Chthonic Matter 2019
Edited by C.M. Muller
Connected previous reviews: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/c-m-muller/
Stories by Patricia Lillie, David McGroarty, Shannon Scott, Samuel M. Moss, J.A.W. McCarthy, Sean Logan, Sam Hicks, Simon Strantzas, M.K. Anderson, Dan Stintzi, Tracy Fahey, M.R. Cosby, Mary Portser, Charles Wilkinson, J.C. Raye, Brady Golden, Casilda Ferrante, Adam Meyer, M. Lopes da Silva.
When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…
“Hans brushes something from the corner of his mouth. A feather? No, it must have been a crumb.”
An old woman – who many people in the area visit for herb cures – one with a fading memory and less hard in her mental armour, is visited in the night by a boy and girl for whom she almost feels sorry. She catches a hint of future handsomeness in Hans. An unsettling story as if history is catching up with herstory that is in turn coming-up in comeuppance upon another story. Mixed motives and fey inconsistencies. With a cooked-up ending neither mixed nor fey.
My previous review of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/02/15/twice-told-a-collection-of-doubles/#comment-14873
“She did not want any of that.”
Where disease becomes unease. A study in denial, in tune with the previous story. This one is a thoughtful story (with things strangely forgotten even by the most careful reader), indeed, an endlessly possible story of a woman retiring at the age of 55 to her dream home without her husband, but it is not living up to expectations as everywhere has its drawbacks, its cloying weeds and worrying neighbours. And what lies under wallpaper and as well as under those weeds to remind one of whatever one has already blocked out or airbrushed from one’s life, like one can do to other people on Facebook. Though that is another story. I am just left wondering if one is partially blocked or muted from life by something endlessly terminal like Hodgkin Lymphona and remains as a ghost on the edge of a living death with that disease’s imprint still on one, what one would look like? The sexualised fairies, notwithstanding. The rest has vanished from my mind, or is still in the process of doing so, as I write this in real-time.
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/david-mcgroarty/
American House Spider
“Something is written in the web. It is a single word. An amazing word.”
….matriphagy, or an earlier word connected with disease and asbestos? This work seems to be a wildly deadpan — hopefully fruitful with eventually dawning ideas — theme-and-variations upon Steve Rasnic Tem tropes of nuclear family relationships, and responsibilities between parent and child, here depicting a man in insurance with some absurdist case studies of customer and his wife who communally sews communal blankets for us all in a sort of Knit and Natter group, and her husband’s erections, the way they deal with their son and daughter and spiders and much else including the book Charlotte’s Web.
The Plague Victim
Samuel M. Moss
“In the general chaos following the fleeing of the livestock the man sank into a violent silence.”
A truly remarkable and unmissable portrait of a peasant land where the word ‘verst’ could be used glibly among us as a unit of distance, and a plague that consumed individual people village by village as gestalt silent diaspora. A messenger en-plagued by his own message. Goriness transfigured. We could not help but think of literally today’s news story in our own real-time of at least one and maybe three or more containers surreptitiously arriving here, each crammed with silent victims. As mass chunks of some distant village across the world from us.
Sometimes We’re Cruel
“, muscle memory of what you’re supposed to do when you first walk into a place like this.”
…or into a story like this, one that resonates with the silent diaspora of the earlier Moss, where people go missing, but here they obliquely return as themselves or perhaps not themselves, but you. A Sapphic rhapsody as we follow Erika in interface with her lady loves, one of them with a comatose father, and the ending where the substance of this story becomes clear (or as clear as it CAN be) is arguably unforgettable, but who knows what muscle memory I might contract when I come back to this story as a new reader. I am impressed with its attractively dishevelled Proustian style as a latent feeling about this remarkable story. Nightscript often does this with its own muscle memories. The story’s title, now in hindsight, gives a further edge to it.
“The features on his face seemed too small and crowded together. Or maybe the head around them was too large.”
That is the face of Jonathan Golden. While this work is something I found eventually to be a highly nightmarish tale of a family who busk as a skiffle group in the town, now offered a night’s shelter in Golden’s orchard-bordering house. And his hidden half-sisters. And squishy apples, far from Golden Delicious, I guess. And the scarecrows in the trees. Elton the washtub player in the band forms our point of view, and I was completely disarmed by the style of his implied narrative… (I shall now reprise the Lonnie Donegan hits on Apple Music.)
