THE SAGA ANTHOLOGY OF GHOST STORIES
SAGA PRESS 2019
Previous reviews of Ellen Datlow books: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/ellen-datlow/
Stories by Paul Tremblay, Vincent J. Masterson, Lee Thomas, Alison Littlewood, Pat Cadigan, Richard Kadrey, M.L. Siemienowicz, Seanan McGuire, Joyce Carol Oates, Ford Maddox Ford, Indrapramit Das, Richard Bowes, Gemma Files, Nick Mamatas, Terry Dowling, F. Marion Crawford, Aliette de Bodard, Dale Bailey, M. Rickert, Stephen Graham Jones, Alice Hoffman, Bracken MacLeod, Garth Nix, Nathan Ballingrud, Brian Evenson, Jeffrey Ford, Siobhan Carroll, A.C. Wise, Carole Johnstone, John Langan.
When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…
ICE COLD LEMONADE 25¢
HAUNTED HOUSE TOUR: 1 PER PERSON
by Paul Tremblay
“(She said ‘both at the same time’ twice).”
This is the big FRISSON for me. One of those ghost stories you read rarely that SCARE you, as well as haunt, intrigue, puzzle or inspire you with things beyond. A story of memory, randomly brought back into his life with a childish drawing that we even see for ourselves, as the socially timid narrator is reminded of a boyhood event, during pubescent awakening, when a girl he fancies and her little sister replace a sign with another sign, tempted towards a haunted house trip with a “menagerie” (or gestalt?) of ghost stories told by the older girl about their old apartmented house. It is brilliantly staged for us readers as well as for the narrator thirty years after the event. A ghost story classic, no mistake.
(As an aside, I spotted BLACK in two different contexts in this story, as a person’s name and as a baseball team, but now neither at the same time twice.)
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/paul-tremblay/
And from the above Proustian memory of a childhood drawing to…
LINGER LONGER by Vincent J. Masterson
(sic) “Sometimes I feel like my memories aren’t mine, 7.” (/sic)
“, memories swimming up from the blackout void…”
A truly haunting account, from the point of view of Lori or Lorelei, of a 2 x 2 holiday at a cabin, and of the gaslighting to which, accretively, she suffers from the other couple and her own husband.
A strong sense (perhaps uniquely experienced by reading this story) of otherness, of self-ghosting, in the “difficulties” she suffers, by having to grade her reactions to psychiatric questions. On the scale of 1 to 10.
Including, arguably, a memory of scalding herself with pasta water after she sees her husband explicitly “grading”, too, by his marking papers….with these words as well as numbers? But (sic) pasta (/sic) = the past as the ‘water of life’? The play of such words.
“She felt like a stage actor, recovering from a badly muffed line, trying now to repair the play by pretending it’s not a play.”
WHIMPER BEG by Lee Thomas
“The word ‘difficulties’ persisted, clicking around in his head.”
That same word I quoted above yesterday. Here the clicks are paw claws of runts? This story is very well written, but ultimately its effect is diminished by shrinking into its own manipulated runt of a jigsaw or gestalt or panoply of info-dump quotes from an autocorrected autobiographical novel, and of info-dump items of dialogue, deploying the characters’ homophobia of homosexual acts as bodily master-pet symbioses, while evolving towards a study of a professional man’s diffidence towards his own (to him, waywardly Sapphic?) daughter whose own runtimes and runtishness become part of the panoply unfolding here. And another autocorrect is in a certain book’s dedication…and the glitches of ghostliness now become echoes of sheer horror. Essential reading, if only as a literary case study. And to continue fathoming its title!
THE JULY GIRLS by Alison Littlewood
“, there was never a step-sister in any of those stories who actually got on with the heroine — with the real daughter.”
A workmanlike story of glowing moss, Cornish pixies and a Cornish mound’s opening with (like sex or death?) “a small opening […] lined with crooked stones, like teeth”. But, eventually it is a special story, a clever and tantalising account of step-sisters. A conundrum of ‘reciprosisterly’ (my word, not the story’s) as physically haunted by a framed photograph taken of both of them. Anything else I might say would spoil it. (Compare one step-sister’s self-pity with the narrator’s in the earlier Tremblay and also that story’s unexpected physical appearance and haunting by the childish drawing similar to that of the photo. Also July is the Caesarean month, which fact may be obliquely or inversely significant to the described opening in the mound.)
