33 thoughts on “The Night Doctor and Other Tales – Steve Rasnic Tem

  1. I reviewed the first story in 2016 and below is what I wrote about it in its then context…



    “He comes to believe that the rest of the world is breathing with him,…”

    …as, somehow, I do, too, while hawling fiction dreams towards gestalt.
    Like this story’s Charlie, I, too, have slept in the same wide wifely bed, now, in my case, for more than 45 years, and, along with Charlie, I empathise with the breathing echoes that, in my case, might one day be left, but for which one of us? This beautifully written text is almost unbearable to read, unbearably right, too, and, like breathing, it is a toing and froing of ghostly truth and trust.
    In tune with the previous Sharma story, where loved ones became animals or vice versa, or worse, we also have here perhaps a more oblique animal ‘objective correlative’ or metaphor, a clinging to one’s own objectified pain. But whose?

  2. I reviewed the second story in 2016 and below is what I wrote about it in its then context…



    “Desperate reds and desperate blues. Desperate greens. Their eyes looked tired and pale, as if worn out trying to make sense of all the bright colours.”

    This book seems to be cohering, shaping, as Tem’s character reaches his Plan B, an apartment insulated and within other apartments, instead of his once evolving standalone house, marriage now ended by one of their deaths, their fruit as son grown up and elsewhere…
    This is an anguished shaping, a new evolving, but now inward, insulated from understanding the intentions of others, even (or especially) from the intentions of self.
    A story swaddled by those reading it. But perhaps I alone understand it, feel it, too, as coming…as it has already come for this story.

  3. My review of RED RABBIT in 2019 while reading Figures Unseen:


    [[ I last reviewed the last story below in July 2017….



    “You can learn to live with crazy, but you can’t touch it.”

    A perfect gem is a perfect Tem.
    Old Matt and his senile-demented wife Clara, and each day a new redly flensed and flayed rabbit is left in their grounds, one she always think is the same rabbit, whilst he knows that they are different rabbits subjected to the same predator.
    Until the final rabbit, so flayed and flensed it is “in the border between dark and light”. On the brink of wonderland, I infer. Where shadows swim in shadows.


    Based on growing evidence, I think Tem deserves a legacy of acclaim equally from the literary world (i.e. by those who recognise such a term), and, as he already has, from the genre world.
    Genre has always been literary, mind you. And often vice versa.

    end ]]

  4. My 2014 review of the next story is shown below from its then context –


    The Hanged Man
    “But to give in to gravity, to just let everything fall into its gravitationally-determined place, to give up and to give in, was more than satisfying.”
    An archetypically family-stoical Tem piece – another engaging Tem onion-song – that fits comfortably with my own indifferent fatalism and sense of dark wonder underpinning all our ‘dying falls’ of life. Those Avery weighing-machines now weighing gravity itself and the mechanics of the lopsided headedness (cf the nodding skull stew earlier) caused by hanging oneself in a moment of sadness, an act that somehow continues the dying fall in that slow game resonant with the Read story. The role-to-role of cassette to CD, now 2D film to 3D film, a palimpsest of subtitles, as he switches roles with his own son when the fall finally falls…?

  5. My March 2015 review of the next story is shown below from its then context…


    The Fishing Hut
    “We’re all onions, you know.”
    Another wonderfully dark and male- or oldster-ripe ‘onion song’ from Tem. The male on leave from his wife and doctor travels through the fog and almost like my own preternatural ending up near the end of this rite of reading with this fishing-hut of a story about a fishing-hut, Hut as a sort of inverted Huchuhat with the river actually running through it in a gap in the floor and inscrutable strangers in there fishing, too, like Mauro’s grey men,…fishing in and from a shape-shifting Murmuration of fish and shadowy water… hellishly riparian undercover as well as inspirationally earthing me to something wise and solid, during my current personal encounter with life’s sudden entropy.


    “‘There’s nothing in the corner, honey,’ he said, and strangely it seemed like a leap of faith on his part, even though there really was nothing there.”

    Is this story’s sudden event happening to a married couple a preternatural link with my reading yesterday (here) of another sudden (‘planes dropping out of the sky’) event in the married Tems’ own ‘man on the ceiling’, if not in the corner? And with my reading half an hour ago (here) with the perfect circular sound etc. in a Leyshon story. Whatever the case, this is a seminal Tem nub of existential anxiety and marital love, but much more than that, things that are hard to define but nevertheless gradually become part of the nub, as one reads more and more Tem.


