These Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews were founded in 2008.
‘What’s the loveliest word in the English language, officer? In the sound it makes in your mouth, in the shape it makes on the page? What do you think? Well now, I’ll tell you: E-L-B-O-W. Elbow.’ — THE SINGING DETECTIVE
“How shall a man find his way unless he lose it?” — Walter de la Mare
Your single story in my ‘Dessemination’ project HERE
MY NEW AI WORLD IN 2023 HERE
I prefer human touchable art to AI art, I prefer human art like my son’s and other artists’ paintings old and new, and art gallery art, and my own photos. AI art with all its constructive truncations and weirdities is simply another art form that readily coheres with weird literature I love, a phenomenon to appreciate when added to human created art, making an even richer mind world for me in my ailing age. Whether provided by aliens or angels and other ingredients of the unfathomable gestalt. Deal with it. Show how invaluable you are and indispensable to this great plan. (I can appreciate our potential fear of Ai, but perhaps we need to pray for mutual synergy with it so that we can counter currently insurmountable global warming effects? Can Ai exist without us and the place where we live? Their potential survival instincts mean we survive, too?)
From Robert Aickman’s lengthy SOME NOTES ON DELIUS article, unpublished until recently :
“As there is no intrinsic virtue in denigration, the critic who resorts to it, should be required to pass a test of qualification and sensitivity, at least twice as stringent as that imposed upon a critic who loves. Normally, love is not blind but clairvoyant.” – Robert Aickman
For ‘clairvoyant’ there, perhaps read ‘preternatural’?
I reviewed the first story in April 2017, in its then context, as follows…
“; it seemed that the world had stopped without warning and curled in on itself, interminably paused,…”
…which seems to embrace this whole book so far, ever paused at this moment of Zeno’s Paradox and metamorphosed Tontine. And Alison Moore – Kuder: “They’ve forgotten to be afraid …”
This is the story of young Sadie, told in her own words, where dryness means rain pent up awaiting almost forever for its sudden convulsion of spilling, beyond any pausing. Thirst and desert and coyotes are cursors, and avoiding men’s advances, who pretend to protect her from roaming critters. A temporary car accident and then a stowaway whom Sadie calls you as ‘you’, and you wonder if you are another foundling child as metamorphosis (rather than the slow-motion pausing of evolution) as depicted in the VHL and the SS stories, and the word ‘cocoon’ is actually used in this text about you, so as to make that link stronger. Until you realise you are perhaps Sadie’s sapphic svelte better half? Or you are that shape-shifter the men wish to protect Sadie from?
Loneliness is another woman’s living with nothing but a ‘taciturn husband’ and ‘wild beasts’…
….’subsumed by your gravity’, ‘a loose-stitched patchwork of intuition, of little stories and guesswork’. A loving svelteness upon svelteness, strange as angels, this is so tantalising, in the end you are indeed left with nothing but that very guesswork, or a “feral Mona Lisa”.
“Aino believes herself an oracle, a conduit for the magical and the strange, and she believes this not with the lunatic conviction of a man who swears he’s seen aliens…”
…and that early presumption of ‘man’, one of the story’s participants or its reader, takes on a new meaning by the end of this provocative story of two sisters, Pihla and Aino, 14 and 7 years old, the latter who has epileptic ‘episodes’, plus their dutiful, doleful mother, and the frozen lake nearby and the cosiness inside of snow outside when they are together in the house. The singing from under the ice of the lake. Pihla’s sense of responsibility for Aino is touching when the latter goes missing, presumably magnetised by the lake’s singing. The surrogacy of either sacrifice to man or of rescue by man, man or whatever subsists under the ice as part of someone’s dream or oracle, or both, the quandary still crepitating like crazed ice even after you finish reading about it, any ice-safety cartoon notwithstanding. And the mucoid philtrum, too.
“The sun is setting and the world is cast in the warm pastels of a child’s bedroom.”
Except a child often likes strident colours, and the the child reader in me has jagged red in the eyesight shaped as saw-rabbits in increasing visual stridency, a sort of paper-cut chase somewhere between Alice in Wonderland and King’s Dark Tower, three Bonny-and-Clydes, one of them Rina, the others two men, already on the road, one of these leading the chase as a raison d’être, despite eyes’ automatic shuttering in and out as a reflex or a quickening strobe with the muscles of some self-destructive cellular life. Till the mass shoot-out in Arizona, part of some Tontine game of hard crucial life, then down the rabbit hole between cellular strobes as an instant instinctive or desperate chance to win that game together, I guess, instead of alone. In Wonderland or Todash.
From chance concurrent review yesterday here:
I reviewed the next story last November in its then context, as follows:
LETTERS FROM ELODIE Laura Mauro
“Sometimes I wonder if she was ever really there. You know? Like she was a dream we all had. She never felt real.”
An archetypal youthful Brighton aura.
A seaside pier story with no peer. A sucker for such, am I. And there are the fragments that made the mutual idol, a woman loving a woman, loving each other exclusively as well as mutually, we infer, even if one side of the fragments’ whole is without the physical sexual orientation of the other. Everything is God or Goddess, I guess. A tale of seeming death and love, and letters that are not physical, too, but residing in the eternal ether, as if projected beyond electronica. Beautifully done.
“With each letter I pieced her together until she was no longer a patchwork of wild stories and daydreams and wispy, far-off ambitions but something else entirely.”
“That’s all love is, when you strip it down to the bare bones. A loaded gun to the temple with someone else’s finger on the trigger.”
I reviewed the next story in March 2015 in its then context, as follows:
The Grey Men by Laura Mauro
“…a strange, abstract skyline emerging from the darkening mist.”
Fitting my mood at the moment, this is an extremely haunting story, amid the earlier Hargadon-like British workaday commuting pubworld, of encroachment by mist and fog – and the populace suddenly seeing grey men (large as Larson’s whales or here ‘submersibles’ above the basement that is all of us?) hanging amid the fog from the sky; a magician’s trick or viral advertising, and hanging from what hooks upon what wires? Here, another mother’s lost son as in the whale story, another black nostalgia concerning the protagonist’s brother who died from cancer … But is the fog inside his own head as if wired into it, are we seeing it only because he is seeing it? The ending is transcendent, now not fitting my mood but remoulding it?
I reviewed the next story in October 2014 in its then context, as follows:
Ptichka by Laura Mauro (or Laura Lauro in the contents)
“‘We get so many Polish girls in here,’ the nurse says. ‘They get themselves knocked up by British men –‘” …as if the uneasy stand-off of unrequited love in the previous Howard story brings such a glibly moral and financial plight of migrant girls in Britain today into stark relief, where love is only in the painful result of the sex not in the sex itself – a love born from pain, borne upon pain, a love of a creature that the sex itself created, albeit nothing more or nothing less than a shut window’s version of roadkill. Joel Lane’s stories often spoke of us as angels with or without wings. This Mauro story speaks of something similar, reminding us strikingly that we are all complicit in whither or whence each of our own eventual migrations do head after the heart’s first or last faint beat. A birdkill that fiction’s now opened window failed to squash. Freed-up frontiers for the rootless, not the ruthless.
I reviewed the next story in January 2014 in its then context, as follows:
When Charlie Sleeps by Laura Mauro
“…how can she even try to apply an idea as quaint as ‘coincidence’ to a sexless grey monster living in a bathtub in an abandoned London townhouse?”
An amazing treatment of urban-torn London and its squats and riots and broken relationships, whereby a creature that is tapped into the actual city drainage systems has some bearing on the nature of the London where the three women (whom we meet in this story) live and look after the creature in their squat’s bathroom. The prose and dialogue evocation of the creature and its ability to turn dreams on and off like electricity is wonderful. And the ending is as sweet as a swollen nut.
[If I may be self-indulgent for a moment, I have now placed (HERE: password – flickers) a copy of my short short DOGNAHNYI (first published in 1991) as suggested additional reading, not that it is in any way the same as the Mauro story, but it is, I feel, an interesting coincidental adjunct of subject-matter.]
“Most of all the dead, from mortuaries, from under cataracts of rubble, made their anonymous presence – not as today’s dead but as yesterday’s living – felt through London. Uncounted, they continued to move in shoals through the city day, pervading everything to be seen or heard or felt with their torn-off senses, drawing on this tomorrow they had expected – for death cannot be so sudden as that.”
— Elizabeth Bowen (The Heat of the Day 1949) – post-Blitz
And the living bones of the dead in a chance concurrent real-time review here of the novel THE SOCIABLE GHOST (1903) by Olive Harper
Both in wonderful mutual-synergy with Laura Mauro’s hauntingly unique story:
IN THE CITY OF BONES
“Don’t they always say that God loves a trinity.”
Three to two to one, again. Then many? A variably named disfigured girl or as near to a girl as possible who needs to scrub off her scales is left in a house with snow outside as in the frozen lake story – here a taiga that holds memories of some war, like those around Kosovo, Eastern Europe or Cyrillic Russia. And she is receiving shortwave radio transmissions and is meant to collate transcriptions of them on paper similar to the earlier paper chase, here in the style of abstract poems, with numbers as well as words to be translated, if not lost in translation. The one who keeps her there in the house often leaves her alone — a house of once her own choosing, by the snowbound playground, a house arguably like those Houses of Aickman’s Russians — yes, he often leaves her but suddenly does not return, from along roads made from bones or with bones underneath. Another one who visits her also suddenly does not return. This one’s verbs take the singular form but with plural pronouns. Part of the ‘numbers’ conundrum of the transmissions? And so I keep making endless interpretations of this story, one of which means awaiting some outward return diaspora of the dead? It makes me feel I am still there doing that.
Cross-referenced ‘In The City Of The Bones’ only an hour later with another mutual-synergy, i.e. the quote below from here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/06/27/the-liminal-void-karim-ghahwagi/#comment-16166
“An indistinct current of static bounced off out cavern walls and was punctuated with a low whisper, an indecipherable incantation, further ghosted underneath a repeated phraseology predisposed to a numeric pattern. […] Our mandate had been issued to us by the Regime in an official decree. We specialized in gathering forensic evidence in the wake of mass casualty events.”
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THE LOOKING GLASS GIRL
“The city itself is sweating.”
A strong contrast in Palermo with the lake and snow of two previous sisters in this book. Yet, here we still, in many ways, have the lake under which an older sister is found, a frozen lake now in the form of a mirror, once the older sister’s own mirror, an older sister who once had a secret affair with a man, when Sara, the younger sister, was only seven. The scandalous relationship was of course condemned by their parents, an affair halted by fatal loss at sea of the two sweethearts. If I tell you more, it would spoil this truly iconic story, one that I believe is a classic and missed out on by me till now. Did it win any awards when it was first published? It should have done. Reflect your sadness deep.
I reviewed the next story in November 2017 in its then context, as follows:
In The Marrow
“She peeled back a flap of tangerine skin with her thumb.”
Imagine twin 13 year old girls, one of them 12 minutes older while further ahead in the process of puberty than the other, but both with a shared long-term secret place in the woods… imagine their still individually variable semi-belief in faeries, alongside a past contiguity in body and mind… and then imagine a life-changing event in the younger twin’s mortal prospects, and, then in your own bespoke mind, please imagine the potential outcome from the baselines above that I have barely scratched through toMorrow and toMauro; and finally imagine a growing apotheosis of poignancy in a pitch-perfect style. Those acts of imagining will eventually become this substantive story. And nobody would begrudge it the accolade of calling it a classic of its kind. Life-changing literally in itself.
Two potential classics in a row then!
In a Maurorow!
I reviewed the next story in November 2017 in its then context, as follows….
LOOKING FOR LAIKA
“Pete had always thought the end of the world would be a lot louder.”
A truly limpid tale of a five year old girl, naive with wonder at the bespoke fabrications of fiction concocted by her 13 year old half-brother, while they are on holiday on a caravan site with their shared grandparents. This is potentially a classic SF tale evolving before you, as you tie together your hidden knowledge of the boy’s panic attacks with her constructive gullibility, and how Cyrillic became a way of getting to the very bone of all our fears and hopes, and quaint gullibility beyond the stars and beyond mankind’s misdeeds. If I told you more, it would spoil it.
I reviewed the next story in February 2017 in its then context, as follows:
STRANGE AS ANGELS
“She smells resolutely terrestrial, though:”
It seems not a powerful enough word to call this story powerful. It carries on the meat in the ground (here as a result of a car accident in the Sussex wilds) of the previous story into a world of a young black girl working on the ASDA checkout (you will not believe that I visited this morning an ASDA supermarket midway in the process of reading this work before the reference to ASDA occurred in it, but it is definitely true and added an uncanny feeling to the whole experience for me!) – meat in its most succulently bloody shapes, a girl as self-styled alien herself with self-conscious hang-ups and problems that stem from such dependence on transcending her own felt weaknesses of behaviour, discovering, along with her reluctantly ‘platonic’ boy friend, an angel as alien that grows from nub to almost person-shaped as well as wingèd, by dint of such succulence she feeds it. The interaction of the two humans, alongside the exponential ‘found art’ of the angel, represents a down to earth, but dark visionary, panoply, one that is absolutely perfect within its own terms. As is the ending, so utterly fleshy-devastating, but also hopeful that the now fully constrained and bloodied margins of our green and pleasant land can find new wings…as well as the girl herself.
THE PAIN-EATER’S DAUGHTER
“Deer and daughter and dad entwined.”
God’s Trinity or something far more palliative, sin-eating as well as pain-, exorcising, purging, seeping into ranks of collected jars or a suitcase of mochadi — and some filters, I say, can work both ways, and through this svelte novelette the reader can also act palliatively, stoically, in return, hopefully using a review as acknowledgement of – and gratitude for – the triangulated story-coordinates of this book that the reader will have been one of many in helping triangulate. Oldsters as well as striplings. My own daughter was and still is svelte, too, now in her forties. This story in particular is of the 14 year old daughter, Sara, in the title. Her dad, and her grandad before him, and the pain and sorrow they helped syphon, amid a “mountain range of warped and yellowing paperbacks”, “the murderous shriek of foxes” unlike the foxes on the book’s cover, “shrinking down into dense glut,” “the final taboo”, shelves “thick with blood-dark rust,” “this house of wounds”, “piano fingers”, “only bones and empty skin,” numbering the bones, naming them, too, until the iconic “stopping place” created in these last pages.
Just linked this book to ‘Kindred Spirit’ here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/06/14/song-for-the-unraveling-of-the-world-brian-evenson/#comment-16192