My previous review of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/sean-logan/
Mr. and Mrs. Kett
“I found him at the end of the long walled garden, where the apple trees were.”
This is a most darkly delicious eye-opener of a story as if Aickman has come alive again and written a new story with the soul of Keats who also knew Latin. The Ketts, meanwhile, visit, out of the blue, the household of our 14 year old female narrator who has extra Latin at school, hence her art of sweetly attritional narration, as she recounts of this eponymous couple who take over her and her parents and her granny by some laid-back osmosis of spirit, that may not be all it seems. More or less evil than nothing. Digging a classical maze in their garden, till all energy is absorbed or assuaged. Loved it. Nothing more can be said. Except itself.
“I didn’t find it at all rude, this unwillingness to small talk. Instantly, it won my admiration.”
“Our guests were making wide, languid gestures, like people turning in their sleep, and my parents, rooted to the spot, were watching and listening, caught in a kind of rapture.”
“Then we went back to the garden, with me forgetting the promise to look in on Granny, although I’d made it only hours before.”
Oh, that reminds me: it would all have slipped my mind by now, if it were not for my real-time reviewing above. Much has slipped away, anyway.
My previous review of Sam Hicks: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/09/13/the-best-horror-of-the-year-volume-eleven/#comment-17047
Jason’s in the Garden
“Maybe the problem was Jason lacked the finesse of a good liar, that momentary conviction that every word out of his mouth was true. Instead, his eyes shifted and his pitch rose, and it was instantly clear that he could not be trusted.”
This is perhaps the ultimate fake news ghost story where not the real nature of the ghost but the dubious narrator himself is the thing not to be believed, as if wearing bare feet is akin to becoming he whom one pities most. A schooltime story of deprivation, of varying degrees of empathy, of a sense of self-worthlessness and more — all deployed more successfully by fictitious visions of broken glass in a garden than by serious studies based on evidence. The mutual synergy of disparate units of unreliable narrator and even less reliable author. A study of more than just that. Something or someone too obvious to insult your intelligence by mentioning here.
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/simon-strantzas/
The Parchment Thief
“She guides my fingers to the center of the page, to stroke under a line of text. I cannot read Renaissance-era Neapolitan. It is Latinate, so I catch snatches here and there.”
Seems to have a sense of Hicks’ Latinate here as well as the communal BLANKets sewn in the Shannon Scott. Anderson’s incredible concept of BLANK palimpsests sewn from human-skin donation to a very old parchment book here tied up with the moœurs of romance and marriage and how they did not overlap in such old days amid witchcraft, and other shenanigans. An incredibly rich tactile prose with all manner of mutual enfoldments of text with flaying or flensing. Erotic, too, with transference by book-pilfering or -doctoring to the actual flaying as retrocausal pain of loveplay happening in new texts upon the enfoldments. Or so I infer.
My previous review of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/09/28/nightscript-vol-iii/#comment-10821
“and I understood that while her words were not immediately clear, their meaning would reveal itself to me as time went on.”
I don’t know why Strintzi’s Elina reminded me of the name Adela in Schulz, but was she in Meyrink or Bulgakov? I felt utterly tantalised by this story, as if the Strintzi character’s name Rötenbach was meant to resonate with Rorschach as this work teemed with Rorschach images for me, as the inscrutable narrator crosses the border between two inscrutable countries either as spy or terrorist and meets Violet who I later suspected was also Elina – like the two countries half of a whole, as at the end a human body is halved and it seems very appropriate I renamed this site earlier today after the Parhelion phenomenon. Who is the real sun out of the two you can see in the sky? Which is the real half of the person? A story of codes and secret messages and interrogating soldiers. And who was working for whom? Which half of a country is where bombs were not make-believe. And gluey beers and other strange fodder…
‘“It’s delicious,” I said.
“It’s all organs,” he said.
I stuck to the crust after that and allowed the meats to slump together in a mound at the plate’s center.’
“They are not men, not really. They’re something else. They’re black inside.”