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/alison-littlewood/
ABOUT THE O’DELLS by Pat Cadigan
In oblique synergy with the reciprosistery of the earlier Littlewood – this quote:
“…what the magazines called blended families, because that made step-parents and step-brothers and step-sisters sound sweet, like a smoothie rather than something out of the Brothers Grimm.”
– is part of this compelling Cadigan story which, as well as being, on one level, a strong and unique ghost story concerning the long-term aftermath of marital abuse leading to brutal murder, also morphs towards a schemata where neighbours and the crimes committed in their neighbourhood reach some eventually cleansing reciprocity between witnesses and victims and murderers, stains removed by strength of kinetic sleep rather than power-washing where it happened. A story that is well-characterised from the point of view of a girl, one of two sisters, being embroiled by such a schemata. The murderer as a man busily chopping trees down so as possibly to prevent this story (of his own come-uppance and of his dead wife’s retribution) from being printed in – and thus enabled by – this massive book in my hand. Another great ghost story as an echo of horror.
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/pat-cadigan/ and https://expenscusil.wordpress.com/235-2/ and https://nemonymous123456.wordpress.com/the-big-book-of-science-fiction/#comment-742
A HINTERLANDS HAUNTING by Richard Kadry
“How could he haunt someone who wasn’t there?”
For reciprocity, read hinterlands. Think about it, that is a most extraordinary question above! A story that ingeniously features the point-of-view narration in the third person of an annual haunting as a couple’s reunion to ‘celebrate’ the anniversary of the event that caused the death of one of them, in a partially Ligottian urban ambiance, with ambushing dogs and gangs. My own question: when you jump from a high window onto a pile of old mattresses chucked out below, why do you always just miss falling on them?
THE NUMBER OF THINGS YOU REMEMBER by M.L. Siemienowicz
“She would ask you to rate your anxiety. One, very little. Five, just coping. Eight, nine, ten. That’s enough. Stop.”
A strong echo of the the earlier psychiatric grading in the Masterson story. This one on a train, with a witness survivor’s strongly evocative visions of travelling across tracks, tracks beneath toilets, textures and shades of passing by what one travels through, green eye shadow et al, including a battle by ‘you’ as point of view, a sporadic battle with your own competing identities and memories.
MUST BE THIS TALL by Seanan McGuire
Another assororality to match this book’s earlier reciprosistery. This pair of sister’s are twins. One of them is this book’s earlier ‘runt’, the other not. A striking vision of a carnival which, inadvertently or serendipitously, is a unique theme-and-variations upon my own ramshackle carnival in ‘Benoko’ (a story in the ‘Weirdmonger’ book). And a hauntingly ghostly tale of the rollercoaster in particular.
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/seanan-mcguire/
THE SURVIVING CHILD by Joyce Carol Oates
“/I am one who make things gorgeously up.”
A novella from the dysfunction-room of this genius writer’s mind, the tree and its pareidolia shapes of the selves wrestling outside this room with the equally pareidoliac clouds. Echoing this whole book’s earlier step-siblings, one a runt, or seen to be a runt by he who is said to be its father. An OCD father. A novella, too, teeming with Imagist poetry, Hilda Doolittle, Ezra Pound and this novella’s N.K. who is not NOT KNOWN but nemonymous, as her name is late-labelled here for those who decide to read it. A tale of a feminist poet with bi-polarity and a now forbidden garage where an ethos of Ligottian anti-natalism was once at least partially fulfilled by this (now dead) Imagist poet, but the non-runt sibling (a boy called Stefan) is rescued before the suicidal act is complete, but rescued by whom? Perhaps, metaphorically at least, rescued by Stefan’s then future stepmother, the one to have her breast sucked like a woman who has just been unmothered herself by a weak-willed pregnancy? Not sucked in motherhood, but in illicit love? We can ony grasp things here, not actually understand them. And who made what happen happen? A ghost or something even more ghostly, yet more powerful, than a ghost? I am truly haunted by this work and it still works round me, and I will honour it with a place in my own dysfunction-room list here. And I will also test setting it in mutual synergy with the knitting needle incident and other factors in ‘Glitch’ that I happen to be simultaneously reading here.
