40 thoughts on “Figures Unseen – Steve Rasnic Tem

  1. I go deeper into Tem, as the days go by, making what has seemed till now to have been a fateful excavation of his mineworks, or what, today, having just read the first story below, could be called a fishing or hawling trip to end all such trips. I still have two more Tem books on the stocks, not yet started and soon to be eked out with slow savour, so as to extend the trip as long as possible.

    CITY FISHING

    “Are you sure this is the right way to the stream, Dad?”

    The stream of consciousness or the stream of dark inevitabilities as two fathers take their two sons (one son each) for a (pubertal?) initiation of a father-son bonding on a fishing trip, leaving the two mothers behind somewhat cruelly. Towards a fishing stream, literally deeper into the city, not where one might expect in the more open lands around the city. Towards a stream where the deepening shapes of the words crowd inward. I did all this, too, with my son, I admit, in hindsight. Hard to ignore.

  2. ANGEL COMBS

    “They wouldn’t take ’em, none of ’em!”

    The sheer poetry of an utterly unmissable masterpiece of poverty-poignancy. A genre that should exist more than it does. Ranging from a small girl’s endemic need for combing in front of a posh dresser, a mother’s excitement at the apparent opportunity to fulfil an otherwise humble, eventually impractical, dream for her kids, and the tooth angel (akin to the fairy version) who comes with every tress of fog and untangling of head hair. Even the weeds knew something about it, too.

    As an aside, my own humble brief attempt at this genre first published in 1995:
    https://admtoah.wordpress.com/2018/04/12/735/

  3. THE POOR

    “He sometimes wonders if the poor are real at all, or actors hired by someone who hates him, hired to disturb the regular pace of his day, to corrupt his dreams with their thin faces.”

    Another, even more dead-eyed, example of poverty-poignancy, about a man who deals with the poor and finds it increasingly difficult to cope with their demands. Literally deadpan, almost in bed with them. Beautiful.
    I am genuinely convinced that Rasnic Tem is THE poet of our times, one that has been hidden in plain sight or disguised as a writer of genres he is more famous for.

  4. I reviewed the next story in Feb 2014, as follows…

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    A House by the Ocean
    “The rolling waves revealed dark pockets which appeared to have something in them, creatures or spirits or passage to somewhere else…”
    The description of the sea in this story is, in hindsight, exactly how I have seen the sea (near where I live), bringing home to me, as all great fiction should, feelings that I have never really articulated for myself. Indeed, only now and again, one is privileged to read a new story that readily radiates the potential of becoming a classic and this is one of those stories, without a doubt. A dark radiating, that is, very dark but paradoxically shining with some sort of deep beauty, telling a story where two antagonistically estranged but, we sense, at heart, loving sisters meet up after many years, the older visiting the younger one following the latter’s distressed request, visiting her where she lives at a desolate part of the coastline. The suspenseful nature of the older sister’s journey to this area, the eventual nature she discovers of the house by the ocean, the surprise that the younger sister has a seven year old daughter…well, all this (and more) is done with beautifully effective touches and the climax is both subtle and wildly devastating. And after the story is finished, the implications only slowly dawn on you, while making you feel uplifted by such a perfectly told story yet remaining devastated by those implications. No mean feat.

  5. I reviewed the next story in March 2014, as follows…

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    Wheatfield with Crows
    The past negligence of a parent through the power of temporary trivial pleasure is revisited in a land of wheatfields that are gathered — by the author through the now adult sketching brother of the small girl who went missing many years ago — as a Van Gogh-like re-configuration of the book’s earlier ocean, autonomous with sporadic pockets whence living things can emerge… A neat, if sometimes hackneyed, coda.
    But the sound of these wheat seas, as it were, do have persistent ‘crackle and fuzz’ and I return with a sweet knowing to the book’s diaphanous dissemination or desiccation that may one day begin for me like a dusting of snow.

