UNDERTOW PUBLICATIONS 2019
Proud that this author appeared in Nemonymous 3: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nemonymous
My previous reviews of Undertow: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/undertow-publications/
When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…
THE FACE THAT LOOKS BACK AT YOU
…one whole paragraph. In italics.
This is a study in a failing relationship, Alex the man and Teri the woman. But the failing is not just in themselves and their falling apart, but more a sliding all over the place of their faces as well as the car on the empty icy road. Ship’s trunk and car’s trunk, if the latter is American for a car’s boot? A sort of hide and seek on the way back to a holiday resort they went to before, when they were happier, a resort now snowed in with a frozen lake like Mauro’s. But from whose point of view is it told, whose RITE of passage is it? Hope it is not a spoiler to point to their names, and Teri is the single self to whom it is happening, not to Alex as we first assumed. The story’s experience stems from the words that are given us to wrongly assume it his point of view, even just one word to describe it all, a gestalt lexicon – that single word paragraph again?
I reviewed the next story in April 2018, as follows…
The Wounded Bird
“Chit chit. Chit chit. The bird is talkative in its cage: chit chit purdy chit chit purdy.”
A man tries to look after a beautiful red bird that he found wounded in the garden. Gets books about it. Now someone has put them both as man and bird in a book, it seems. A vicarious synergy of dying. The intentions were good, though.
“He let me operate the winch, a metal contraption of open gears and cogs…”
…but did not let me into his locked workshop. This author with his story, to prevent my dissection. The place where I now know he keeps his meaty haul. A sea town where returning to its harbour was like seeing a bad mouth – and bait was more like meat-soup cast into the sea for tempting. Mermaids now never singing each to each. His uncle and dad, the narrator youth, by oblique instinct, closed their mouths for good. Or, rather, his dad pre-empted by closing his own mouth first. Or pre-emptied it. And, as a naïve decoy, his uncle once pointlessly surrendered a little finger….one of the things we never see.
What Death says on tin:
From birth’s crack in the cosmos
To Old Moby One
A CRACK IN THE CEILING OF THE WORLD
Hawling himself up from the furnaces and mines in dragon transport to where the crack in the sky has threatened like a disaster movie the office worker, below. Two separate stories in short patchwork poetic prose, of a man and a woman…
If this author’s earlier ‘the bluest of grey skies’ is to be believed, that crack is a smile. A smile in the sky.
“The girl dreamed orange and black.”
A wonderful Temmish vignette of a girl’s whole future life, her early naïve autumn, her dreams, her disappointments, her hopes, her final hallowness seen. The erstwhile crack or smile now a wry grinning.
A recent chance mutual-synergy with Tem’s Halloween suite of stories here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/05/04/out-of-the-dark-steve-rasnic-tem/#comment-16226
DESERT OF SHARP SORROWS
A collaboration with Jonathan William Hodges
“The good, the bad. Any of it. It’s all got a purpose.”
The ugly, too, of Myra’s self-perception, the empty space where one of her breasts had been. Not only the earlier abuse from her ex, but also of cancer. A moving account of her retreat to a desert, a man who befriends her with a compass that has four abstractions or emotions rather than the four corners of the world, and a tree. And one ugliness in eight, not four, as a slightly more amenable Russian Roulette, u1, u2, u3… The kissed away stigmata pro bono.
“It’s white. Blank…”
An ingenious self-referential writerly exchange in a potential couple’s blank, if not blind, date at the zoo for LoveMatch.
A work of enjambment breaking prose into free verse. Perhaps, on further thought inspired by this work, such enjambment is the only way to break reality into the welcomingly gratuitous fragments of dream or nightmare. The striving for a hindsight – rather than real-time – gestalt somehow arguably neutralises or negativises this effect. Best, therefore, to leave this work intact without further comment. Maybe, after the simple act of just thinking this thought, my whole approach to book reviewing may change!
SOME OTHER YOU
“the static that had hissed from his plasma screen, as if, Todd thought, the whole canvas of the sky was nothing more than a large television or window onto the world, where we could passively and numbly watch events unfold, uninvolved and mostly uninterested.”
…which lends a new slant to the ‘bluest of grey skies’ theme, especially when later Todd sees the static in the sky itself as snow, but also snow that turns into grey ash! This theme, when factored into Todd’s recurring sight of a man looking exactly like himself — in mutual synergy with the Nicholas Royle dummy syndrome, and other doppelgänger or imposter stories — this work takes on even more significant importance as an example of disturbing weird literature. The ending is particularly haunting.
HARK AT THE WIND
“A sky like wet ashes, now.”
A poetic prose or vignette, with this book’s sky soul in it. And a cat, too. A cat he does not wish to name. But is it effectively named in the first line of the text, its nature and opinions inferred?