“The mere possibility of a mistake is upsetting to him.”
My previous reviews of Joyce Carol Oates: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/08/16/anonthology/ and https://expenscusil.wordpress.com/235-2/ and https://weirdtongue.wordpress.com/233-2/ and https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/03/24/black-feathers-edited-by-ellen-datlow/#comment-9447 and https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/09/21/uncertainties-volume-iii/#comment-13812
THE MEDIUM’S END by Ford Madox Ford
“I don’t mean to say that he disappeared in a flash, but it was as if we had forgotten him. You understand, he wasn’t there.”
I am pleased to have this striking ghost story brought to my attention. A story of a medium at a séance, charlatan or not. Involving handcuffs and rope. Hung out to shrink. Hoist by one’s own petard, as it were. But a petard loaded by sequestered belief or non-belief?
A SHADE OF DUSK by Indrapramit Das
“I can’t seem to remember writing some of what I am reading.”
I can’t remember when a ghost story affected me so deeply. It is a GREAT one, whatever the case. A truly BHOOTiful one. Maybe it’s partly because the protagonist spinster Indian woman – amid ‘load sheddings’ of Calcutta and their consequent darknesses, no doubt reminding her of the London Blitz when she was there as a young woman – yes, maybe it is because she is roughly the same age as me when our perceptions aren’t always certain, and can create ghosts out of ageing confusions? Yet, I truly believe in her ghosts AS ghosts, stemming from her older sister and this sister’s husband, whose children were almost shared with the younger spinster sister. (My own daughter has suffered endometriosis all her life, so I deeply felt for her.) The telling smells of rot, amid this Gulf War time zone. Meanwhile, the bathroom incident with her brother-in-law is one of the strongest scenes. There is much of the Indian sensibility here, too, that is pervasive. And, amazingly, this work also reflects the runt-nonrunt aspect of two sisters or two siblings in this whole book so far. But which is which in the two sisters here? Makes it even more tantalising. A significant work, no mistake.
My previous review of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/10/30/years-best-weird-fiction-vol-4/#comment-10946
Cross-referenced above with Chapter 13 of Quichotte here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/09/02/quichotte-salman-rushdie/#comment-16915
ICARUS RISING by Richard Bowes
“Angry specters, uneasy in their graves and not interested in turning to dust, dominated the cemetery.”
A striking ghost story from the ghost’s POV, embedded with the clothes in which he died, a soaring arc from a building perceived, but maybe let go of or pushed, as he conducted his then famous Banksy-like graffiti art at the top of a building. Intriguing characterisation as he revisits the people involved with his ‘art’ and with his arguable ‘murder’.
This is also a fine serendipitous blend of Elizabeth Bowen’s….
“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. […] The wall between the living and the living became less solid as the wall between the living and the dead thinned. In that September transparency people became transparent, only to be located by the just darker flicker of their hearts.”
…and Oliver Harper’s truly remarkable ‘Sociable Ghost’, recently discovered here, e.g.:
“We can for a time drop off all material parts of ourselves, and then there is but the spiritual part and that is invisible, and can go anywhere by a thought. I might explain by asking if you ever saw a flock of winged ants settle down on the ground and lift off their wings and leave them there. When I want to leave my body, or what is left of it, I just give a lift and somehow I then leave the body behind and soar away. Soar after all is not the word to use, for the movement is more like a flash, and the movement is swift as thought, and nothing is so swift as that, not even lightning.”
My previous review of Richard Bowes: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/03/24/black-feathers-edited-by-ellen-datlow/#comment-9452
THE PUPPET MOTEL by Gemma Files
“, an inhuman frequency; I’d never catch a glimpse of it otherwise, except through compilation,…”
As I compile, as I hawl the ‘tone’ of each book and what lies behind the grey words, black and white blurring, and the “hand of darkness” that comes forth and says it knows me.
Like an AI on a phone, as here with Loren, helping her boyfriend’s friend Greg run two Airbnb establishments, particularly the eponymous one. She needs the money. And I learn a lot about Airbnb I didn’t know before. And about the accretive power that some buildings store. Beautifully evoked; it made me think this story was itself! It kept gaslighting me. Not many stories do that. “Naked dollhouse pillars.” Hauntings without Ghosts. And “weird skips”. Grey noise. “…hauling her limbs into place, […] Like she’s being played long distance, like a theremin.” There mine unravelling. And in oblique mutual-synergy with Evenson’s Room Tone.