“More than a suspicion, I had an unusual sensation, a feeling that what was inside the briefcase wanted me to see it, as if the information was an agent in its own right.”
“where the tree branches cast shadows like the veins I had seen in Rötenbach’s diagrams.”
“pulling the sides apart, separating her into two halves.”
I have been entranced by this story. Exhumed from my Skin House. That parchment thief again? And more characters like Hicks’ Ketts or in the Strantzas. The latter ketts and strantzas seem like names for the no man’s land strips each side of the border. Another land measured in versts?
Later cross-referenced The Border with Fastenings here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/10/04/celestial-inventories-steve-rasnic-tem/#comment-17246
Sin Deep by Tracy Fahey
“, the saints’ bodies split open like ripe fruit,”
After the Skin House, halved, in the previous story, now not the Sin House so much as the Snake House, I guess. A tactile, sinuously itchy study of a woman named Eva visiting her skin-diseased sister Sal — to bring her ‘a salve’ for her soul? And between visits, working in an art gallery as guide or visiting the snakes in the nearby zoo. Titian flayed and flensed. Ovid’s Void, giving Marsyas these words to say: “Quid me mihi detrahis?”
My previous reviews of Tracy Fahey here.
“Heinneke, Prose & Split,”
Ever since I started reading the sort of literature I happen to read, towards which Nightscript has, in recent years, been a fine contributor, I have discovered — from seemingly attritional pointlessness and creative nonsense-slants — a new vision of life as it truly IS. As if the only nonsense is life that is now being reproduced as sense, in the truth of fiction. This work is a frankly, outlandishly mind-stunning example of this, taking us, via a giant renovated Ferris Wheel, into an exit that was not its entrance, and now into — whether intended or not — whether acknowledged or not — an amazing theme-and-variations on Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Those young people in the real world of my real-time who are also graduating into their own version of life these days, well beyond the reach of oldsters like me, should make reading this Cosby work their first call, their first stop, before proceeding further with a career, marriage and pregnancy. It will make or break you.
“How long have I been unconscious? None of this makes sense.”
My previous review of this author HERE.
“In a fluid move, the tall woman replaced the surgeon’s dinner plate and arranged herself on a chair, leaning over him like an affable giraffe.”
The skin-itchy zoo visits of Fahey have become here the highly haunting visions of another plague with white dots, such dots always prefiguring a blank whiteboard rather than skin parchment, of more people like the Ketts (and others in this book) coming and going like gentle transitory kites…now a story about a noted soprano called Dani hoping to save her voice from the inferred plague with the help of a handsome surgeon, she with sexual yearnings, but there are passing or staged obstacles in the guise of people. The portable whiteboards were for messaging, I guess.
The Surrey Alterations
“A quiz night enthusiast and conspiracy theorist, he mixed superfluous fact with paranoia and misinformation in equal parts.”
…which is not the main protagonist called Vernon who has just lost his stereotypical wife Doreen to the do-gooding of death, but it is someone more like the likes of myself as based on the above quoted description, but, he is unlike me, too, by being one of Vernon’s equally stereotypical drinking cronies in the local pub. Cronies who made Vernon aware of the mobile audiology unit in a local Surrey lay-by, Surrey where I used to live or be laid-by till moving here, and it is a story that takes stereotypicality into sensitive stereo sound qualities of hearing aids (“; the insects talking amongst themselves underground; the kite string, half a mile off, was sawing the sky.”) whereby each of the five senses compensates for another, and here his visuality fades along with his diminuendo use of the Internet since Doreen died. A Swiftian fable for our times. With conceits and concepts like this book’s earlier gentle transitory kites, but here they are likeably clunkier…
My many previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/charles-wilkinson-christopher-harman/
Eternal Roots of Lane County
“I heard one fella in town say he saw the crows fly backward just to keep the dust from getting in their eyes!”
An honestly honest story of dust dominos falling one by one in the endemic winds of Kansas, as we follow a boy called Cold, cold calling his aunt, his sister twins, a father killed by rabbits, and a sheriff who wanted to suck chocolate cake from his mother. It is utterly tactile, utterly uttersome. Not even Flannery O’Connor could have managed such a work, tirelessly scripting those designs into the copper tubs of our heads as we read it. Surely, a major literary work. So many of us may miss it, though, thinking this book different from what it actually is, gone away with our children never to return to find ourselves choking on its skin-parchment dust.
My previous review of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/02/15/twice-told-a-collection-of-doubles/#comment-15019
“The woman steps over her and advances on me. Her legs seem to stretch and shorten with each step, giraffe-like one instant, frail and stumpy the next.”
Cf the giraffe-like woman in the Portser. Meanwhile, I am awed by Wed. Essentially original, yet also a significant theme-and-variations on Rasnic Tem’s fiction-truth syndrome of parental responsibilities, here, in the Golden, a man and and his two daughters, Lorah (the eldest) and Alyssa, diverse girls, antagonising to each other, viewed by the father alternately in past and future, with Lorah’s going-missing episodes, their mother’s death by ovarian cancer, and Alyssa’s eventual wedding reception… leading inexorably to a vision of a black parachute emerging from someone’s mouth, a vision that clinches the gestalting of all these factors and somehow making this a memorable reading experience that is certain to percolate even longer than you expect. Only time will tell. This whole book teems with such telling moments of ‘objective-correlative.’
My previous review of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/09/22/new-fears/#comment-10754
“As if death had left its mark and claimed a little of her purity. It didn’t matter if she looked a bit different; she was with me again.”
A woman amid the atmospheric bushland near Sydney, birds as communication devices while a helicopter betokens current fires, I guess, a story ending with a poignant vision of her daughter’s satin coffin, having already had her daughter resurrected in her arms along with her toy rabbit with which she once slept. A blend of hope, despair and guilt. Why the cell, otherwise?
“Children are not meant to return from the dead, to leave your life all of a sudden and then walk back in one day.”
An ironic interpolation setting off the poignancy even more –
“The visit from the neighbor was marked with peels of laughter.”
Peels, not peals, as the flaying and flensing of the skin parchment earlier in this book’s gestalt. There is always some compensation for mishap.
“Of course. Since her father died. Covering the mirrors was part of sitting shiva, the Jewish mourning ritual.”
“She laughed but the sound of it in the empty house just unsettled her further.”
Following the previous story, her laughter truly peeled, as we realise what she sees at the end in the various reflective surfaces, a true inheritance of the difficult mother she never wanted to emulate. A Jewish story that should become a classic, I guess, not that I fully understand Jewishness, but this story comes closer to teaching me than anything else in my life so far. In the previous story, a mother reclaiming her dead daughter as a living force, here ironically a daughter resisting such reclamation of her dead mother! A telling contiguity of otherwise independent works. The mirrors with nails pinned around them to deflate the value of the mother-to-daughter-inherited property, nails pinned to cover the mirrors in back cloths, the ultimate distaff, not spear, stigmata?
One For the Wolf
M. Lopes da Silva
“Now the middle lit the two yellow tapers while Ma and Pa put their harnesses on over their nightgowns and knelt on the hard packed dirt of the floor. The children knelt beside them.”
Two parents, with three children, the oldest, the middle and the youngest. A seeming religious sect named after names I had not heard of before but they are important to them evidently. And become important to me. Christ is mentioned, but the overriding force is the Wolf for which we leave one from among each set of good things. I find this faith is like accepting a fiction with such a faith in it. A disarming lateral loop. As much of this book is. This end story, too, has the tang of a werewolf story hinted at by its own ending, but that is by dint of a lateral acceptance of the faith in fable. As is the faith in something with far more disarming strangeness than life outside of fiction deserves. Only in fiction can we reach whatever faith it gives us. That, for example, this end story was also written as a coda for this book without knowing what was in the rest of this book before its author wrote it, and now there emerges a square in the knots of the wooden floor as a Pareidolia trapdoor, under which this Nightscript book has resided all the time till eventually lifted out by faith in fiction. The wolf at the door, too. Or grumbling just beyond the yet doorless wall of belief? By the way, this end story also brackets the whole book with the Hansel and Gretel one at its beginning.
“And one day that preacher set himself after a seamstress that everyone in town said was a witch,[…] Flames rose from a brazier in the center of the room. The oldest could feel the fire’s heat against her skin.”
But which story among the rest of its contents will we leave for the Wolf?
My previous review of this author: