30 thoughts on “Excavation – Steve Rasnic Tem

  1. My previous reviews of older or classic books: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/reviews-of-older-books/

    Chapter 1, Chapter 2

    “Something was different. He should be filling himself, but he could not fill himself.”

    Short first chapter, a bear in the woods who is then filled up by the much longer second chapter? Spirit of place, when I see that I often think of a mad genius, don’t know why. This author is at least partly so, and the spirit place is Colorado, Denver, not that I have been anywhere near there, but I have heard a lot about it Temishly. The story of Reed, and I read it with deep satisfaction so far; Tem text was sure deep textured even back when, I see. Reed, a student of archaeology, and he had a professor with a catchphrase… “Nothing, nothing, my friends, about a building or a locale or ruin, is as it seems!”
    And we are later dipped deep into Reed’s family life, mysterious adopted son Michael who looks like him, daughter Alicia, wife Carol (“herself; in some ways she was as much a child as he was”) — We learn all the tensions of such relationships. Backstories and now stories, and dreams of his parents in oodles of mud drifts in the childhood house, phone calls now dreamt from his dead parents? Do not intend to itemise the plot, as I go on, but I am already captured by it…. a hidden classic, it surely must be! It certainly FEELS like it, already, at least.
    I am perhaps the bear in the woods, the Reader. Not Reed?

  2. Chopter 3

    “It really wasn’t a room for the living anymore. Mattie and he had spent most of their time here during their years of marriage—reading, playing cards, singing along with Mattie on the piano, and listening to the old Philco back when there were things on the radio worth listening to, dramas and such.”

    We now get acquainted with widower Charlie Simpson and his dog Buck. A chapter of memories mixed with guilty nightmares of disasters linked to businesses in his family’s name. Mention of the character Reed Taylor as a connected counter in some game of fiction and truth. Amid a fog with layers, mines unhawled, and dams unburst. Charlie is even filled by the bear in Chapter 1, too. This is difficult stuff to be excavated with deceptive layers of its own fog, but difficult stuff in a good grapply sense. Easy and good hearted, as well as matted and darkly hued.

  3. Chapter 4, Chapter 5

    “His body was slow to do what he wanted, stubborn and disobedient. He wanted to smack it sometimes like a bad child, whip it into shape.”

    That bear again at the end of these chapters, following more backstory for Reed’s Alicia and Michael, and Reed’s own calling onward back into where his own past had taken place, a calling he shares with his wife. Something growly, something prowly, as we now meet Hector Pierce, even older than me, it seems, not sure whether dead or alive as he follows a woman who had come up to the outside of his window, in a building where he is cared for by someone called Inez? He is one of those who had been mine-hawled, mind- or mine-buried by the Simpson mine? Mine or his. Why on earth am I telling you all this? Read it for yourself. But I’ll be coming back just for a touch here and there on the levers of this book. Whip it into shape?

    “The bright-faced woman must have been standing on the roof of the porch to look in on him.”

  4. Chapter 6

    “Fist-sized balls of paper lay scattered like hail over his desk; he’d suddenly find himself pulling one apart, shredding it with stiff fingers.”

    He could not reach down through layers, but Reed was an archaeologist! Now called home by his dead parents away from his family of Carol, Alicia and Michael. Away from their layers of childhood and wifehood, and the books stacked around with markers at the point he’d reached in each one…. spirit of place, spirit of place, mad genius?

    “I mean, how different styles of parenting can affect the future. Here these people chose one style of cradle over another, and it affected the actual physical appearance of the next generation of their people.”

    His Excavation on Mesa Verde. Some deeply textured layers in this otherwise ostensible horror novel, that has hidden away from me all these years.

    “One of Reed’s first great interests in archaeology had been the whole idea of ancient trash piles. Farming groups who had lived in one place for a long time — the spiritual forebears to his own ancestors in Simpson Creeks, he supposed — left wonderful garbage piles for the archaeologist. There was nothing more delightful to Reed than a big garbage dump. Each piece told part of a story.”

    Cf above quote with THE FARMER by this author that I happened to review here earlier today by chance.

    “Carol didn’t like looking down, or digging into the layers. And she didn’t like that part of Reed that found such excavating to be of central importance. It made her profoundly uncomfortable.”

    He plays racquetball with a colleague, his own layers now plumbed or hawled? Flayed or flensed?

    “As the layers of fat were stripped away, the nervous angles came back; his hidden body took over completely, changing his gestures, stance, expressions, everything. Friends from his early married days no longer recognized him on the street.”

    Sorry, I got carried away today! Too many quotes. Forgive me as I excavate my own perceived layers of this book by real-time reviewing its spirit of place and person. Each layer tells a part of the story.

  5. Chapter 7, Chapter 8

    “More and more there were human beings inside him, and their dwelling places, and he was seeing some of these dwelling places outside him now, here, in this place.”

    Buck and bear at the Simpson locale. Some of this stuff is truly amazing. Ungraspable, while it is also there in my reading hand, nevertheless.
    Then we have Reed about to start his Among the Living-like journey into the past, for him the past still at Simpson Creeks to where he will be flying, away from his family in Denver, but he is still among the poignant memories he explores before he leaves, by time-layered photographs or tagged library book due to be returned. His exploration is with synaesthesia and tactility, as well as with brainstorming emotions of self, slanting prose-poetically what he sees to fit a fiction of a new self – or of an old self?

    “What if the world was full of people who were uncomfortable no matter where they were, who never really recognized themselves?”

  6. Chapter 9

    “Fog usually lay heavy in the valley until almost midmorning, when the sun finally reached over the top of the Big Andy Mountain and began to burn it out of the hollows in layers from the top down, revealing the landscape with no small amount of suspense,…”

    A substantive chapter of Simpson Creeks and its genius loci, its layers of place and time, mines, disasters, as Reed flies in by aeroplane, beset by a cough, while we follow Charlie on the ground, reminded about Hector and Inez, and Charlie’s thoughts – and his poignant discovery at the end of this chapter. The whole is an incredible description, like a symphony in music, imbued with the precarious nature of natural nature and of human nature; it is enthralling, but I am worried that I shall forget some of its teeming information as set within the overall wonderful atmosphere.

  7. Chapter 10

    “Hector’s thin gray hair floated over the back of the rocker like dandelion silk. His head seemed still and lifeless as a melon. At first she couldn’t tell how the rocker was moving; she could perceive no movement of hand, arm, or leg.”

    That’s how novels and stories work, like rockers that rock, sometimes with motive force, other times not. Life itself, too. More names here to get a handle on, as we await Reed Taylor’s arrival. More madness. More things going wrong, or just one big thing going wrong? More this and that … at which to grin and bear.

  8. Chapter 11

    “There were a number of old tales about Indians being swallowed up by the trembling earth. There were also stories about missing white hunters.”

    How incredibly uncanny that I read for the first time this same author’s ‘Creation Story’, and reviewed here only today? And now that I should read this stirring chapter of the feral transfigurations of bear and boy, and the subsuming forest. And Charlie’s mutated campfire tale of the lost toe. And the senile dementia or simple madness of Hector as perhaps this whole chapter’s filter, hidden in plain sight? Well, not the filter surely of this chapter’s first half when we followed Reed into Four Corners (a genius loci of a place we experience with him, a place he remembers from boyhood) as a break from his train journey towards a Simpson Creeks that is now close by. Hardly worth cleaning the train that close?

    “A bear was more human than elk or mastodon. Like a human swollen with darkness.”

  9. Chapter 12

    “Reed could see the bottom halves of the faces talking, making jokes, occasionally suffering a grim smile, but the eyes, and the lines around the eyes, remained frozen.”

    A sort of TED Klein local store with embedded characters. But that is not all we’re told about their eyes or the mines’ slurry in the area, and the circumstances of Reed’s seeming fateful escape, yes, escape, when he first left Simpson Creeks years ago, now returned with survivor-guilt, with genuine, if numbed stoical, welcome by his uncle and others and their smiles if not their eyes. Staying at Inez’ boarding-house, now less busy, but still with unique wraparound porch, and now her aged demented brother Hector in one of the rooms…
    This is horror genre melodrama distilled as literature, or literature disguised as horror genre melodrama. Pungent, bearish, growly, prowly, dead-eyed, yet somehow revelatory with a more enlightened spiritual overseeing.

