UNDERTOW PUBLICATIONS 2020
Edited by Michael Kelly
My previous reviews of this publisher: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/undertow-publications/
Stories by Seán Padraic Birnie, Rebecca Campbell, Kay Chronister, Kristi DeMeester, Brian Evenson, James Everington, Kurt Fawver, Carly Holmes, V.H. Leslie, Alison Littlewood, C.M. Muller, KL Pereira, M. Rickert, Simon Strantzas, Steve Rasnic Tem, Steve Toase, Charles Wilkinson, Neil Williamson.
When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…
THE GLASSY, BURNING FLOOR OF HELL
by Brian Evenson
“In number nine.”
One of two sisters calls in with a sickie, and then there is only one sister who luckily is already the narrator. Being told that the original sister was complaining of vomiting I wonder if, in truth, she had lost a leg instead? This story gradually makes you think you are Aickman dressed as the narrator, attuning self with self…
The plot is something else. Not quite The Hospice, nor The Trains, but something in between, with a mirror thankfully turned to the wall and numbers burnt into doors. Doors as floors. Self meeting self.
As to its being a satire upon lucrative courses powered by mystic fraud, well if you believe that, you might believe anything!
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/brian-evenson/
Sometimes I am so busy jamming on a story, I forget to say how much I am enjoying it. So — yes, this Evenson, having now slept with it, is a great story.
And the next episode of Number Nine was on TV last night, too!
TOO LONELY, TOO WILD by Kay Chronister
“, and if I opened the door she would be there waiting to become me.”
Wonderfully, that could have been easily written by the woman narrator in the previous story. It is as if something magic is seeping through this book already. And that is not only blood, although it is now blood, too. A fountain of it inside a silk dress? This narrator is as silent in courting as she is in marriage. Mr Szabo is now here Mr Rishner. Both women escape, in the end, or so I hope, although here Mr Rishner and the narrator try for baby but he gets a coonhound called Baby instead. Slippery with enticingly styled meaning, this story is about a close community with a tradition of witches and such beliefs, the stoically withdrawn narrator precariously inheriting this tradition in face of another woman who she believes or fears is tantalisingly tantamount to being herself! All imbued with written records in family bibles, and what we might call superstitious methods to aid fertility and love, coins in clothes and nailed trees. Not stoically withdrawn after all, but wild?
“No one goes halfway bewitched.”
My other reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/kay-chronister/
TATTLETALE by Carly Holmes
Powerfully whole in itself as an incantatory nursery-rhyming piece of prose, it is also inadvertent coda to the previous two stories, with, here, the eponymous deformity of a stripped and bullied girl eventually getting her own back. But is that in the same way as the two women above got their own back, too?
My other reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/carly-holmes/
THE SOMNAMBULISTS by Simon Strantzas
“Not only do these Somnambulists start dreaming the same dream, adding their pieces to the whole, but the hotel also becomes more stable,…”
This is probably one of the most disorientating stories I have ever read, and at one point I even became uncertain whether or not I was reading the same passage I had read only a few minutes before! It’s about, not a Gas Station Carnival, but a guest station Hotel Bespoke. Not that the story called the hotel that. I think it called it a Dream Hotel. Or Hotel Russo. At least, so I believe! The hotel, indeed, is underpinned by several of the eponymous dreamers, as a “Corporate”… For many years now, in my gestalt real-time reviewing, I have droned on at repetitive extent about triangulating the coordinates of a work of fiction and thus we, as a team, can erect its optimum truth of reality. I think this story is the first ever expression of that from within the fiction itself. It tells of a Hotel Inspector who has been amazed at how quickly this hotel was built upon the site of a gas station, and he is already prejudiced that it could hardly be serviceable for guests so suddenly from scratch. There are some most disarmingly slippery scenes here that it would be unwise to spoil. But, safe to say, gradually he enters rooms and scenarios bespoke to his past and the hang-ups instilled by his upbringing as a child, hang-ups that linger with him today. I am convinced that other readers of this work will enter different rooms and scenarios bespoke to them. How do I know and how was it I saw someone else’s bespoke hotel? Either I was bamboozled by the disorientation I mentioned earlier or, as I would prefer to think, there is the fact that I am the only person so far in the world operating the due process of gestalt real-time reviewing, the unique inspection of stories and novels, and, therefore, nobody is helping me triangulate them, and thus I am forced to have the involuntary ability to stand outside stories and truly see them for what they are. Which is not always a good thing! This story is probably the exception that proves the rule, however, judging by how I felt earlier above about being THEN (when I wrote what I felt above) truly disorientated by it.