My previous reviews of Gemma Files: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/gemma-files/
AIR VALVE SEMILUNAR ASTERS by Nick Mamatas
An ingenious, mind-frazzling SF-brainstorming upon Ouija Boards and Planchettes, with a who-am-I? and a whodunnit? bordering on a sort of Internet connectiveness, involving some truly amazing anagrams from the titular head and his Mama. Genuinely spooky, too, in keeping with this book’s ghost story ethos. And, for me, the gestalt’s identity as a literary universe has now appeared at last, bolstered by four serial anagrams created from each other as well as from that gestalt…
My previous reviews iof this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/nick-mamatas/
THE UNWRAPPING by Terry Dowling
“They settled on the heart.”
For me a very successful story that actually manages to scare – in our so-called modern age when electricity or electronics (here represented by a contraption connected to Tesla) is aligned with things old fashioned, as in the previous story – a story worthy of once popular fiction involving arcane ancient theosophies and half-theriomorphisms (cf the earlier theremin and other halfings In this book I quoted); there is a dinner party held for the ‘unwrapping’ of an Egyptian mummy and it builds from complex innuendos of the company, amid observed dinner party mœurs, observed by the woman narrator, trained in Egyptology, having been imported to the party as the quatorzième to avoid thirteen, and the roles she affixes to the others, all building from such complexities of motive, characterisation and atmosphere to the eventual gestalt that transcends ‘mad science’. A character called Fayer Das, a mummy called Nemkheperef, striped nemes, the synergy of rationality and spiritualism, the quest for the prime hub of life in a body rather than its constituent runts, a question of whether a cabal or retro cultists, cartonnage, Conan Doyle references, and much more that continues its parallel unwrapping. Anointings and scrapings away.
My previous review of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/fearful-symmetries/#comment-3153
THE UPPER BERTH by F. Marion Crawford
“I examined the great screw and the looped nut that ran on it.”
If you examine this story itself again and again, you will never quite reach its torque of scariness that pervades it. It is always welcome, however, to be given another chance to test its tightened nut. A classic, that many call the most frightening ghost story ever written, and I do not need to rehearse its plot on the Kamtschatka in my review. The “average modern torpedo” this time struck me in resonance as it is with the Quiroga here read by happenstance a few days ago. But, above all, I sense this story is reprinted here, intentionally or not, because of the way it sheds light — as spooky ambivalence of suicide or sheer drowned gratuitousness — to this book’s runt and non-runt syndrome … lying vertically side by side, as it were, in the womb of twin berths. Friend called Snigginson van Pickyns, the “carpentering” of this otherwise virgin berth, Welsh rarebits on “a faintly luminous soup plate”, all notwithstanding.
A BURNING SWORD FOR HER CRADLE by Aliette de Bodard
“Sometimes, you needed the dark to defend against the dark.”
My fault, but this SF-fantasy story defeated my plot-blurred mind, with the story’s teeming ghosts, its swordblades intaken bodily as well as real weapons to wield and metaphorical ones, too, all as part of some Federation’s defence against post-war colonisation, involving charms, witches and ordinal aunts. The relationship of the two sisters and the sonogram scenes at the end made me wonder if the symbiosis of one of them with her still enwombed baby is at least partly relevant to this whole book’s aforementioned sororal and/or ‘runt’ syndrome. Which the berth, which the sword within, which the baby?
My previous review of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2013/05/29/interzone-246/#comment-732 and https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/13/real-time-review-of-interzone-230/
PRECIPICE by Dale Bailey
“He resolved to moderate his moderation.”