“Death calls in different voices.”
A collaboration with Ray Cluley
“He will tell her the poems he is too afraid to write and she will lean in close because she likes them.”
A swirling story of four 16 year old girls and boys, as they wildly speculate on the endless summers ahead of them, their loves, their ambitions fulfilled, upon an idyllic idealisation of fairground, their ride on the carousel… I was swept and wept along and I found it unique in this swirling, excitable quality and the ending, in its very last line, was perfect. Moving, too, in certain musically-flowing ‘dying fall’, but if I tell you more, it would spoil the effect. I thought I knew something that I didn’t.
ANOTHER KNIFE-GREY SEA
“Sly to your very end”
I first misread ‘Sly’ as ‘Sky’, and the title as ‘Another Knife — Grey Sea’.
So it first misread me! This prose has had the knife at it again, enjambment, to produce evocative, tactile ‘free verse’ of the sharp-toothed, knife-grey sea. And someone called ‘you’: in this book earlier a cat, now an albatross.
“She does not have to look up the word ‘assiduous’.”
A haunting short short of a lonely, intellectually, accomplished, schoolgirl pining — in a her room under the sky’s harvest moon, meaningfully “fat and orange” — for her own unrequited love for a boy. Mixed with a potential dog’s return possibly like that of the earlier cat and albatross… moral? We are all responsible for whom or what we allow to taunt us, or we them? Unrequited absoluteness?
ALL THE THINGS WE NEVER SEE
“the joys of the subway:”
Susanna searches for her missing other half Kevin in the city, from off-piste hair-do to the blurred reality of bus windows, now noticing the homeless —- arriving eventually among the diaspora below the city. With off-piste bites at the end to variate a Joelline apotheosis…
“thin grey wedge of open sky”
“Gary had been transfixed by Carmen’s small pink tongue, the way it circled her.”
I understood most of this story’s different skins as one’s changing personalities to suit social or inter-gender circumstances, the subtly mutually abusive relationship of young students, the telling by one of them about a ghost that once shovelled shit as its prior personality, a ghost now haunting the campus, a telling about a brainstorming-conversational – then real – ploy of interaction, such a conversational game morphing into a serious survival technique in the competitive hierarchy of relationships, but I did not understand that bit about the tongue at the beginning of this story, a story that has its own different skins to suit its relationship with different readers, I guess.
TEARS FROM AN EYELESS FACE
… a single paragraph that word. But allows spreading into an artistic expression of the soul.
A short incantatory prose piece (containing that single-word paragraph), a still spreading expression as parts of you gradually vanish or were never there in the first place. Spreading beyond even that eventuality.
I read and reviewed the next story in October 2014, as follows:
The White-Face at Dawn
A ‘yellow haze’ and a mannequin add a sense of Ligotti to Chambers, but which the ventriloquist which the dummy, retrocausal or otherwise? Spiders crepitating, creepy movements seen out the corner of the eye, a white-face at a balcony, a pallid mask, that is, atomised by spiders to make stone to flesh and sculpturally vice versa. Bereavement of love, then a new adoption: with death as Kelly’s new adoptee. Enjoyed this cloying, scuttling atmosphere surrounding a spider-human symbiosis that I once discovered (along with Prince Autumn) pervaded as a major leitmotif the VanderMeers’ huge WEIRD book… It as if we have here again entered a world where everything is sinister because that is how everything always is, undecorated with false hope or light. Truth is realistic, fiction a bubble, and this story is no bubble.
I read and reviewed the next story in its then context in March 2013, as follows:
[image by Tony Lovell]
Turn The Page
“She is Dorothy in Oz. She is Peter Pan, Captain Hook, and John Carter. She is Lucy in the wardrobe.”
This short short or prose poem is the bluest of grey skies, to echo its author himself elsewhere. It’s a portrayal of an author as victim of her own work, eventually and ultimately the perfect beneficiary of it, too. It is a most beautiful piece and, with the McMahon, acts, after all, as the perfect coda to the other stories. For me at least.
Cf Tears from an Eyeless Face above
A GUTTERING OF FLICKERS
…another single paragraph, carrying a multitude of sins or shells breaking with its innards emerging or death being experimented against by various drugs, by false identities of dementia, by collective nouns of birds gathering….
This is a truly powerful, cleverly couched portrait of a pregnant daughter visiting her dying widowed dad in hospital, him thinking that she is his wife, that she is her own mother.
It will affect you deeply.
HUNGRY, THE RAIN-GOD AWAKENS
…a single line, that, not with a simple enjambment in this poem following the comma but also with a stanza’s line-space between. Followed by a sky’s downpour of Biblical fish, a plague of grey toads, included. Eyes wide shut. You the newly prehensile you.
CONVERSATIONS WITH THE DEAD
“(and have you ever noticed how babies’ hands always curl into tiny fists, as if we’re all born angry?)”
A moving, haunting, well-observed portrait of an adolescent loner boy meeting his dead friend from school called Alex as some sort of ghost from a crack in the ground, meaningful as a crack perhaps in view of the later sexuality implications, and the vast difference between two kisses, one to tame a brutal father, the other instinctively, if not consciously, to assuage or replace an earlier sexual assumption with a pillowghost / poltergeist as surrogate girl friend? Highly thought-provoking. Other interpretations are available.
“And I open my eyes to an expansive grey sky.”
The beach where a lot happens to Elspeth in memory, her father jokingly (?) burying her in the sand, her kissing a boy, the grey rain, the blue skies, much Kellyan atmospheric linear and staccato flows of language – but who is Anna? Her younger self returned? Feeds her stew. Or just another such cycle beginning with a new girl? The latest self from or toward the stew whence life comes and whereto life goes? The head this time buried without a hinterland beneath where it seems buried? To know where the bodies are buried, even if they are the things we never see! Or just a means to dig your way to China?
Cross-referenced this review here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/22792-2/#comment-15110
DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE
A single one word paragraph in this vignette. Sheila and Brad travelling towards a relationship rescue in a holiday cottage. Their black hole to be filled in. A tick turned to a simple inward tuck, instead of a fuck, I guess, by the end. The hole’s filling being Brad himself? But who is Tori Amos? It seems cheating to use google to uncover what line lies within that personal mystery of mine.
THESE WHITE SORROWS
“But the radio is nothing but white noise, and black static.”
And this story has more of this author’s staccato moments, those moments identified earlier, now outweighing the more linked linear clauses. No bad thing, though. A blend of Tem and Mauro and the identifiable Kelly.
The loss of an ice maiden. Whether wife or daughter, the ending is acute, and that red coat again, makes one ponder….
THE RED NIGHT
“Blood on a page.”
Another thing we never see …
I read and reviewed the next story in October 2014, as follows…
Pieces of Blackness by Michael Kelly
“One day, he knew, it would open up, all of it; the sky, him, and the entire world.”
Feeling like a new gestalt, a new page for my review, this work is a theme and variations around a simplistic refrain: ‘the boy scared him’ – a treatment of anti-natalism that derives from an adoptee and the way it disrupts a childless marriage. I found it disturbing, but not a welcome disturbance. I found it mostly worrying in a negative way rather than nightmarish in an imagination-awakening way. The sky’s bracketing unequivocally pleased me, though.
“…he peered back at the boundless sky.” – from Michael Kelly’s The Bluest of Grey Skies in Nemonymous in 2003.
A QUIET AXE
A pent-up violence here, and even if it is a quiet axe, the implications give us a readerly gulp as to what happened to the protagonist’s wife and daughter and as to the way the text’s tone provides a now invisible enjambment, a chopped up staccato within the otherwise unbroken lines of fate.
“‘What do you see?’ Jack asked.
‘I can just make out a few trees. Nothing else. The woods and nothing.’”
Two oldsters, the younger one visiting the other and concerned for his well-being on his own in the snowy wilds, What with the rumours and things, The implications of a quiet axe in the previous work now become those of a bubbling stew the older one eats, after the other leaves. Even spookier and Blackwoodian after I remember the earlier stew in this book.
ONE FINAL BREATH
“a soundless white static”
Much seems to come together here, the mother and the daughter, interspersed with quotes from medical books and other disciplines that tell more of the story and its inferred aftermath of disaster. What we teach ourselves, after we tried to teach our children but failed to protect them. A mutual apotheosis with Tem’s own fiction’s recriminations. Green dress becomes red. And the yellow balloon, now half deflated. A lot becomes clear, beyond the pieces of blackness, the guilt distilled of fathers, in, say, Tem’s, Owen Booth’s and Kelly’s fiction that I have been reading simultaneously. And this book’s final attempt at selflessness. Post-Natalism by tragic möbius default, as it were, as it always is.
This book is the greyest of blue skies. Or vice versa. Things in life most often come out of the blue. Good and bad things. And this book has many colours. Too many colours as gestalt might make a sludgy grey, yet this book manages its multiple interpretations well, interpretations of colours as well as of other leitmotifs. The better sort of books do. And books that have been considered great weird literature, like this one has, achieve an act of thought-radiating best of all. Be alert, though, until your final breath, because some great weird literature is not labelled such. You need to keep looking in unlikely places for the most lasting disarming strangenesses that dog or bless existence. Also all the things we never see, never seem. A quiet axiom.
Cross-referenced the final story with EXHALATION here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/07/11/exhalation-ted-chiang/#comment-16532