“Everything was too wild, too disconnected, and he couldn’t focus on any one point long enough to understand it.”
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/simon-strantzas/
THE SOUND OF THE SEA, TOO CLOSE
by James Everington
“He wanted to live only in the present moment, even at the moment of his death.”
You know, a strange new feeling came over me about a lifetime spent reading grey lines of print as I read this. Even black and white films can have a spring in their heels. Here Jack, or his point of view the print gives him, of grim cliff-edge inevitability (is he yet 72 like me?), the sound of the sea near this derelict school (which Jack once attended as a boy), the nearby moors, yet the heat reminded me of a colourful midsummer, but then I realise this is a more insidious heat, one that makes cliffs crumble, makes the sea get nearer, and make people leave the village because of some already glimpsed intrinsic entropy nearing its momentary endgame, not midsummer at all, but some hot bleak winter, I sense, like this print. Jack, as the building guardian, chases the ‘kids’ away from breaking into the school, even the kid that now represents his own once hopeful backstory with his wife in the house he was brought up in and wanting their own kids. Kids tottering as tall as him, clumsily child-like as if dressed in their parents’ things, in the growing detritus of such to-be-discarded accoutrements. I am glad I was told one of the wigs was pink, and the ladybird no doubt had spots, even though the spots looked grey to me. I still relish the sight, lent by this print, of the tottering, kids as the grown-ups they might have become or indeed what they actually DO become in the endless moment we all live in, at least till that moment does end with a grey full-stop. Spring-heeled Jack, notwithstanding.
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/james-everington/
HUNGRY GHOSTS by Alison Littlewood.
“It all felt somehow part of a whole, though it surely couldn’t be.”
A well-written horror story of an innocent narrator girl abroad in Hanoi, conveying all the atmosphere I imagine this city to have. She has a meeting planned with her Vietnamese friend Mai, but through a series of faux pas and dislocations and transgressions she is steeped in darkly ominous perceptions. Listlessness prevails and Mai apparently has a new ‘boy friend’, together with “hell money”, paper dolls, the eponymous ghosts, and a moth’s wide mouth viewed by a mouse….
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/alison-littlewood/
A COASTAL QUEST by Charles Wilkinson
“Does the whole town consist of nothing more than sub-standard accommodation for tourists?”
A Wilkinson to die for. One that enhances his Pinterly illustration to a moving talking book in a series of such tableaux. A woman visits an island to find herself … having abandoned the unhappiness of her family life – a work with Creation Myth Theory implications of geology, marine theme named digs, deep wounds that are hardly worth worrying about because, well, because…
Pinter, you ask? Well, maybe fine water-colour Aickman art, instead, at a push.
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/charles-wilkinson-christopher-harman/
Cross-referenced with A Boy in Grey here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/02/04/cartes-de-visite-mark-valentine/#comment-18225
YOU, GIRLS WITHOUT HANDS by KL Pereira
I am not sure I fully understood these six connected prose poems. But I sensed that the girl victim becomes whole again by transcending retrocausally her father-not-father by annulling a lie by seeing it as a lie wrapped in a lie. Those emptinesses where her hands once were.
“Carnage is the afterthought.”
‘A disappearer as a reverse diaspora of self?’ – from my previous review of this author here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/11/01/years-best-weird-fiction-volume-five/#comment-14161
THE QUIET FORMS OF BELONGING by Kristi DeMeester
“I imagine she is trying to press herself into the house, into the walls, to find what our father has vanished into, but she stays silent whenever I ask. Her body or the house — I cannot tell which — has sprouted flowering vines.”
Like the previous story – with which it has a kindred spirit – I am not confident I have understood it fully, but I am probably more like these two sisters’ father than the two sisters themselves. It resonates with my memory of DeMeester’s previous work. Here, a triad of selves sinuously intertwining with selves’ vessels. In mutual harm and love.
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/kristi-demeester/
WORKDAY by Kurt Fawver
Not sure about this. Maybe because I didn’t understand it. It seems to be a Corporate Horror or Mark Samuels Kafkaesque paranoia, expressed by various communications to the hourly paid employees of a firm (at least they weren’t zero hour contract workers!) – inviting them to a mandatory Christmas party, with all manner of inducements, interspersed with other communications from elsewhere documenting mysterious historic murders and the firm’s trading history and mergers; some of the deaths involved hard cash money coins or gold inside bodies. Mergers, indeed. Corivdan, the name of the firm, and QO the ominous merger. Cf Coruvorn in another Undertow book reviewed here.
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/kurt-fawver/
Corivdan, Coruvorn, Covid 19, Coronavirus…
Actually, gold was outside the bodies, too. The gold inside the bodies was breathed into their lungs.
CAMERA OBSCURA by C.M. Muller
“If he closed his eyes, Haugland could nearly convince himself he was listening to the hidden clockwork of the world.”
In the fey area between Grieg or Sibelius and Haugland’s photo take-clicking panoramic camera on a tripod, this is also a refreshingly traditional and well-written tale of ghostliness – eschewing as he does the thousands of ‘empty’ digital photos he once took of the city (making me look anew at my own empty photos over the years!), and he now takes tactile pleasure in this tripod trained upon the abandoned farmsteads, here with a solitudinary sexual brush with a particular farmstead and its gradually emerging Huldra for Haugland…one name with its letters almost developed within that of the other.
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/c-m-muller/
THE FASCIST HAS A PARTY by M. Rickert
Another story I did not fully understand. But no matter, it was only two pages, which perhaps was a shame (it being only two pages) because I have been reading and reviewing recently the (for me) wonderful wonderful discoveries in stories by William Trevor, O. Henry, William Faulkner and V.S. Pritchett — and this Rickert reminded me of a fine blend of all of them! Seriously.
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/m-rickert/ and https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2011/02/07/holiday-by-m-rickert/
CHILD OF SHOWER AND GLEAM by Rebecca Campbell
“, she wondered if this was the future, the questions and unquestioned authority of motherhood. The feeling that she could say anything and it would be true.”
This book, more than any other in my experience, seems to contain stories that I feel unable to understand fully, but constructively and creatively non-understandable. I simply know they do mean something, that they are true, are beyond the mere realms of fact, are fiction as the only certainty that transcends the uncertainty of living as the people we think we are. This poetically couched story — with sunlight as an inimically blinding (as well as hopefully healing) force in the natural view of things — is no exception, with a woman pregnant with her daughter, haunted by a small girl who visits her thrifty abode, and by the husband whom she shirks; here he is like the smear in this book’s earlier camera obscura but this time a smear more ominous. And the sunlight, ‘snuck between the blinds’, is like the “viscous golden liquid” now here, and was the gold that others breathed into their lungs as a sun’s corona earlier in this book? Astonishing. A story with her lists, too.
It also has ‘tendrils’ as this book’s earlier vines.
SLEEPWALKING WITH ANGELS by Steve Rasnic Tem
“Thick tassels of dust hang from doorways and the corners of ceilings.”
This ‘story’ has come at exactly the right moment for me, honestly on the same day as when I have been faced, really for the first time, with the fragile mortality of my life’s partner in sudden unexpected extremis. A situation that has NOT yet resolved itself one way or the other. Although it now seems more positive than it did earlier today. Hence my spending time here.
And I have somehow been speculating upon the fussing from my children thereafter. And how I might cope, with the sounds of a sleeping beside me. And whether fearfully to drive her myself in this extremis, driving being an awful responsibility — or bank on a taxi service. And much else in tune with this short work by one of my favourite writers that happened to be here, today.
This story is a miracle of timeliness. Does great literature like this provide different bespoke scenarios for every reader who reads it? The thing about this story is that it has already happened. For me, it has yet to happen.
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/steve-rasnic-tem/
Good news, I shall be catching up shortly with this review. 😊
GREEN GROWS THE GRIEF by Steve Toase
“Just dust and dirt and silence. Soon she’d forget the sound of his voice.”
… in strange resonance of dust in tune with the quote I chose above for the Tem story. Here the father himself has now died, and how his son and daughter cope with it, and with their own strained relationship. I can’t imagine my own wonderful son and daughter acting like that! But all humanity resonates with the rest of humanity like a gestalt, I guess. Like a seed in a sepulchre.
Here, we see the situation through the eyes of the daughter, as she and her brother scatter the father’s ashes in the now derelict greenhouses that he loved through life. And how this make-up of bone and ground self potentially grows and becomes him again – ironically in cancerously olfactory and fibrous tune with another plant that killed him (tobacco) – as she harvests a gradual gestalt of his bodyself in whatever form of vegetation it produces.
But the outcome is for us to simply honour the memory of those we loved with merely a bit of them as symbolic token, I sense. Really truly, another Toase work for me to cherish. And also it is channelled through my vague memory of a Clark Ashton Smith story that I hinted-at earlier above in this short review of the Toase story.
My previous Toase reviews: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/steve-toase/
Toase – to ash
cf King’s TODASH
Cross-referenced the Toase with The Fifth Gable here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/02/09/thin-places-kay-chronister/#comment-18292
LACUNAE by V.H. Leslie
“‘…he had bartered his baton for a magic wand, invoking the Disneyfication of his early oeuvre.’”
That is my quote of a quote quoted by this story. A well-written rhapsody of a classical composer, Malcolm, old enough to be pondering a retrospective, with present and backstory narratives, with intentional or implied or imagined lacunae or caesuras in these narratives as well as in the music itself. I imagined them in this story’s creation, too, an eventually (for me) unsatisfying blend of interaction with his new wife Dinah, her more modern commercialism, his and Dinah’s young naive daughter Miranda, the shells or caves of silence, sound and mating, the scenic atmosphere of Mendelssohn’s Fingal’s Cave alongside the various legends thereabouts, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Malcolm’s previous wife Ayoko, and the story’s epiphany for him.
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/v-h-leslie/ and https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2013/07/26/interzone-247/
I mention the Leslie story again in the next entry…
DOWN TO THE ROOTS by Neil Williamson
“He wants to like it, to heart it, to make some mark…”
As one does today on Facebook, and also rediscovering friends from one’s past by search and whatever ‘ulterior motive’. Essentially another very well-written retrospective story like the previous story, with an eventual epiphany, that, for me, is unsatisfying. Like a middle-aged man – having lived the high life, doing what he will, career and love life, and abandoned familyville – now scratching back to his lowly and once hopeless Scottish town roots in a run of a mill Halloween story with the seeking of just the right turnip. Rummaging in a tumsie tub…
Both this story and the previous one are intentionally and adroitly unsatisfying, perhaps. Giving me just what I deserve. Down to the boots.
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/neil-williamson/
DOLLFACE by Seán Padraic Birnie
“It wasn’t hard to imagine some fucker with a Jesus complex trying to walk on it, the sea was so flat.”
Some scenes on Brighton front near the torus and the husk of a pier, whether alternate world one day and real in our real terms the next? Actually, that’s where we end up after a more claustrophobic story of two old friends who meet by coincidence as next door neighbours not via intentional Facebook searches in the previous story, yet there is still a suspected ‘ulterior motive’ involved in some way, a strategy or device to match the earlier one, i.e. a sister in law’s act of giving the daughter of one of them a doll. Apt it was from Mothercare as Mothercare does not exist. A ‘smart’ doll, with a birthmark, but I imagine it also as one of those old-fashioned sinister dolls. Almost another Huldra that no amount of burning or drowning disposal works. Do these two men — male-bonding while drinking lager regularly in the back garden on broken deck chairs amid their separate or shared memories — actually bond in more ways than one? A truly tantalising story that is fitting for a writer whose work I have greatly admired in the past.
This book itself I shall now put in my satchel. It deserves it. Or I do. And I know it will keep coming back. Each of its disarming stories a precarious step over the next lacuna…or do all people become overgrown hobbling dolls as in the Everington – Evenson’s self meeting self?
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/sean-padraic-birnie/