A relatively tall holiday hotel overlooking sea and swimming pools, almost like a prop, another family photograph on the office workstation. An easy moderate read as a comfort to my earlier plot-blurry mind. A fifty something man, well-lined enough to afford countless cocktails for his wife of thirty years of marriage, a grown up daughter at home at the end of the telephone as his mentor; he once had a near death experience with his heart, now beset by vertigo and ghosts in the small hours on the beach. And yearnings for a young woman in a pink bikini. A workmanlike haunting with a tragic hinterland and even moderation in ambiguous innuendo at the end concerning the numbers involved to match those of the hotel’s numbered floors to avoid the thirteenth (cf the quatorzième syndrome in the earlier Dowling.) And impulses, such as the need to jump, that neatly echo the Upper Berth…
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/dale-bailey/
THE SHOOTER by M. Rickert
“Impossibly thin, as seemed to be the fashion, a boy as substantial as a black butterfly, fleetingly seen and forever remembered.”
Impossibly tantalising, too, as a story. Beautiful. Disturbing. No mean feat.
It is about a mean feat, though, through the idea of ghost as the weak partner to the human being it once was. Paradoxically strong, too, in a forthrightness to do its best, his best, after the event, seeking special sympathy cards and appropriate flowers. With main fingers pointed, shaped as the barrel, with only punier fingers left to try pull the trigger.
My previous reviews of this author: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2011/02/07/holiday-by-m-rickert/ and https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/04/28/shadows-and-tall-trees-vol-7/#comment-9656
THE TREE OF SELF-KNOWLEDGE by Stephen Graham Jones
“Or, it was only my left hand’s job when my right hand was busy.”
In spite – or because? – of this story’s staccato simplicity of paragraphing the nature of ghosts and those of us left behind, the detritus amid some sort of Hansel and Gretel’s gradually left pathways, not of crumbs, but of beer cans, the tidying principle, or putting knurls and the ives of burls where our tumours are about to grow. On another level, in the context of this book’s now left hand/ right hand gestalt, this is a strong ghost story, of two dating youngsters in a car crash after the school prom and a once short dating acquaintance of the dead girl in that crash being the narrator seeing her again nineteen years after her death in the spooky, imminently-to-be-closed supermarket on Thanksgiving night, there for yeast, she a narrow wisp in her tidying mode amid the dog collars. And the eponymous tree that is her hidey-hole. I took photos of it a day or so ago here; I’ve long called it the Yieldingtree. This story tells you much about death and life, for ordinary folk like us. The good intentions that always outweigh the bad, till one is dead? Keeping the crashed car complete for parades. Or starting over again.
“You do a thing because it’s right, not because you want it to be acknowledged as right.”
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/stephen-graham-jones/
Miraculously half an hour later, I cross-reference this story with SENNIN here: https://elizabethbowensite.wordpress.com/the-big-book-of-classic-fantasy/#comment-981
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“Why run after a ghost or a dream?” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
THE OTHER WOMAN by Alice Hoffman
…when they already run after us? A brief story narrated by a ghost-cleanser, somehow connecting the previous story of the Tree of Self-Knowledge with an apple tree here. The pervasiveness of hauntings, their stickability to ourselves. Which is the stronger you or the ghost? Whose hands shake most? We humans are as fallible as ghosts, with our superstitions, our jars of coloured liquid. “Ghosts have regrets, too.”
“It is impossible to be with me; I make rooms impossible.”
From Elizabeth Bowen’s ghost story ‘The Apple Tree’ 1934
THE LONELINESS OF NOT BEING HAUNTED by Bracken MacLeod
“Everyone you have ever loved will eventually die. And if you live a long time, their absence will never leave you, like the ghost on a wall where a painting used to hang.”
A moving, inspiring, yet disturbing, story of an ageing woman who collects antiques that embody the people who died with them. Her new clandestine purchase in the usual antique shop who knows her wants is evocatively now conveyed as this overall book’s ultimate runt, but ghosts are nothing but, anyway? I dare not tell you its full details, and this book – like the antique shop – holds this story clandestinely, too, in a way, tucked away in its post middle. I feel ashamed in being exposed to it while finding inspiration in it. But, you see, I am ageing, too, becoming more and more alone like her as the years go by, “that all her life was spent looking back until there was almost no more ahead.”
My previous review of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/10/25/new-fears-2-editor-mark-morris/#comment-14081
MEE-OW by Garth Nix
A character’s imitation of an imitation seems suitable to this book’s flow of sensibility, I guess – but this is also the past slowly catching up, and and an exorcism of a ghost, a previous haunting that once transpired during an illicit love affair, while students, perpetrated in a truncated room small enough to be a mere utility cavity, an exorcism, not by expunging it, but by passing it off onto the conspirator in love, by tempting him again today, now a married man… A Nix story that adequately passes off an otherwise idle period. A haunting with no explanation other than the fact it has no explanation. A near non-entity or nixie sprite escaped from a now dry laundry room. Or as if reading it is tantamount to mindlessly jogging along, beneath sporadically unrepaired street lighting. With a scrawny stray cat to trip you up. And no earbuds.
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/garth-nix/
JASPER DODD’S HANDBOOK OF SPIRITS AND MANIFESTATIONS
by Nathan Ballingrud
“He thought about the dark roads he imagined ghosts traveled, the ones that led from their graves to the haunting places — the bottoms of wells, the interiors of empty houses, maybe even to old chicken coops sagging with neglect. How long did it take to get from the grave to here?”
A ten year old boy who starts a catalogue, later hopefully a collaborative handbook, of all the spirits in his life, including the Holy Spirit, his dead sister’s, the feral ghosts’, the places and pains of his cruel and drunk father, his mother having left home on her scooter, the devil not in the detail but in the sweetness, indeed a story about an eventual binge of sin-eating with honey. Did not really work for me, but such sin-eating as a concept seemed to fit, at least obliquely, with this whole book so far.
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/john-langan-nathan-ballingrud/
HIS HAUNTING by Brian Evenson
“But the light in the hallway was always on.”
Pronouns often work harder than nouns. ‘His husband’, as another example, to define the Arn who is the protagonist seeing a ghost as a silhouette in the bedroom door, a symbol of actual or potential dementia in his father and his husband and himself. His Arnt (Aunt), too. If I ever thought of a great ghost story that Evenson might write, with my having read much Evenson before, this would surely be it. Or it is certainly working very hard to be it, with my help. And I keep looking back at the story’s heading as doorway and see the author foreshadowed and, later, predictably forgotten. A reviewer can be, at best, a sort of therapist for troubled fiction, I guess. Potentially troubled, that is. And such thinking now leads to a number of trap-doors in my mind!
“There wasn’t even a switch to turn it off.”
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/brian-evenson/
THE JEWELED WREN by Jeffrey Ford
“I think I feel bone on bone.”
A fallible, ageing couple, the man with a variable cane for support, the woman more feisty than him, sit together looking into the distance at a forsaken house that seems affected by ghosts, and they pay increasingly obsessive visits to it, to fathom out its ‘story’. This is memorably haunting, even frightening, as there seems something parallel between their accretions of findings and their own ageing. A tableau or scenario overheard, later seen, of two blonde girls, Imsa and Sami (why anagrams?), a man and another threatening shape, a yellow car as model, then a real yellow car, or if not real, large enough to BE real, the refrigerator smell, the eponymous chimes the couple take back to their own house, not to mention the gunshots they heard, and their own absorption by the scenario, both or one of them. Yes, another great ghost story. The Uncertain Diner, the concrete closet, and the question of how to kill a ghost, notwithstanding.
“He wasn’t in the door more than a moment…”
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/jeffrey-ford/ and https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2012/01/08/the-beautiful-gelreesh-jeffrey-ford/
THE AIR, THE OCEAN, THE EARTH, THE DEEP by Siobhan Carroll
“Everything seemed fine, but the devil was in the details.”
…in the details of this accretively pervasive and globally claustrophobic story — as we gather these details’ gestalt. An amorphous SARS or EBOLA or a cloud of ghosts disguised? Superstition versus truth, superstition versus superstition, truth versus truth: a physically and mentally debilitating pattern of polarities encapsulated as PSYANKY? That latter word seems a clue: my guess at a clue but not necessarily the story’s own. Here, a woman who works as a representative of the asylum seekers who come into America, already a near future America where there is the communal onset of face masks etc. Air pressure in dreams? The details, then? Well, there are many here, a pencil drawing by one of her stowaway migrant clients, effects upon her own superstition shelf at home with her partner, a conflux of secrets, things in corners, someone breathing in her ear, a child’s handprint on a train window where a child could never reach, a middle-split tongue and much more. Meanwhile, I wonder if this fiction work is the only one with as many as three commas in its title?
“There was no connection here.”
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/siobhan-carroll/
THE GHOST SEQUENCES by A.C. Wise
“She would go on binges of eating, trying to fill herself up so there was no room for ghosts inside her skin.”
There are many other eye-catching and chilling hauntings in this series of fragments (some confusing to me) — concerned with building up the gestalt of a four-woman collective of conceptual art and paintings in the museum and their exhibition, involving an Ouija board, their own memories, personal experiences. One about a school’s famous mass suicide in Japan, and a vanished film with a ghost in it, and one with two sisters in tune with this whole book’s double-berth exhibit: “…like we were lying in invisible coffins. If we were good enough at pretending, the ghosts would think we were one of them. We called it The Dead Game.”
It also has the of the Tremblay.
[Finally, for me, chillingly remarkable and frightening, in the context of this whole ambiance of hauntings, is its ending, an ending that miraculously resonates with a Vladimir Nabokov story that I reviewed here earlier this very afternoon in my real-time, where I wrote about myself: “…I have often been known to point at parts of art galleries themselves as being part of the art being shown.” When you read this Wise story, you will know what I mean!]
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/a-c-wise/
Proud to mention that A.C. Wise once had a story in Nemonymous.
DEEP, FAST, GREEN by Carole Johnstone
“I shared a donkshop bunk…”
“, the air, the pressure hull,”
This mighty novella turned out to be amazing stuff, despite the challenging nature of old Gramps’ Glaswegian dialogue. Gramps is the 22 year old narrator’s great uncle. She his great niece, of course. The house his. The stories his, too. About a submarine he worked on in the 2nd world war (a sub that now has its own wiki page), and later another submarine as a sort of exhumation of the first sub, or its clone or runt. His house now an exhumation or clone or runt of both. All tied to an echoed carving of letters, DFG. “Don’t give it a fucking choice.” No wonder the classic F Marion Crawford story was also included in this book! Also no wonder we also had THE AIR, THE OCEAN, THE EARTH, THE DEEP (compare the titles), the story by Siobhan Carroll that talked of “air pressure in dreams”! You couldn’t make it up! The flashing lights and Poseidon-like sinking of the submarines and house together, a symbiosis of then and now, amid the engaging relationship of the narrator and Gramps’ tales told to her. The work is increasingly evocative of Gramps’ guilt and memories of disaster and death at sea and now death in Glasgow, etc. The last man out, the last one hatched. Poignant and heartfelt. Needs to be read, in fact needs to be worked at, and I simply can’t do it full justice. (And I have often associated the sound of echoes with submarines. Don’t know why.)
My previous review of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/carole-johnstone/
My previous reviews of John Langan: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/john-langan-nathan-ballingrud/
NATALYA, QUEEN OF THE HUNGRY DOGS by John Langan
“, not unlike the feeling of pressure his ears registered during a change in altitude. No amount of swallowing or yawning affected this pressure; indeed, it strengthened each day.”
A “box fort” as an ironic version of this book’s submarine and its air-pressure echoes, now as a portrait of adventures in Limbo where ghosts live in whatever form of the “feral ghosts” in the earlier Ballingrud. I also know another reason why the Ford Madox Ford story was included earlier, in the light of this Langan novella’s character ‘Madame Sosotris’. And Tremblay’s childish drawing, now a “child’s drawings brought to life.” In many ways this substantial Langan work is an interesting coda to this book, and a compelling work in itself, compelling at least, at first, in its more literary mode, with convincing descriptions of a cancer-dying photojournalist who invites his male boozing mate (a well-characterised family man) for some rite of passage-in-death at his large house — leading to more typical horror genre moments, prefigured by the work’s title. The backstory of the photojournalist’s own sub-marine near-death experiences, and his own sister who died of cancer years before, is enthralling. Dealing with AIDS along the way and Catholicism, then other religions. His dead sister is arguably a walking theme-and-variations on this book’s runt syndrome, particularly among siblings: “She was no bigger than she’d ever been, but her screaming surrounded her, made her part of something enormous and terrifying.”
For me, this massive box-fort of a book is a genuine landmark ghost story anthology with many great new classics in this genre. I cannot emphasise that fact enough.
Later the same day: cross-referenced the above Langan with a Bestwick novella here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/09/16/and-cannot-come-again-simon-bestwick/#comment-17002