  10. Chapter 13

    “He couldn’t tell; the steady progression of the stripping and the flood had changed the mountain completely, until it was hardly Big Andy anymore.
    Like his Uncle Ben had said in the truck tonight, ‘Mountain like that can’t have a name no more.’”

    Reed dwells with sudden gabbling drinking companion at Inez, a companion saying

    “Company man say, it were an act of God. Didn’t see God… behind the wheel… them coal company dozers. Boy, ya hearin’ me? Saw yore daddy’s hand, yer momma’s dress, miles down, from home. Never did find… yer baby sister. Boy? Just to get a little strip of coal… hear that?”

    And Reed thinks about his father…
    “It was difficult sometimes connecting the two: the thoughtful amateur archaeologist with the hard-drinking, swearing, brutish bear of a man Reed had grown up with.”
    A prowly as well as growly man, his father who once “prowled his room with nervous energy, too nervous, almost, to let his feet fall—“

    Excuse so many quotes, but much of this work’s text is irresistible. How can once such a growingly great work disappear into past time? I need to go back home to excavate it as well as ‘reed’ it!

  11. CEB72766-07B5-4A13-8F43-68AC0C6F40FAChapter 14

    “But the bear snarled the thing inside away.”

    “Things were turning dark in Simpson Creeks; she wondered sometimes if maybe the apocalypse was coming, the final times, when the dead would be walking the earth.”

    “a dead little girl with jelly eyes,”

    A sort of sporadic intermission of insane introspection by various characters. Quiet, serene, but nightmarish. Masterful story-telling, I sense, without seeming effort, but stressful nevertheless. The reader adds him- or herself to the list of names, with a share of such introspections. The reader, and Reed, too, with an excavator, something mining him, haunting him, hawling him, I guess.

  12. Chapter 15

    “Then the two were laughing, looking like idiots when you couldn’t hear the sound of the laugh.”

    Mighty strong writing around Big Andy. Third alternatives, if there can be such things. Boss and worker, crazy thoughts, mutual observing, stripping trees and stuff for mining, with conservation anxieties even back then when these words were first written, and things spilling out, the crude fallibilities of humanity, women on men, men on women, I sense. If there are forebears, are there such things as postbears, I ask myself? As I say, much strong writing here. Glad I picked this up.

  13. Chapter 16

    “…rage remained forever in a place that had once nurtured it. ‘The spirit of the place.’ With the twisted trees, the broken rock, the demolished structures, Reed could see how someone could believe such a theory. This was a raging place.”

    That mad genius again? Reed excavates the crucial site of his past, dogged by sightings of bear or forebear, through the bric à brac of a family’s drowning and shifting, and the undermined land, its undermining by business as well as mines, his father, grandfather, his own undermining as a mind that he calls mine. I wonder if “where the old stream had turned”, is the same stream which a father and son sought in a city, not in outlands like these, earlier today within another Tem book just started?

  14. Chapter 17

    “Her gray hair was neatly kept, except for one long strand that kept coming loose, hanging down between her eyes.”

    She took scissors to it, not an angel comb, it seems.

    “Something fell inside the dreamhouse. Dream of drowning house, Reed thought.”

  15. Chapter 18, Chapter 19

    “He wouldn’t be calling Carol very often; the phone system in the county was still impossible.
    But that was an excuse. He didn’t want to call Carol. He was afraid if he talked to Carol too often he wouldn’t be able to stick to his decision to stay in the Creeks until he’d solved this thing.“

    Or should he never have left the Creeks at all? Hector seems to think so. An era when telephone calls were filled with static. And you knew the operator personally. Meanwhile, a number of short instinctive, dream-like movements into a composition of various layers — a little girl, burning hair; hair rhymes with bear. My passing thoughts, not necessarily the book’s. Again, I ask whether this is genre melodrama disguised as intrinsic literature? Or vice versa? The fact that such questions can be asked at all might, either way about, prove something about the nature of Tem’s work.

  16. Chapter 20

    “Doris pushed herself back into the corner, pushed back and back until she could feel both walls coming together in her skin, the corner becoming part of her spine, hurting, hurting, but at least she didn’t have to know what she was seeing here, passing through her window, floating through her window like it wasn’t even there, all blazing like a fire ball… but it was a woman, wasn’t it? The most beautiful woman Doris Parkey had ever seen. She even wanted to touch her, she was so beautiful, although she was terrified, have that beauty against her skin, but that was wrong… but oh, so beautiful it hurt your eyes!”

    Sorry to quote so much, but I needed to cross-reference this in a coincidental synergy with what I read this morning here in This House of Wounds by Georgina Bruce.

    Reclamation, archaeology, polly-ticks, we then follow Reed, and others and their digging towards backstories, too. Instinctive as well as scientific, as with every gestalt and its layers. Reed discovering his Gee, a boyhood toy. And even in the 1980s, when this novel was first published, the choice between “devastation of the land or abject poverty” already represented the dilemma of Gaia, a desperate choice that continues with renewed force today.

    “Of how Gee was actually Reed’s secret self, shrunken and distorted, and whatever happened to Gee, happened to Reed. Gee, of course, had been buried ten years.”

  17. 20D99771-0225-4B25-B2DC-77FACC2F1FB5

    A bear walking the lower prom today.

    Chapter 21

    “You know, we don’t spend all our time gettin’ eat by bears and chasing Hector Pierce in his birthday suit all over creation.”

    …conversation during Reed’s attendance of a homely gathering with his Uncle Ben and the rest of the family, including two kids Tim and Lannie. This is a perfect family oasis for dark literature to take to its heart, I guess. Makes Reed think of his own daughter Alicia left behind while he is on this personal excavation of a trip. In those days, you can pummel your own kids with paternal innocent love…
    Then a walk with Ben up Big Andy, another oasis of fellow feeling, but with prophetic thoughts regarding natural cycles and threats to Gaia.

    “Fact is, sometimes daydreaming is one of the most important things a body can do, if you ask me.”

  18. Chapter 22

    “Dig and dig and dig, and what was he finding?”

    Reed uses his professional archaeological techniques for digging into his own childhood. Absolutely beautiful stuff. Has this novel been lost to anyone but me? Forcing back tears, Reed or reader (gestalt seeking) compares the detritus and keepsakes of various potential pasts that could have been or actually have been. Aligned by another, for me, inspiring vision of this book’s bear…

    “A way of life reduced to just so much garbage. But there was a certain kind of peaceful satisfaction in this work. Counting artifacts, sorting them, fitting all the different pieces together. A gigantic jigsaw puzzle.”

  19. Chapter 23

    “His uncle said people were recalling the big flood, but they weren’t talking about evacuating.”

    Funny, I often misread excavating as evacuating.

    “Rake at it with bleeding fingers if need be. Mine his past, dump the debris out of him.”

    This is Reed’s growing apotheosis as we continue to dig alongside him. Even as he digs through his own past to an old Indian burial ground. As we are given more glimpses of the conniving between the Creeksfolk and the company that gives them work. Conniving to ignore what damage is done to the land.

    “Strange how layers of earth and bones and memories were all mixed together here, all commingled in the earth, which did not differentiate.”

    And the madness – sometimes dug real dirty – get down and pig-dirty – of the lusts that still besets old fogeys – as well as the young, no doubt. There is something subsuming about this text, a sort of old and young together, something naively dark that was written about 30 years ago and couldn’t be written by anyone at all today. Not even by Tem himself, I guess.

  20. Chapter 24

    “He could understand wear and tear, the stones eroding away. But entire stones? What happened to them?”

    I took those stones away and placed them above within quote marks? This book is its own foundation like Charlie Simpson’s slab, like life itself, something to be kept working at even after you thought you had finished it and when mending it, needed mending again, with whatever, living or dead, you had put within it, something disguised as an empathisable entity or as some truth-in-fiction. I hope I am a sort of mender or hawler of such slabs, too.

  21. Chapter 25

    “….there weren’t all those peaks and valleys. It just burned…”

    And when a bear burns, there are no longer subtle veils or piques.
    Reed’s phone call to Carol, too. There is some inevitability to a human being’s defiance, even to the extent of self-destruction? “Rage.” Today, we have come to excavating this earlier novel with a new awareness of such things?

  22. Chapter 26

    “The slab seemed to be shifting on its own, being moved, perhaps, by the wind.”

    Am I losing the plot? Too old am I to retain names like Audra. Prehensile garbage, disturbed by a dog. Audra’s secret admirer, more a boy than a man? But, I guess, all the men in the Creeks were all boys when they first faced Big Andy. “An old, rich hate.”

  23. Chapter 27

    “The lack of understanding was a constant bother now; he was enraged by it.”

    Me, too. But all part of the “bear the bear” game, I guess, of such intrinsic mulchy, holy, hawly literature, as we follow Reed and others who blame him for the bear or something even more intangible. Reed, with his own now self-thought useless obsession in digging the ground of his past, brought here he suspects by not only a hoax call, but also, I infer, by the hoax words that describe him, a melodrama of horror. I wish I could fully follow all the characters and their recriminations towards Reed and other things. Should we flatten the whole town and forget it? The underlying backstories of doll or little girl. Or a teddy bear, now without its eyes. I am following a dollmaker elsewhere as I read this.

  24. Chapter 28

    “You know, you look just like you did when you were a boy and were confused about something, thought you’d done something wrong, and trying so hard to make things right.”

    As with Jesse, as with Janus? I am trying hard to make things right, too, to reconcile the visions that the several crowded characters in this book experience, whether by alcohol or by craziness or simply by truth really being there, by the craziness of time itself, or horror melodrama, many of these characters, Reed included, being haunted by their own backstories, evacuated or excavated here to reconcile parts of their own selves? The hawling of each mine?
    This book itself seems to be getting away from me, deterring me …. as if it feels guilty it was what made a hoax call on me – to come and excavate it?

  25. Chapter 29

    “‘Reed… it’s your wife on the phone.’
    Reed looked at himself in the mirror. He was so pale, he hardly recognized himself.”

    A powerful pareidolia, whether individual or mass hysteria for all the many characters, characters now crystallising more in my mind, maybe not hysteria at all. Faces seen where faces should not be, memories, sinkholes figurative or real, lost loves, lost letters returned, and that bear or other beast we must all face at some time in our lives. I wonder whether it is significant that the mining company has always been called Nole. Not particularly noticed that name before. A sort of the holiest holes of all holes whereby there is no hole at all? A holism that paradoxically negates gestalt?

  26. Chapters 30 – 34

    Had to be read in one sitting. A word-kaleidoscope of cathartic purging, faciing one’s old fears, facing even one’s shadow self, one’s father, too, be you man or woman now. The flood of words carries much detritus and sentimentalities of items within it, thickly flooding beneath a fog as fulsome as the flood it has engendered beneath it. A language and style to die for, honest horror. It couldn’t be written today, but such honest horror is projected forward to become a literature read today… melodrama having been factored into everything these days. And little cruelties cumulative even from those who would once have called themselves kind.

    “Charlie knew then why the flood was so thick. It was thick with time.”

    “It was as if Big Andy had been hiding that stuff all these years, deep inside him, and now was coughing it up like an old man with a diseased gut.”

    He’s still doing it, no doubt. Funny, by adding ‘no doubt’, one instils an element of doubt. But genuinely no doubt here. “Big Andy was one persistent devil.”

    “He watched in fascination as the concrete slab suddenly seemed flexible, buckling all up and down its length like a series of piano keys being played.”

    That slab again, those layers of archaeology, and even Reed is rescued upon a floating stone wall! That says something so lateral, so oblique, it takes the breath away.

    I won’t tell you who survived their own past, and entered the future, nor who entered the Nole. The ‘great synthesis’ of Lafferty’s Old Foot Forgot that I read about yesterday here, only just in time to be factored into this my final excavation of Excavation. By the skin of my bear’s teeth. Spoilers only work in one direction, not unlike filters. But that depends on time itself working that way, too?

    “The worst thing about people dying on you was sometimes it seemed that they hadn’t even existed, and that they’d taken part of your own past with them when they died.”


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