    “For dear old grumpapar, he’s gone on the razzledar, through gazing and crazing and blazing at the stars.” – “Crackajolking away like a hearse on fire.” –Finnegans Wake

  6. I reviewed the next story in Feb 2012, as follows…

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    Crutches

    “Everybody needs a crutch now…”

    And this story is even colder. One for our age of austerities. Beautifully bleak. An obsession with crutches, some weak, some strong, perhaps some, I imagine, even scrimshaw. (Another ‘Tree Ring Anthology’?) Generations eking out a living in a time of quantitative uneasing – and a single hope at the end is out-stared, out-grinned through another window (or symbiotic screen?) – to the tap tap tap of someone’s keyboard (my thought, not the story’s thought originally, though it may be the story’s today). A story that I think I shall remember for a good while, if not forever, as disarmingly great. Glad I’ve been put on to this ‘book’. (10 Feb 12 – an hour later)

  7. I reviewed the next story in Feb 2012…

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    Leaks

    Another inter-generational male scenario, one that has just brought an ineluctable welling (leaking?) of tears to my aging eyes, almost literally as well as with full metaphorical force. The battle against entropy-through-structural-and-endemic-dampness by means of poignant human endeavour to maintain doing the small things for the benefit of one’s family, even if those small things amounted to nothing really significant or, perhaps, a great deal? One never knows. The rituals of conscientious living are portrayed here wonderfully, together with fiction’s creepiness of spiritual and material encroachment in a family house by the creek. [This story also evoked in me – within the context of this special review – a reminder of being myself likened to King Canute vis-a-vis my recent public pronouncements regarding ebooks seemingly encroaching upon traditional books and encouraging a culture of plagiarism/piracy and of published fiction authors losing their specialness (they can’t so readily do live concerts that musicians do so as to buy bread for their family before it grows mouldy). Similar to the story’s ‘rituals’, there have been decades of my own meticulous care and attention to books; of collecting; of writing; now of reviewing them and publishing/editing them: a semi-autistic series of well-meaning actions on my part today starting to seep away as the electronic creek draws even nearer? But, perhaps not. Surely the act of facing the situation out – with this story, possibly with this whole ebook once I’ve read it all – is the challenge, the sandpaper to the mould on the wall: just what I need to create a bridge across the generational parting of the Red Sea, across the two competing sides of Self, one increasingly aging, the other still the boy I once was. We shall see.] (11 Feb 12)

  8. I reviewed the next story in Feb 2012…

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    Houses Creaking in the Wind

    “…gazing out these windows, reading the dark before sleep,…”

    Scrying the wind and the creaks, too. Another vignette, this time not of stone but, contrastively, “the spaces betweeen his thoughts“, and the inter-generational tragedies that time keeps within itself for our memory to exhume like ghosts or flies. If I said anything further, I’d be more an accomplice than a reviewer! But I can say that the book, so far, certainly seems organic both as an Ariel and a Caliban. No mean feat. (11 Feb 12 – another 30 minutes later)

  9. I reviewed the next story in Feb 2012…

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    Escape on a Train

    “The window tappings continue all night long, but he never sees anything. In the morning he discovers hundreds of round, slightly greasy spots on the glass.”

    Those tappings again leading to a scryable text? I am ever more agog at this book’s resonances with itself (and with my first reading of it as my first experience of reading a fiction ebook). This basically is an enjoyably well-crafted absurdist tale (reminding me favourably of much 20th Century European literature) – involving the Theory of Relativity and the insulation of travelling on a train past life’s tragedies without the ability of helping or even connecting, all mingled with this book’s fragile inter-generational caring for children. Yes, absurdist but also genuinely emotional. Didactic, too, in a good way. The Ariel reaching out for the Caliban and vice versa, but because of the glass between never to connect. The glass that keeps full immersion from the electronically coded text? I feel immersed, but am I? If yes, it is probably because Tem is a rare transcending writer. “Those other people, the ones outside the train, are merely lost messages coded into the winds,…” (12 Feb 12 – two hours later)

  10. I reviewed the next story in Feb 2012…

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    Among the Old

    “The ancient trees turn colour even as I watch; they are expert with the properties of light.”

    As if by magic, this vignette complements the previous – in hindsight – co-vignette: where the circularity of youth and age, text and light, multiplicity and singularity, becomes deeply poetic if simply conceived in a park where one keeps seeing one’s own face in others. As I do in this book.  Once a book of trees, now of “silvering” moonlight? (13 Feb 12 – 20 minutes later)

  11. I reviewed the next story in Feb 2012…

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    In the Trees

    “The forest floated up out of its roots and shouted.”

    Here the father-son inter-generationality (and with his little girl, too, alongside the ever-pervasive spouse) becomes a powerful fable – while portraying a clumsily well-intentioned fallibility of doing one’s best in every little thing one does, like encouraging an anxious child to beat his fear of sleep, echoing much in this book so far: one of those fables you sense you have read before but ostensibly you haven’t. Perhaps it’s already in the reader’s ‘sap’ (sap strengthening rather than sapping), its words flowing through the Jungian Collective Unconscious or simply, inexplicably molten? Each generation is the other’s climbing-tree, almost conceivable as a retrocausal circle of effect. And, again, the flames climb the trees, seen from across the other side of the metaphorical lake, here silver ones of the electronic (?) moon as it tries selflessly to pull the books from the branches or selflessly to push them back again, as I infer. (13 Feb 12)

  12. I reviewed the next story in March 2013 when published in Onion Songs…

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    Me reading ‘Onion Songs’

    Out Late in the Park
    “In this park of the world, suddenness is the business of the day.”
    This is a splendidly engaging story of slowly disengaging … as a few relatively old men (now shuffled out from one man into separate, insulated, game-playing Proustian selves?) congregate at this book’s ‘way station’ to play rounders, before they themselves are rounded up either by the ‘last bus home’ or by critters lurking at the edges of their ‘playing-precinct’. A frisson of companionship for them, empathy for me, as they recall that their Mums no longer can call them home to bed from their play, and the father-son relationship of Clarence Senior/Junior (echoing some of this book’s foregoing sentiments?)
    The themes of “profound patience” prefigured differently in ‘The Messenger’ leading to the ultimate Hijack of the soul… and mention of “paternal responsibility” … utterly, beautifully poignant and haunting. Frightening, too.

  13. I reviewed the next story in March 2014…

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    The Cabinet Child
    She thought at first that somehow he had hurt his face, and then realised what she had taken for a wound was simply a strained and unaccustomed smile.”
    I don’t want to go over the top here, but I am forced to declare that this is another gem of potential classic proportions: a blend of a fable by Brothers Grimm, an Aickman or Sarban dollhouse work and a special permeating Tem touch, about a childless couple, a tale deeply poignant, yet twitching with pragmatic irony. It is as different from the previous two stories as they are from each other, but it echoes the first story’s sort of backstory-reincarnation for which one yearns, the promise of which state of being the future existence of one’s own children seems to provide – as well as echoing, most powerfully, the second story’s end vision of the child in diaphanous dissemination by what had helped give it birth…

  14. I reviewed the next story in March 2013…

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    The Figure In Motion
    “After the war the human figure was trivialized in modern art.”
    For personal reasons — eg a life-long interest in painted art, a creative appreciation of the figures and shapes emerging with Ghost Story frisson at the edges of Weird Literature and a fear or embracing of the growing poignancy represented by end-of-life couples, a fear or embracing that no doubt comes close or will come close to my own life — this has to be my favourite Tem story so far.
    In many ways, it’s too precious (in a good sense) to discuss or fathom out. The ‘old man process’ (so-called earlier by me) that subsists after the vanishing of one’s lifetime partner into the white canvas of snow (cf the earlier self snow-death in this book), the “dignity” of ‘profound patience’ (as I see it) and the slow withdrawal into Hans Castorp’s ‘reclining-chair’ on the loggia balcony that one sporadically fights against, and this story’s Happening or Art Installation — attempted by its protagonist as he builds his late partner’s belongings and works-in-progress (she did knitting, for example) in the gallery of at least felt observers — is too sad even to countenance. But, perhaps paradoxically, uplifting, too.
    Together with this, the Art of Fiction is also addressed in its assumed version of the author’s autobiography … when faced, as I would say, by my life-long interest in the literary theory of ‘The Intentional Fallacy’. Life’s ‘disturbing’ onion “layering” that this story questions so movingly when faced with “the truth of the body”. Exquisite.

    [I hope I can be forgiven, from time to time, in this review, when I wheel out my own brief prose pieces that seem to act as a foil, or tangent or mere continuation of this book’s ‘theme and variations’ as in music and its ‘dying falls’ and ‘laments’, however humble my prose efforts are when compared to other writers. I don’t intend to mean that as a form of false modesty, but as a genuine ‘relaxed snowman’ acceptance based on hopefully objective observation. In any event, here is another brief piece of mine (published in 1996): The Provenance of Souls.]

  15. I reviewed the next story in April 2013…

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    An Ending
    “…she’d been assaulted by the fairies, and she fell away from him and he couldn’t even shout his outrage at the terrible thing.”
    A coda’s coda. [The first time I’ve physically cried (and not onion tears!) during the reading of this book, this end story reminding me of watching my Dad gradually die, over three years, from Motor Neurone Disease, his gradual inability to communicate, but no loss of marbles, just this transcendental experience, also watching my elderly mother’s fortitude when she visited him with me… And his struggling reaction to her and to me, and to my own son and daughter…] This story also has a telling reference to the ‘onion songs’ and conveys the Absurdity of such experiences, eg the goat trope that constructively makes this book remind me again of Royle’s QUILT novel. ‘An Ending’ is very powerful and makes this whole book even more memorable, of which I need say no more.
    “There is nothing more he can say.”

    [This experience, generally, though, I think, has been the essence of what I originally meant by the phrase NULL IMMORTALIS in 2010, three years after my father’s death. If some, meanwhile, shuffle or scrabble some of the letters and call me the NULL IMMORALIST, so be it!]

    [When it is finished, I shall show my wife’s earlier quilted needlework – that was shown somewhere above in an unfinished state – within the next comment space below, but I shall say no more about the wonderful ONION SONGS. Thanks, too, to Chomu Press for enabling Tem to produce it for we readers in such a fine form.]

  16. I reviewed the next story in March 2012 when published in Interzone…

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    Twember – Steve Rasnic Tem

    Time disruption, alien invasion, dimensional shifts at the earth’s core.”

    [My previous real-time reviews of Steve Rasnic Tem fiction included here: Black Static #12 — Cinnabar’s Gnosis — Null Immortalis — Black Static #19 — Ghosts (Crimewave Eleven) — The Far Side of the Lake]

    I can see the genesis of this SF story in many of the weird and horror and literary works I’ve reviewed or read by Tem in the past: but it stands on its own as a remarkable vision of ‘escarpments’ that arrive in our world like a cross between ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ constructs and unpredictable Tornados for Tornado Chasers or Watchers (literally to watch as one’s wrist-watch watches time): Tem has various other tantalising analogies for the phenomenon.  I sense, too, a cross-sectioning through various cross-pollenations of one’s normal life, past, present and future, as a form of poignant spirituality, loss, hope, faith, identity (that some garner from their own version of a cross symbol or transcendent moving of the Holy Ghost through their self). [Also compare: ‘Window’ by Bob Leman and ‘Little Lambs’ by Stephen Graham Jones]. There is much ordinary life here, too, and believable characterisations as they face the white noise, “faux snow” and infiltration by synthetic or alien material or new matter or old matter become new again, as these things come through otherwise normal existences like substantial yet ghost-like structures.  I’ve called kindred processes ‘hawling’ in the past. This story ‘hawls’ the reader in the same way with its words.  Also, I am wondering whether ‘Twember’ as the title and the word for a sort of ‘weather’-season or concocted holiday-celebration, constituted by these hawlers or escarpments, stems from a form of ‘Tem’ and ‘Twin’ (cf the mirror in this story), as well as the more overt betwixt and between. (22 Mar 12 – 1.05 pm gmt)

  17. ORIGAMI BIRD

    “…a sheet of lost and yellowing stationery, until at last the first glimmer of bird came through.”

    A fine prose poem about the one who made the title. Figures seen and unseen.
    By remarkable chance, in mutual synergy with today’s Bruce that I happened to read and review just half an hour ago here.

  18. FIRESTORM

    “He dreamed that the Japanese-Americans had committed some terrible, secret sin, and that a great white god was punishing them. The Japanese nation had better watch out, he had thought, else this god would send tornadoes against them too.”

    This is a sprawling evocation spilt between the later reactions of various characters of all the repercussions of the Japanese-American War and the eventual outcome. Apocalyptic, religious, personal, in body and mind, related to some new Godzilla or God proper, and I could tell that there is some strong writing here. But I am afraid it tended to pass over my head, without hitting. And I could not engage with the characters. Whether I was in the right mood or not for reading it, only a re-reading another day would show. But I don’t feel at the moment enticed back to it. One thing that struck me was the religious angle. Without religion they could have dealt with Hiroshima better, by treating it simply as it was. Man against man, and nothing to do with some God.

  19. WHEN WE MOVED ON

    “These walls are quickly growing thin—it’s time to go.”

    A perfectly exquisite portrait of a family where the due time for evacuation has been reached, the walls getting thinner, almost semi-transparent, a lifetime’s belongings more crowded, as if ready for Reed’s later excavation in another book by this author, some children grown up and almost become other people, one’s own children worried that ‘forever’ has now become finite. Utterly poignant and true. A literary classic, no mistake, to be read by anyone or everyone who has put their many once treasured belongings in an outhouse for real or in an outhouse of the mind, as I have, in both instances. My wife and I soon to become an outhouse to each other? Figures unseen.

    “A painting can become too crowded in its composition, a brain too full of trivia, and a house can certainly accumulate too many plans, follies, acquisitions, vocations, avocations, heart-felt avowals, and memories so fervently gripped they lose their binding thread.”

  20. THE COMPANY YOU KEEP

    Just one paragraph from this work, if I may…

    “It saddened him that the truth of it had never been clear to him before, that people like him, people who had endured a solitary desperation all their lives, required no words for their secret communications, that their private handshakes demanded no actual exchange of touch, that their meeting places were spontaneous and secret even unto themselves, that, like the early Christian churches in a world of persecution, they met wherever and whenever more than one of them came together in one place.”

    These words seem sadly and laterally, even ironically, to now factor into the news of the real-time day. The story’s perfect ending of deadpan killing, too. A Corporate Horror, in its literal sense, not only the tedious and soul-destroying of workaday life, but the lost, the loneliness of life. Kindred loners gathering palely, silently, with matched stumbles and other mutually recognisable bodily tweaks and habits. This is possibly the greatest Tem classic of all? But will I ever finish reading the seemingly numberless Tem works, so as to be certain? Each day often brings a new superlative of literature, in the passion of the moment’s real-time reading.
    For others, figures unseen.

  21. THE CARVING

    “He did not mark the wood, did not reduce it with machinery before his preliminary cuts. Outlines, he said, were no use for freeing the true shapes within.”

    A freer of art from wood, his conversation, I infer, like mine, more wooden than airy; such freeing extending to himself as husband and father, as well as his art. An utterly poignant piece. A tossed shape of words. Or another figure unseen.