    “She did not dare gain weight — he weighed her periodically — so she fed herself with long gazes out the window.”

    And in the sky, beyond the ceiling? This is the most deadpan absurdism ever, as relating to man’s cruelty to woman and her acceptance of it. A prehensile environment where things ate people, too. There is hope at the end, though, with a sort of telling reverse of the gestalt, I guess. I have never before considered reversing my reviews, after finishing a review to lay bare retrocausality, a phenomenon that I now realise is there in all our lives.


    “In too many relationships we reach this point: waiting for things to end, or waiting for them to die.”

    To die is not to end, though, I guess. The stories we tell prevail, bolster people or make things appear that make life more bearable with a flickering glimpse at least of what it is makes it more bearable if inexplicably so, things that make life more bearable even if it remains intrinsically unbearable, as the man — who thus helps a rough sleeper with storytelling, stories sometimes completed by that homeless listener himself — is preoccupied about our gestetner shadows shaving off of us with all our bad things embedded in them, like his dead Dad staining his shadow on the shower this Dad used to use. And what flickering glimpse appears out of our hair-line…active or passive, someone who moulds or someone who is moulded, which are you? The way I review stories, I think I know which I am. I hope the story still stands up. And not had its shadow shaved off. With any worthwhile thing, you need to take its rough with its smooth, I say. The reader can tell stories, too.

  9. 9FBED1D4-1B30-4DF2-A1BB-58491439DFC2


    “Discarded plastic amber medicine vials followed her through the house and decorated the floor by her bed.”

    [sort of amber vials here coincidentally about an hour ago!]
    This story starts as a Ligottian Corporate Horror with mention of “yellowish haze” and Scott’s dire rites of corporate office life. But it turns into an essential Tem, where his wife is ill and there is an astonishing theme-and-variations on Kafka’s Metamorphosis, and much more. I dare not even hint at the transformation and how they affect the (tantamount to) widowing and winnowing of Scott. A fast food epiphany, too. “‘I’m an unknown species, as far as you’re concerned,’ it said one day.” And the more I read this text, the more I see the concept of ‘corona’ in it – all over and around it, in all senses of that word!

  10. My September 2016 review of the next story from its then context –



    “The blinds were down as she’d requested. She hated seeing outside when she couldn’t be there.”

    A moving, nay, devastating vision from the point of view of an old woman in hospital, her perceptions of the behaviour of the doctors and nurses, her own out of the body experience seen straightforwardly, and the single sentence she heard (or what she thought she heard) a doctor say towards the end of page 87, a sentence that seems to crystallise more about the nature of death than a million other books, especially when said in such a deadpan manner in such a context.
    The content of this woman’s experience, as seen by her, is exactly how I empathically perceived another old woman in hospital dying recently. The whole relatively short work is a powerful experience to withstand, but worth every single word and every item of its adept wordplay, too.


    “You completely misread both the beauty, and the danger.”

    I often do! Much to the detriment of my trypophobic soul. And, if you are similar, I urge you to tread carefully, up to the point you meet the beautiful and dangerous plant in Mister Ainsley’s garden at the end. Don’t try to persuade him with your political views. He is obviously a recluse and recently lost his spiritually beautiful wife, but surely he can be of no danger to someone like you whom he might have thought dangerous to HIM, a stranger, as you are, knocking on his door, potentially intruding by faint or feint, as well as knocking on the door of this entrammelling story. Especially if you have freckles and red hair.
    And I haven’t even yet mentioned his hobbies!


    “, an abandoned barbecue lying on its side like a felled animal.”

    The title says it all. But the variations on its theme are equally powerful here as the portrait of oldening in a man of about my age, I guess. This man is given free shelter in a derelict house in a derelict area where he used to live in a larger house than those one story houses that remain. Or do the larger houses still remain? When ‘pieces of dream’ and memories reach for a reality of sorts, if not reality itself. Bounded by the new youth with their tit taunting and fingers jabbing at phones. And cats. And attic dust. A visionary nocturne. The wind a constant groan. A hollow building of self with some sort of exploding core…?

  13. I reviewed the next story last March in its then context, as follows –


    Domestic Magic
    Co-written with Melanie Tem

    “Mom would explain why she shouldn’t do whatever she’d just done, and Margaret listened and then did the same thing again or worse because now she had more information.”

    ~~ a message for our current political history, as well as a sequel to the previous story: Child as Parent of the Grown-Up, where a boy, with a crazy mother, as he deems her, looks after his little sister against the tribulations of their mother. Full of things spreading across the page, more than just the words themselves and the dolls they describe, and compensatory luck and bad luck, and belief in fragile beliefs of superstition. Themselves, as the lives of brother and sister into the past and future, tattooed on their mother’s skin. Yet, yet, I follow words myself in strange beliefs, too. And this story evidently means more than it means. Fiction rarely does that, but here it does. Genuinely so. A test for me, as well as for the boy in it, re our scrying powers, “looking up weirdness like the fourteenth word on the sixty-seventh page in twenty-one different books.”


    “Longevity had always been unfairly distributed. Shouldn’t his life be worth more than a stone’s?”

    Tem’s more mediocre stories — mediocre by their own perceived standards, indeed comparatively mediocre and less inspired as I find this one to be — are often better than most other writers’ stories. Although this perhaps typical Tem ‘driving a car phobia et al’ story is perhaps given a run for its money by Robert S Wilson’s ‘Pavement’ recently reviewed here. And its prehensile and talkative attack by otherwise inanimate objects of one’s life is apotheosised by Leyshon’s The Funk Root reviewed an hour or so ago here. The Funk Root is the perfect expression as description of something I seem to have been seeking for some while, by the way, as I said there. But this Tem work does have the astonishing near-tipping-point of genius, too, when the husband decides to kill his beloved wife, just for FAME’s sake. Helping both husband AND wife; “Famous people, they live forever.” Maybe the gun knew something about it, too, as the house did in The Flowerpot Men?

  15. THE MAN IN THE ROSE BUSHES: Homage to M. R. James

    ‘, the Castle Museum in Colchester and the Bourne Mill,’

    I was brought up in Colchester from age 7 in 1955 and we lived quite close to Bourne Mill (https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bourne-mill). This story’s concept of “reaching some pleasant nostalgia point, but then continuing a bit too far” thus worked for me! This is an evocatively haunting tale of an American lady who is coach-touring historic sites in England for the sake of her impressionable young son who accompanies her – echoing ‘parental’ concerns that often feature in the Tem fiction of both stripes – and she had to be careful that his impressions of history and its legends didn’t go too deep. The images of disturbing ghostliness in this story stemming from its title are certainly powerful in a subtle sort of way. Recommended for lovers or M.R. James as well as Tem himself.

    “Britain in general had far too many shadows, in her opinion.”


    “Parenting was a mystery, like diet, like exercise, like how to still keep feeling good about yourself in this world.”

    Indeed, and that seems to put a telling context to Sam’s own mother — years before, when, as a boy, he said he felt unwell — saying to him in return: “Go to sleep and let the night doctor take care of you.” Sam is now ailing and elderly, cared for by his equally elderly wife Elaine, a stickler for their carefully differentiated medicines In date compartments. They have just moved and the neighbours are new, and to cut a longer frightening story shorter, the night doctor returns. A figure, as here adumbrated, that I deem you will never forget, till he comes for you. And echoing today’s reading of Melanie’s work (Chapter 8 here): “He’d allow himself to be healed or taken,…”
    Masterworks, both of them.

  17. I reviewed the next story in September 2016 as follows in its then context…



    “There was something vaguely outside geography about navigating the narrow canal path, passing under signs that always pointed somewhere else […] as if he were travelling through no place to anywhere he liked.”

    This author seems to have crystallised the atmosphere of Birmingham canals (where I once spent some holidays narrow-boating), whether from his experience or through some tapping of forces close to this book? I sense this book is indeed more than a book. And this work is, for me, a fine restrained coda, atmospheric and evocative, revisiting the often unequal relationships of lovers, a toing and froing, going and flowing, some lies, some jealousy, some leakage, some interpretation of the other one’s dreams, and an inchoate outcome, a coming together of the gestalt of repercussions, including crimes, even murders, and corporate manslaughter as a result of dangerous machinery, repercussions often cathartic, sometimes simply emblematic of life’s cruelty and urban dereliction. Simply there to be there, or that ‘travelling through no place’…
    This story also echoes the previous one, a fighting by the two lovers (instead of between themselves) against the entropy of bad housing and general existence, together, despite their differences. Until they are simply not together at all.
    Killing me softly with your song. Killing us, killing someone already dead, killing someone who was never born, softly with renewed life. Joel’s song, that this book sings, fragment by fragment. Dispersed and regathered simultaneously. “…as if he were travelling through no place to anywhere he liked.”


    “, forcing the shadows to flee their underground city for the city above.”

    This is the story of Asako, regularly crossing the city on a bus to see her mother, the missing and the mystery of a father, this time, another yellow curtain? China? No probably Japan, as I may have missed signs, bearing in mind what might have shook those shadows from lower city layers. Asako, depends on her mother, but often fails to understand her. But they share a paranoia of men, especially the new fangled “girlie boys” or skinny men like those the title foreshadowed. Utility poles like fence posts. A yellow wood? Trees that shake out their sticks? And watching out for men on the wayward buses. I felt a frisson when my comparison with The Yellow Wood came to fruition at the end. Or so so it seems as far as I have got. You never suspect what might eventually end when things first start.

    “The buildings had roofs that disappeared into darkness, challenging the indifferent moon. Perhaps it was her cold, some vague touch of infection and the beginning of a fever,…”


    “All perfect likenesses. All unintended.”

    “His shoelaces became a mess of hard knots —“

    …and no butterfly manoeuvre, whatever Hector’s prestidigitation, in order to undo them?
    Hector’s getting on a bit. 3703B991-3C22-45DC-8CE9-639CEA4BC0EB A bit curmudgeonly, too, and he thinks about his late wife of fifty years, carves various likenesses into materials like bark-wood and, when instructed, pumpkins — likenesses inadvertently evoking memories of people or the people themselves; he tries to mess in with Halloween and with other family doings, despite his misgivings, and tries to mess in, indeed, with the Catholic he was supposed to be in his late wife’s eyes, his daughter’s, too, and his twin grandsons’. He can only tell the latter apart by a mole on the face. Or am I muddled, too, about all these things? In that golden sphere between clarity and confusion? He hears the explosions of mountain works in the area where he lives, sometimes mingling with lightning strikes. He sells his stuff at a craft fair, and who is the woman who wants to buy his carved memory-people, living or dead? This is a lengthy gulp of fine vintage Tem. Wrought, whenever it was written, with today in mind. We’ll all need the night doctor soon, I guess.

    “Hector began to sweat. He hoped she didn’t notice. She would think he was running a fever and insist on staying home.”

  20. “So eat up your mört, Margaret, and take no notice of all these gloomy thoughts.”
    …a quote from INTO THE WOOD (1968) by Robert Aickman
    But is it a tench? Not a mört?

    WHEN YOU’RE NOT LOOKING: Homage to Robert Aickman

    “It’s all shadow and assumption, really.”

    Some might say this is a sort of Hospice remake, but I say it is more a Thomas Mann sanatorium as Into The Wood. Whatever it is, it is a puckish Aickman classic. Imagine Aickman and Tem collaborating. Every time I think about it, it slips away. Or it has sent me as mad as an inmate, one that has innocently turned up in its text, and then can’t get out. So best to see for yourself. Or not, as the case may be.

  21. I read the next story last May, and below is my review in its then context. (Note the now apposite mention of The Hospice!)



    “Because of the numerous faded rectangles on the walls, he decided a number of pictures had been taken down.”

    “Part of being happy, as he remembered from his childhood, was being able to pretend.”

    “But vacations weren’t for everyone, or so he had heard. There were always some who felt safer, if not happier, at home.”

    And blank hoardings, encroaching sands, I recognise it all. I do not need to spend vacations there, those vacancies. You see, I actually live in Innsmouth’s UK equivalent, or at least very close to it, as you can tell from my many photos over the years. I won’t give you its real name, in case I get kickback.
    I once had a story in the ‘Shadows Over Innsmouth’ anthology. But that’s beside the point. Life itself is beside the point, I guess – between the pilings.
    This story itself is a haunting portrait of a man returning to his particular Innsmouth. Where, aged 8, he once spent a holiday with his parents. Now somehow, against the odds, consolidating himself in older age, returning in that figure of 8? Finding himself, by losing himself. A breath of fresh air for me to read a pure genre story in this book. A genre classic as Aickman’s Hospice is a classic, not wholly dissimilar in spirit, but vastly different in its own right. No filling meals. Just a derelict crazy golf course. Or did I imagine it? Too lethargic to say more. Sands are catching up on me…

  22. I read the next story in May 2017, and below is my review in its then context…



    Tem vintage, including the inscrutable dog and its owner, and a man with the gradual onset of what many might imagine to be senile dementia after his emotional attachments have vanished, and there are now rules he now makes unilaterally about the things he owns. But his fixtures are taken away, like buildings he has lived with the view of all his life, including a vision of a fellow oldster’s hoarded detritus in a home where dementia has overtaken and cluttered simple unilateral rules, it seems.
    But I also sense this work miraculously fits in with this book’s own serendipitous theme of metamorphosis (change not as evolution or development but sudden convulsion), such a metamorphosis of living beings and their property, thus giving a wily slant on the things I myself feel in my own ageing brain, things being abruptly finished, things representing an ending of the self as once unilaterally fixed: now a uniquely split-second destructible target rather than slowly tumbling away in real-time.

  23. THE WAKE

    “Had his mother actually hired mourners to send the old bastard off?”

    Philip’s father in his casket, just as I remember my own father in his.
    Philip is shorter than most of us and socially inept in face of all these mourners he does not seem to know, all very well evoked, and he recalls dreaming in overlap with his father’s dreams and their dog’s, when he, Philip, was younger. And them, too, presumably. But his is a double wake or triple wake, a bluff of awakening, I guess. As the dog’s dreams of being a wolf, I infer, and his father’s Philip-referred dreams mix with today’s wake itself. This work seems endemically archetypal, but it has never been written out before, and the embalming ingredients will certainly help in the process of absorbing it, archetypifying it, even if Philip did not appreciate or even understand their cost. The extended family and parental accoutrements, as a strong Tem trope made even stronger, both in his work and Melanie’s, I guess. Another double awakening? Triple, with the wolves?


    “I wanted to be one of those confident people.”

    I like to calibrate life each morning, to measure which book I need to take further on board, and which to start offloading, which two books to bring nearer together, and which coordinates or texts to triangulate or diverge. This night doctor has had my optimum weightiness in the mental balance for some days now, sometimes a doctor who makes my body and mind seem riper, redder, the heart nearer the surface like a hernia or throbbing deeply in the bowels, the next making me Ariel not a wounded Caliban. This story seems to be written by that doctor in the guise of being the point of view of a man called Clyde concerned with his weight and his relationship with his wife Marjorie. Wanting to look like one of those fanciable men even before people get to know him. Complex issues of interactive narratives in body-and-face awareness. The obsession with weight training (on a stationary bike instead of writing stories like this as an equivalent stationery bike as book?) and eating well, whatever the Kafkaesque motives … and whatever the Kafkaesque results there are to the slopes of the self. Eating out being like Russian Roulette, it says at one point. “…just a cold lie on a plate,” it says at another point. And the repercussions are Aickmanesque with baggy clothes or baggy skin and lumpier innards, and a merging between slender self and that baggier man. Resisting and attracting each other by turn. Even from hospital gurney to hospital gurney. After earlier discovering things in the fridge and smells that disgust him that the wife cannot see or smell being there at all. Including his own bodily wounds. The night doctor on his stationery bike tries to help, but the ending is inconclusive, the prognosis uncertain, and the resistance to more gravity still being aspired to if not attained. Waiting for weightiness to autocorrect. You see Clyde’s night doctor is too clever by half. A night doctor I imagined to be a force in the story, even if he was never there at all.

    The real Night Doctor curated this whole wonderful collection, whatever the suitable case for treatment. The optimum gestalt of dark imaginative fiction as a disarming and counterintuitive aid to keep body and soul together.

    • …and finally, this book’s coda, a story that I read in July 2013, and below is my review from its then context…


      The Monster Makers
      “Once upon a time perhaps gods and monsters walked the earth and a human might choose to be either one.”
      Here the protagonist is concerned with a form of the continuing unspoken dimension; he is a feisty oldster factoring into – and being factored into by – the other feisty oldster in the Dines story; this one here is a well-intentioned story-telling grandpa concerned not only with post-bereavement’s tussle against a mortality personified or anthropomorphised but also with his own personal guilt and a sense of legacy vis-a-vis his beloved grandchildren within the nuclear family to which he belongs, a family as beset by some sort of horror-trope or cinematic zombie or werewolf ‘to-your-scattered-bodies-go’ trauma, a universal trauma that seems to be atomising such nuclearity.
      Deeply felt and thus deeply read. A deft story about clumsiness.
      “Sometimes the death of who we’ve loved is but the final act in a grief that has lingered for years.”

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