7 thoughts on “Wounds – Nathan Ballingrud

  1. The initial story in the book I reviewed when it was first published in 2014, as follows….


    The Atlas of Hell
    “…the language of deep earth that curdles something inside me, springs tears to my eyes, brings me hard to my knees.”
    There’s something I don’t get about this story but I know enough about this story, having just read it, to be pleased at least that I don’t get it! It has the aura of a brutal, conniving city gangster ethos that migrates to the swamps outside the city, where books and skulls are not distinct from each other and where Whovian metal boxes allow insulated migration from Hell itself, ending with a boy dangling these boxes like huge lanterns … or gas masks? It seems a perfect follow-on from the previous story but, as yet, I know not whither all this is taking me… A reading journey is only complete when every bit of that journey, that is still unread, has later been taken further into eventually complete hindsight.
    The Ballingrud language here is like bone containing blood and vengeful vistas, apertures, double dealing, all sweetly searing inward. My previous review of one of his books here.

    siobhan shearman kiernan kaaron warren mcmahon barron ellen langan nathan cadigan caitlín


    “It’s hard to know a miracle for what it is until it blots out the sun with its beauty.”

    A tantalising encounter with a you and I that struggle to become a we, you the daughter of the eponymous monster who as a man lives among people like us — us the readers not the putative we of you and I, i.e. that I who is the adoptee he summoned from Hell, an adoptee who was mistaken by him as his wife, your mother. The murder of one of earth’s children, an offspring of people like the readers of this story, an offspring who is a male youth who fancies you, wants to grab your pussy, no doubt, at last such a murder bringing the lake to the sea of you and me as we. But not the we as the us who read this… Except to feel the coldness of Melania, perhaps. Amid the pointless, dangerous industries. “I don’t care.” A single said sentence in this story. Cold crisp tones, said without feeling, I sense. Sensed by a single reader, the only me. A story first published in 2014.


    “I’m told that everyone experiences the dream of the Maggot differently.”

    The calling game. And I do and I did. Be I a child at heart called to the eponymous fair (carnival with freaks and flies as the meat in carni-) or to the Cold Water fair or the Extinction one, bringing the young among us together to demonstrate aGainst Gaia’s destruction, as happened in London, for example, a week or two ago as I write this. Did they kick skulls around as part of a game to see who could pop the brains out of the pockets first? Pok! Pok! The most frightening thing was, as with the Diabolist earlier in this book, that there is a deadpan acceptance of the force or forces that live among us. The Maggot or Wormcake or Uncle Digby or whoever tells this story. Bringing us into communion with some process having rules and rituals that we should dread, but we find ourselves daring to relish, summoned each of us as children by our personal dreams, when these ceremonies were due to take place. And when I say dreams I mean nightmares. The most frightening thing, though, was not the man in a cage with two faces, not the Orchid Girl, but the mermaid. Read the description of her in the freak show and you will never forget her. I won’t. But who was Christine Laudener?

    “Skullpocket is, of course, a culling game. It’s not about singling out and celebrating a winner. It’s about thinning the herd.”

  4. THE MAW

    “He reminded her of her parents in their last days, staring in befuddlement as the world changed around them, becoming this new and terrible thing.”

    An old man that Mix a 17 year girl escorts through the other human residues of a city to find his loved one, an old man just like me, except I don’t like dogs. Well-characterised characters and a truly brilliant conjuration of a genius loci, city a Hellhole, with Wagoneers, over-tall Surgeons stitching together the human residues, a process that reminds me of what I call ‘hawling’, a passage of unmissable description, where an awl is involved and hauling, a Hell and a hole, a Hollow city, towards a maw, a wagging dog, towards a gestalt, too, a beauteous musical trope, from Wagoneer to Wagnerian. The sound mix from the hole grew in volume…hawling like a trumpet.
    I was absolutely taken by it, even if befuddled by it, too!

    “She felt it like a density in the air, a gravity in the heart.”

  5. image I read the next work, a novella, four years ago, and below is my episodic real-time review with its original page numbers:


    Pages 5 – 11
    Such a short space of turning pages acutely to convey this drinking bar in New Orleans, and the living characters of its barman, his woman Carrie, specific customers like Alicia and Jeffrey, the types of regular it draws, then, the brawlers and the outcome of their brawl, even the living characters of the cockroaches that you would need to burn down to ‘their mother nests in Hell’ to fix. A wordfest with one click of the pen, is the impression.


Pages 11 – 15
    I’m getting scared by this book. Sometimes I thinks its text is texting me. Or is it a cockroach?

    Page 15 – 19
    My breakfast this morning, reading this. Will the barman’s breakfast, in last night’s bar brawl aftermath. TS Eliot’s Hollow Men stirred to be reread just now, at least by me. From hollow men, stuffed men, to Will’s day of empty spaces, and the sex and text that texts him. Ballingrud’s text about these texts is spot on, a bit like a cross of Eliot himself and Hemingway.
    ‘Headpiece filled with straw’ with the teeth now gone?


Pages 20 – 24
    “If there was something hollow underneath it all, a well of fear that sometimes seemed to pull everything else into it and leave him clutching the stone rim for fear of falling into himself, well, that was just part of being human, he supposed.”
    We remain with Will’s first waking hours, noir-immaculised artfully by Ballingrud, journeying into the morning after – and those left licking their wounds after the night before, including Will. Some wounds physical, some mental. Or both. Cheap shots and skirting the edges of infidelity. And even the reader fears he is being sucked into falling into something…. No spoilers here.

    Pages 24 – 31
    “It felt like a conduit of some dark energy, and he felt uncomfortable holding onto it.”
    …much as I feel about this chapbook, thin and neat as it is like a tablet.
    Maybe the rumours I’ve heard about this work is making me eke it out as I am doing, either to savour and extend what I sense is about to happen or in the hope that something may prevent me reading any more? It is like an OCD experience of an accretive version of Antonioni’s ‘Blow Up’ upon a modern implement.
    Impelled by Schopenhauer’s Will?

    Pages 31 – 36
    I’m still here. Can’t put it down. But can hardly pick it up, too. This is a stoical, human intermission. Beautifully expressed. And the word ‘beautiful’ means a lot to me. I don’t use it lightly.


Pages 36 – 41
    Guilt, rejection, Googling, toggling… The white noise of anxiety I have about this text I fear will turn eventually to terror.

    Pages 41 – 49
    “Something fundamental was about to tip…”
    And this text make it seem potentially even more fundamental from simply being within the text itself. Feeding on itself. I want to be one of Will’s now ‘sweetly dreaming’ roaches, oblivious of its ‘slow engine algorithm of fate’…
    But the text has left a pressing present for me. Not a past.
    I fear I cannot – eventually – not read this text, despite the ohm resistor of my review’s real-time. And my own fallible character, like Will’s, so neatly conveyed.


Page 49 – end
    This is a bigger bite of text than to those I have been accustomed; couldn’t swallow it, but couldn’t not swallow it, either.
    I felt like one of the roaches, who I’ve decided are us readers; makes sense, ‘incurious and unafraid’, ‘antennae waving in bored appraisal’, until we come into our own at the end, knowing that our real-time eking out of this text was, like Will’s love life, not so much the act of a ‘listless child’ but more the not being able to do good for doing wrong. Reaching Erictus.

  6. I am reading ‘THE BUTCHER’S TABLE’ novella outside the scope of my public real-time reviewing.

    Meanwhile, I consider THE MAW — when in Gestalt with THE DIABOLIST and SKULLPOCKET — to be a genuine imaginative masterpiece for our times. Unmissable.


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