27 thoughts on “Desmodus – Melanie Tem

  1. Chapter 1

    “…for his delinquency had by no means appeared suddenly or out of whole cloth. I did not let myself think about that.”

    The whole cloth is also a patchwork quilt, I guess. A mob of “a seething whole.”
    This truly is a remarkable and eloquently negotiable tour de force of textured prose style, with so many wild things happening it’s hard to keep one’s breath. A family of these people, mother, sons, aunt (chasing after their uncontrollable nephew), trucking from modem-insular Tallus to the nearby town, their characters and nature evolving for us. The nephew in a scrum with townsfolk and punk kids. Or so. I. Gather. So far. From the. Quilt of chase, events and words. The narrator writing it all out is called Joel. A great writer judging by this chapter. When dial-up modems were all the the rage.

    “…it was a given that women had higher-developed echolocation skills than men.”

    “The others were particles circling around each other, drawn to and repelled by each other, all these forces combining to create a seething whole.”

    “Before I knew it, I had sprung into the mob—which, for all the metaphorical appeal of regarding it as an undifferentiated mass, a single and single-minded creature, was, in fact, comprised of a finite number of separate organisms, each in some or many ways vulnerable.”

  2. Chapter 2

    “Obsessively, I made mental lists of the things I was upset about, as though that would anchor them.”

    “Poorly socialized though I might be, and chronically dissatisfied with my lot in life, being male had always seemed less trouble than being female.”

    But the males, it seem, are the weaker sex and need the females more than they need the males. This, so far, is well and truly a remarkable document of an incredibly redolent society called Tallus, its regimes, its hibernations, its methods of feeding their babies, its smell of communal sleep, its naive sexual togetherness …and much much more. How has this 1995 work crept under my radar? It is the essence of literary style and horror otherness, and it grows on me with utter conviction of what is the nature of these people and their ways, natural and pervasive, and the characters are evolving wonderfully. Including Joel the narrator. I am agog with how this work will surely become something very very special in my reading life … unless it tails off unexpectedly.

    “Joel,” my mother exclaimed in some alarm, squinting up at me. “You’re up early. The sun’s not even down.”

    • Chapter 3

      “…and, indeed, he was stick-thin and ghost-pale. But he survived.”

      Today’s funeral in the Desmodus clan reminds me, for the second time, that it is a variant version of unferal. At rest at last, and not amid these wildly instinctive relationships of gender with gender, sibling with sibling, not to mention with the ‘Old Women’. Instinctive, but here Joel reconciles them, describes them beautifully as if he has been gifted some literary leasehold by some freehold author who is not necessarily an ‘Old Woman’, but certainly a woman! And together they create the LEK. A lek perhaps tells you more about this clan than anything else. You will not credit this lek, nothing like it to look at in literature, I suggest. Read it and see. I dare not leak it here. Joel’s ‘luck’, notwithstanding.
      And back to Chronister’s ‘Rosemary’ earlier today, we now have, in the Tem, its inverse… “It wasn’t unusual for women to get male names slightly wrong; men were far more likely to pay attention to details like that,…”

  3. Chapter 4

    “Any species, gender, ethnic group, family, hair color, head shape, feeding habit, metabolic cycle, ear size not his own had at one time or another been defined as “other,” with the result that Rory regarded himself—sometimes with pride, sometimes with fury—as a lonely righteous being in a corrupt and alien world.”

    There is something remarkable about this book, but I can’t yet put my finger fully on it. Not a glove for my finger, though, but the ear of what turns out to be a dissected rabbit? This now has the commune’s migration towards a southern trip, an explicit Southern Reach, a midsummer-like community in seasonal diaspora (by glider, it seems, if not by walking on air.) Will they reach a lighthouse, later, I even wonder?!
    So much inadvertent preternaturalism of commonality with the SynChronister of the Thin Places story that I read only half an hour ago here.
    And Rory’s apparent outspoken racism, and Joel’s mother’s attitude to Joel and his sister Alexis. