritual vaulting-horse that is Tem. Here, I had a leap of epiphany about the nature of what I shall call, hidden away in my memory, a boyhood friendship as from an early age, often despite the boys’ many differences from each other. And about the nature of things that boys often keep dark within each of theirselves without realising the common factors of those things; here, in this story one of the things being the nature of their missing fathers. And the haunting sleepover spare ‘hideaway bed’ and what it hides. Sprung from beneath another bed or sprung from it like a squashed spare now a trampoline manqué? Tomatoheads, all of them. And everything is fine now.

  3. Mechanic

    “‘Some people shouldn’t be trusted with an automobile…’ He gently strokes the scarred hood ornament.”

    I never thought I would ever be inspired by a story about a mechanic’s love for the cars he mends, as they gather growling and headlit, intent on having this purposeful loner’s back. But who is Polly in the eyes of this confirmed bachelor? The polishing, the Plymouth, the potholes, or someone he tweezers as roadkill from the broken windscreen?

  4. Little One

    “And I certainly don’t have all the answers. None of the changers do—we’re all different.”

    You know, over the years when I have read Tem, I have thought that his work has insights that other work often doesn’t; it deploys revelations and truths — sometimes powerfully oblique ones inspired or facilitated by the very nature of the literary genres and traditions within which he works — about ourselves and the unseen powers around us. But since reading the HARVEST GIRL collection of stories (wherein ‘Punishment’ has an interesting mutual synergy with ‘Little One’) and now this EVERYTHING IS FINE NOW collection, I realise I have hardly scratched the surface of Tem till very recently, although I had already, before now, considered myself to be an experienced reader of his work! Here, with the changers, overviewed from rooftops, and the play on words with changing babies, while advising mothers, and being almost sexless, or, rather, more deeply gendered by dint of having the ability to change sexes and experience the whole spectrum between two poles? A lesson for parents, yet with the counterproductive susceptibility to be subsumed or even eaten by one of those poles, something, I infer, that one needs to fight against so as to allow one’s spectrum of wisdom to work? Meanwhile, Babies smell real bad sometimes, yet…
    “People talk about how sweet a baby’s head smells. Like everything new, I guess, and the heat in their little heads makes them smell all the better, like you’re actually breathing in the light that carries their new souls.”

  5. Jake’s Body

    “So he was smelly, and he ate too much junk and he had a billion zits all over him and his parents were mad at him and now his friends were mad at him and he didn’t like taking care of those gross-looking cats and dogs anymore, but…”

    From the little one’s smells to a bigger one’s. A telling fable about a boy’s bodily self-consciousness as he grows into puberty. And Arcimboldo is not even in it, vulpine or not!

  6. Voices in the Dark

    “In the cartoons, all kinds of things talked: trees, flowers, dogs, cats, birds, even toasters. In the dark, all kinds of things talked, too.”

    A creepy flash fiction where the eponymous voices by rhythmic rote ask Brian questions, all the questions having the words ‘is’ and ‘it’ in common, the other words always beginning with ‘w’. Strange, I thought, how a single pronoun can mislead me as to whom, why, what and where, but never when.

  7. The Man Under the Bridge

    “I think I see a man, or a boy, or somebody I used to know, or other times somebody I just haven’t met yet.”

    A magnificent weird tale – about two boys together biking under a bridge and initially seeing, in their eyes, a seeming derelict old man there – a tale that I hadn’t met till now. An encounter, that, for the boys, morphs in different recognisable directions. But, for me, perhaps solipsistically, it was more a tale meeting its intended reader at last. Everything is fine now.

  8. Daddy’s an Actor

    “Sometimes I even wonder if it really matters whether I have a name or not.”

    This is a remarkable story narrated ostensibly by the daughter of an actor father, a father who was once a child actor in movies and now a touring adult actor in theatres. This is one of the most effective stories of role-playing you will go far to find, with a gradually evolving backstory of flighted angels and inner demons galore. A story that variously role-plays itself. And I continue to sense that here we have a fiction writer with work of many parts himself: inter alios, an O. Henry, a Flannery O’Connor, indeed, foremost, finely, finally, a Rasnic Tem.

  9. Domestic Magic
    Co-written with Melanie Tem

    “Mom would explain why she shouldn’t do whatever she’d just done, and Margaret listened and then did the same thing again or worse because now she had more information.”

    ~~ a message for our current political history, as well as a sequel to the previous story: Child as Parent of the Grown-Up, where a boy, with a crazy mother, as he deems her, looks after his little sister against the tribulations of their mother. Full of things spreading across the page, more than just the words themselves and the dolls they describe, and compensatory luck and bad luck, and belief in fragile beliefs of superstition. Themselves, as the lives of brother and sister into the past and future, tattooed on their mother’s skin. Yet, yet, I follow words myself in strange beliefs, too. And this story evidently means more than it means. Fiction rarely does that, but here it does. Genuinely so. A test for me, as well as for the boy in it, re our scrying powers, “looking up weirdness like the fourteenth word on the sixty-seventh page in twenty-one different books.”

    My review of Melanie Tem’s Singularity and Other Stories: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/03/07/singularity-and-other-stories-melanie-tem/

  10. THE HUNT

    “In the hunt the relationship between hunter and prey was charged and intimate.”

    An unforgettable rendition of a hunt by a paedophile, with the children seen by him as animal
    prey, and of his hunt’s outcome. So unforgettable, I seriously wonder how this 1993 work has been thus forgotten. Till now?

  11. SIRENS

    “Watching someone else die, someone else break down. Just as long as you and yours were safe. Getting as close as possible to death without actually involving yourself.”

    The title has both senses of the word. A tale of a mother abandoning her daughters, because she thinks herself to be a bad mother. Arrives at a seaside town, like mine? An epiphany?

    “, all the dark men to make love to,”

    Yet, this is a Tem story with a happy ending? Or are all his endings happy?

    As an aside on Daughters, I bought recently the novel with this title by Tem and Melanie.

  12. Show Night

    “, retiring to her own large room with a window that bulged out over the porch like a traumatized eye—to do whatever it was she needed to do.”

    A mother and her son Henry. With a porch and view perhaps from this book’s first story’s spy-perch upon others as well as ourselves, a porch and perch that eventually entail self-destruction and death-as-homelessness, ranging from this overall review’s Gestalt so far I am beginning to feel of children and how they are moulded by grown-ups, all of us fallible and fragile, but building patterns of envy and smells and role-plays and personal stage-sets, the child as actor as well as acted upon, patterns that in turn weigh upon the children that come after us, where we leave them to discover the patterns outside that are then thus internalised, everybody as the many as well as a single everybody, a hoarded, pungent ‘Mr Everyman’. As the structures around us inevitably let us down, even our models of them, by sheer entropy and/or deliberate communal human intervention. A singular force we are made to feel by following Henry in his path through life, following his mother’s death. Yet, is there only one show that is ours and only one night on which to show it?

  13. Does It Scare You?

    “But maybe being a zombie was just an excuse.”

    An extremely powerful portrait from 1989 of college boys’ addiction to horror films in the cinema, where stereo was growing up, as well as gore. Also a perceptive study of one boy’s anxious existentialism and sought catharsis among the necessary fragile bonhomie of these outings. And when I say this story is extremely powerful, I mean that as a horror story in itself as well as one about horror as raison d’être. Unmissable for horror genre specialists, as well as for those into Swiftian modest proposals. The answer to the title, is yes.

    “Human beings could be some pretty violent, ugly animals, all right. But they had some pretty ugly things to face. Death, for one. Each other, for another.”

  14. Skullbees
    A Tale from the Deadfall

    “The funny thing about him was you could spend hours with him and still not quite remember if he had ever talked. But for some reason that never bothered her.”

    This, apparently, was the extra story in the limited edition of DEADFALL HOTEL (my review of its unlimited version here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2016/12/02/10288/) and I don’t want to be accused of over-praising some of these stories, but this one strikes me as a discrete weird classic for children and adults alike, a bit reminiscent of Blackwood’s novels such as The Fruit Stoners, Jimbo, Prisoner in Fairyland, etc., and I can give it no greater compliment. Follow Serena, her Dad, the sight of skullbees, as they are all described with a rhythmic poetic hallucination of prose style.

  15. SNOWMEN

    “There was nothing right about it.”

    Another floaty, perhaps grown-up, but simplistically child-like, Blackwoodian novel-extrapolation, here of a boy faced by an unusual substance of a snow storm and the ensuing eponyms more frightening than the words know, men… how unusual in substance and frightfulness, you will need to read it so as to uncover what shapes reside within it.

  16. THE FARMER

    “He could hear the murmuring from beneath the ground again, as if bodies were rolling over and over.”

    If you had only read this story by Rasnic Tem, I wonder if it would stand out alone, would he stand out alone, too, a discrete, literary, non-genre figure, possibly as great as some well known American authors beyond genre? The story of a boy inheriting the farm, the Gestalt of the past (family people) in that land, the sacrifice he needs to make, of his own bodily gestalt, so as to inherit the land’s kindness? Accident or deliberate act.
    Also this 1983 story possibly predicts a new ‘farmland’, its dangers as well as its gifts, its good inheritances as well as its curses, a sub-optimal to be optimised… “‘This is mine, too?’ the boy asked. ‘No… no,’ the old man said, ‘this is the hub of our land, boy, where the borders of all the family lands meet.’” Where our lands overlap and hyperlink, chopping bits or ourselves off as well as compensating? Everything will be fine soon?

  17. ALAN’S MOTHER

    “Mothers know everything.”

    Even after they pass, or you pass, first? This is the thoughtful simple story of Alan who passes towards puberty, after a childhood’s lifetime of believing in his mother’s magic and her instinct to know what he wants and what he sees in the garden’s scryable pond. Until one of her gifts allows him to become the Goliath to his own David? Or vice versa?

  18. Bad Dogs Come Out of The Rain

    “Kelly yawned, a tall yawn, not a wide one.”

    A moving story of Kelly’s granddad and his taking her on a journey home after staying with him, a journey by aeroplane and rental car to his daughter, Kelly’s mother: with all the precariousness of travel, good intentions gone bad in backstory as well as present moment, a child’s far-seeing wisdom, and her mother’s bad dog moments now and then. Moving and utterly frightening. Sorry, but this is yet another Tem classic.

    “He smiled at the way the color went right to edge of the lines then stopped. Kelly liked her margin of error, preferring to leave an empty place rather than cross the lines.”

  19. BE MINE

    “She found herself ripping the wrapper off another cupcake with something akin to ferocity. Her own neediness enraged her.”

    A girl stalked ubiquitously by jokily feral Valentine cards on Valentine’s Day. Not sure about this one.

  20. CREATION STORY

    “He didn’t know how to talk to somebody in their seventies or eighties. You knew they’d probably be dead in half a dozen years. With that in mind everything you tried to talk about seemed less than important.”

    Sorry, this is yet another Tem classic. Honest to goodness. From Otherworldly Maine. Two grandsons ‘kidnap’ their Granddad, the Old Indian (possibly a misnomer) from his long-term nursing home and returns him to the Forest whence he says he originally emerged. His story, your story, yore story. Full of images of bark, loose skin and blur, and misgivings as to what they the young brothers were doing, with debate upon who depopulated whom in the old days, the new white or the indigenous blur of colours and vegetation. Full of evocative tactility and soulfulness of creation. Kidnapping, Glooskapping.

    “The first time Morgan saw a bear not twenty yards away he knew he was in over his head.”

    “Don’t you see—the story goes on forever—it includes everything.”

  21. Lesser Fires
    Co-written with Melanie Tem

    “Clara.” “That’s my name, don’t wear it out.”

    Scrumptiously haunting, highly prose-poetic with veils and lesser fires, fires hovering with self near the surface where you fall on the pavement, as ghosts become possibly more real than the people of whom they are ghosts. An extended family reunion party, with costumes, Clara’s costume fit for her own gawkiness I guess…so utterly well-characterised; this is Lispector to the nth power of collaborative authors in similar synergy, in hindsight of some unknown future of their selves? Surely not another masterpiece. I can’t stand the pace! No irony intended.

  22. DADDY

    “I don’t understand why Daddy and Mother don’t like each other anymore. But they haven’t liked each other for a long time. I must have been very small when they liked each other, because they haven’t been friends for as long as I can remember.”

    Can ever a Dad dy? A haunting prose piece by the child about an indelibly dyed Daddy.

  23. “And did the Countenance Divine
    Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
    And was Jerusalem builded here
    Among these dark Satanic mills? “
    —- from JERusalem by William Blake

    TYGER

    “That cat was just for him, and always had been. It was like Danny’d swallowed it when he was a baby and then his body had grown up around it.”

    A story, related to the previous Daddy story, is now one of a boy whose father’s going absent in the past had made that cat develop into a tiger. A prowly tiger like the bear in EXCAVATION? An excavation of self, picking rocks from their watery berths. And we watch this boy’s inner demon and/ or angel develop in growing boyishness and/or more lethal Orc-ish play with others, one boy being Jer with an insect inside, and I sense I understand this negative/ positive synergy in my heart if not my brain. As I do with much of literature. My previous reference above — to David and Goliath, amid a granular earth — included.

  24. There’s No Such Thing as Monsters

    A beautifully precarious prose-poem of a story where a Daddy’s need to help frighten his child is countervailed by the equal need to cure such frights, in the ordering of closed covers of books and one’s magic passes. But like the battles elsewhere in this book between forces, sometimes one side wins, sometimes the other, as I once knew, with my own then young children. Now become Goliaths to my David – or, rather, vice versa. And which of us does now create a prayer for whom? Is everything fine now?

  25. THE BOYFRIEND

    “‘It’s a harsh, harsh place, and you have to be ready for it!’ Sometimes when you were a kid you forgot that—you expected everything to turn out okay like it did in the storybooks.”

    “…and boys especially could like things and be scared of them at the same time. It was exciting for them. They were mixed up like that. But you tried to help them get un-mixed up.”

    A truly disturbing extrapolation from the previous story, except here the Daddy figure is a boyfriend of the now pregnant-again mother, a boyfriend who is a man who dresses up as a clown and dresses up her small son (not his son) Joey as a clown, too. All watched by the older sister of Joey called Aria. If you are susceptible to clown horror, this work is your essential food for thought. A dark absurdism of a coda to this book’s symphony, an aria of tragedy and hopelessness, in the adventure playground of foolhardy hope. A mockery of the book’s title? No strangely, it’s somehow a confirmatory vote for not prematurely playing your happy-ever-after carillon but for making continued efforts at fine-tuning it.

    Some sheer literary classics in this book; a chiaroscuro synergy of memorable objective-correlatives.

    end

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