  22. JESSE

    “This is what it’s really like.”

    Not just like, but is. A substantive work that is truly shocking, so shocking it may be the most shocking story I have ever or will ever read. Seriously.
    I feel somehow absolved about reading it as someone had to write it first. Doing it together thereafter, doing this story, that is, by effectively allowing the things that happen in it to happen, seems to halve the guilt. Like the two boys in it as the gestalt Jesse. Je – I. Se – him.
    Unseen.

    “Sometimes I guess you don’t know how to behave until you’ve read it in a book or seen it on TV.”

  23. PREPARATIONS FOR THE GAME

    “It occurs to him it’s the first time anyone has ever visited his apartment.”

    A frightful, didactic, if absurdist, portrait of what is a young man, a fraternity sportsman or Bullingdon Club budding politician (cf David Cameron and what he did to a pig), here with recurring set phrases, panic and anxiety to get to the stadium for his match, waylaid by meeting a woman now as a monster in his life, the woman, I infer, whom he once helped gang-rape now gaining come-uppance on him.
    The panic and anxiety are infectious, I found.

  24. LITTLE CRUELTIES

    “They made each day a series of subliminal defeats. Trying to stop them seemed futile—they were too much a part of life in the city. He could never decide if it was the city changing the people, or the people changing the city.”

    Those little cruelties, o so little, compared explicitly to, say, that pig in youthful fraternity initiations of the previous story. Yet the man here, sees such cruelties, even if he is part of them (a previous theme of this author I have read: of ‘punishment’ in child-rearing, such as being cruel to be kind), little cruelties to his son concerning Easter chicks come back home to roost, almost literally. All with my empathy of communities going to seed, a cumulative effect I see around me of unkempt verges and potholes, gradually extrapolated to worse and worse, amid the encroaching rageful polarities. An effective haunting portrait, but written when? I have not checked, but certainly apposite today.

  25. THE MEN AND WOMEN OF RIVENDALE

    “They’d discovered it was so much easier to become excited by anger, rage, and all the small cruelties possible in married life, than by love.”

    This powerful story is deadpan, yes, a musical dying-fall, yes, but also and more so, deadfall. At RIVENDALE, remember that pleasant-sounding word as it institutes itself within you: but riven, too, conniving with you, an institution that grabs as well as gives, a series of deadfall relations, combined family relatives and strangers, as your wife dies of cancer in this 2000 published work, with all the accoutrements of cancer, and seismic shifts of mindset as one grows older, without realising you have shifted at all. How can hot springs be turned off, how can life itself be turned off? And when I say powerful yet again about a story by Tem, it may begin to seem glib. But, having now read this story, I know the full meaning of the word at last. (Incidentally, but relevant to this story, reading books as ebooks on one’s personal iPad is the best way to hide what one is reading from one’s spouse — a thought made a mockery of by my public reviews, though?)

    “Cathy had told him that filling up with cancer was like roasting under a hot sun sometimes. The dusty rooms and dark chambers of Rivendale cooled her. They would stay at Rivendale as long as possible, she had said. She could hide from nurses and doctors there.”

  26. HUNGRY

    “People shouldn’t stare at other people while they’re eating.”

    OMG, does the Tem powerfulness ever end? This is eaten through with Tem’s power, the RIVENDALE cancer et al. A mother calls all her stillborns with names, and Ray her husband is stoical, even about the lad Jimmie Lee they adopt as their son after he was found abandoned. Jimmie, a character who does not need make-up to appear in carnival freak shows. If I tell you more, the powerfulness of this work might dissipate, but somehow I doubt that. Though, best to be sure. Suffice to say, that writing stories as powerful as Tem’s surely must be like being stared at when sin-eating, having all the bodily as well as spiritual things happen out in the open for all to see. Yet, in hindsight, not enough of us have consumed such landmark literary stories. I hope these my reviews help others as well as myself towards more helpings. Another mode of being stared at, these reviews? Be careful what you wish for, I guess.

  27. MIRI

    “We remember people because of a daily changing gestalt—because of their ability to constantly look different than themselves.”

    Another substantive story that I would expect to be in literary journals, then anthologised to be studied in college as well as retaining the equally valuable cachet or éclat of the horror or weird fiction genres of literature. A man now in settled married life, with children and loving wife, but also in the fabricated puppet shows, as he sees them, as conjured by an ailment of inverse-synaesthesia amid a city’s light pollution and a perceived onset of colour blindness tinted, I infer, by amnesia. During those ailment moments he is dogged by a previous flame, the eponymous near-anorexic goth girl who once started a relationship with him by offering to model for the then young man’s painting. Or was she always to be present? It seemed telling when I discovered, relatively early on, that her name was short for MIRIam.

  28. I reviewed the next story in Feb 2012…

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    Underground

    A substantial Tem story, without a doubt, and, for me, a personally important one that (like all the stories in this book so far) I’ve just read for the first time. It carries this book’s own internally connected themes plus a pre 9/11 ground zero (or cone zero – see another Nemonymous volume that preceded cern zoo), here a seemingly deliberate building construction hole, with encroaching themes of that hole ineluctably being out of control, and themes concerning explicitly stated statues, ‘tree-men’, travel to ‘earth’s core’, the swimmability within ground or earth [and in my novel ‘Nemonymous Night’ it is flyability in the earth as well as swimmability! – a novel, for me, felicitously and coincidentally and differently resonating with Tem’s ‘Underground’ as perhaps encapsulated by the concept of what I call ‘hawling’] – and the poignancy of ‘difference’, sexual prejudice and many other factors I could enumerate. Here quite brilliantly connected within Poe’s premature burial fear – and a bereft sense or fear of leaving no descendants (note that word!), even too fearful to leave one’s dead body so as to mulch the future?  Hence, that bereftness, too, perhaps, when there is no inter-generationality by enforced personal proclivity, i.e. no potential posterity. It’s as if we’ve been led artfully to this point by the previous stories, whereby the meticulously caring among us can now be shown how to care horizontally as well as vertically. You will know what I mean.  An intensely caring literature.  And so much more, too, like messages not getting through. This one, for me, did.  But one needs to read literature with all these moments of meticulous care in their cumulation so as to reach such a point.  A ‘hawling’ of emotions to the surface so as to optimise their message, empowering it even further by making readers work hard to ‘hawl’ the meanings free from their clinging roots.  But God knows, even optimisation is often not enough. We can only do our best. A story for our times. And for the moving ‘dead’ in the Guest House of our soul. (13 Feb 12 – another 90 minutes later)

  29. VINTAGE DOMESTIC

    “Early in their marriage his wife had told him that there was this history of depression in her family. That’s the way members of the family always talked about it: the sadness, the melancholy, the long slow condition.”

    Remarkability upon remarkability in this book, amassing, accreting, extrapolating here unbearably, as it were, from a family of husband, wife, daughters, son, via dysfunction towards a deadpan cannibalism, as I read it, a behaviour bordering on inter-familial sex acts, just to survive. Even some of the similes are dysfunctional, “like ancient, lesbian mops.” No smiles, though. The delivery keeps coming at you, whatever otherwise it might say.

  30. GRANDFATHER WOLF

    “Grandpa, do you think if the time ever comes for me, I can do what needs to be done?”

    A touching, oblique, deadpan portrait of a little girl with her gradddad, as joined by common skills in pencil drawings and the ability to lop off dangers, to let art itself be the judge between predator and prey. Leaf-trodden nature, too. He saw, she saw, leapt or pelt though windows; be economical with truth, I infer, infur.

  31. THE BEREAVEMENT PHOTOGRAPHER

    “The great photographers are great because they see things differently from the rest of us. So from our perspective they see things that aren’t there. I’ve long had this notion, not quite a theory, that the world changes when a great photographer looks through the lens.”

    I am not a great photographer, but I know what I know. See my recent selected photos in a book called ‘Nemonymous Lights’, an apt title, now, after reading this, in hindsight. Hindsight when death flickers the lids…. and last night I watched, by chance, Bergman’s film ‘Cries and Whispers’, a Tem-like film if ever there was one, so utterly powerful, without my being glib. With death frozen and posed but shot by a a flow of close ups when death flickers, even when death spoke, as photos rarely show. This story perhaps in this light I should not review. I am biased. But it is a truly great story by any measure, and any attempt to describe it by me would be sacrilegious, any attempt here to describe the voluntary eponymous photographer’s reactions to his subjects, posed as families at most sensitive times, and his lonely sporadic visits to his sister and husband, his two nephews he wanted to father, and his niece…

  32. INVISIBILE

    “It was the kind of light he imagined you would see at the end of the world: a sad, quiet fading of form and color, as if all earthly materials were dissolving from a mass failure of conviction.”

    “At some point they’d stopped authenticating each other’s sadder perceptions about their places in the universe.”

    You feel alone, ignored. This is how it starts, and this is how it ends, if in different words. A work of utter attrition and, paradoxically, even a work of conspiratorial inspiration from self-recognition at such attrition in your own life. You and your family, wife and daughter, gradually more invisible to others. All the signs are increasingly there – a form of inverse spirituality, inverse synaesthesia. Till you even find yourself, as it were, in a church of others like you. Your wife wrinkling away, till her empty bed is the only way to recognise her, and your daughter hardly recognising you on the phone, indeed hardly seeming to recognise herself. The apotheosis of such figures unseen. Perhaps the only consolation is that you are not alone.

  33. D47795CD-A5D8-4742-9ABD-419DBAFABE6CBETWEEN THE PILINGS

    “Because of the numerous faded rectangles on the walls, he decided a number of pictures had been taken down.”

    “Part of being happy, as he remembered from his childhood, was being able to pretend.”

    “But vacations weren’t for everyone, or so he had heard. There were always some who felt safer, if not happier, at home.”

    And blank hoardings, encroaching sands, I recognise it all. I do not need to spend vacations there, those vacancies. You see, I actually live in Innsmouth’s UK equivalent, or at least very close to it, as you can tell from my many photos over the years. I won’t give you its real name, in case I get kickback.
    I once had a story in the ‘Shadows Over Innsmouth’ anthology. But that’s beside the point. Life itself is beside the point, I guess – between the pilings.
    This story itself is a haunting portrait of a man returning to his particular Innsmouth. Where, aged 8, he once spent a holiday with his parents. Now somehow, against the odds, consolidating himself in older age, returning in that figure of 8? Finding himself, by losing himself. A breath of fresh air for me to read a pure genre story in this book. A genre classic as Aickman’s Hospice is a classic, not wholly dissimilar in spirit, but vastly different in its own right. No filling meals. Just a derelict crazy golf course. Or did I imagine it? Too lethargic to say more. Sands are catching up on me…

  34. I reviewed the last story below in July 2017….

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

    RED RABBIT

    “You can learn to live with crazy, but you can’t touch it.”

    A perfect gem is a perfect Tem.
    Old Matt and his senile-demented wife Clara, and each day a new redly flensed and flayed rabbit is left in their grounds, one she always think is the same rabbit, whilst he knows that they are different rabbits subjected to the same predator.
    Until the final rabbit, so flayed and flensed it is “in the border between dark and light”. On the brink of wonderland, I infer. Where shadows swim in shadows.

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

    Based on growing evidence, I think Tem deserves a legacy of acclaim equally from the literary world (i.e. by those who recognise such a term), and, as he already has, from the genre world.
    Genre has always been literary, mind you. And often vice versa.

    end

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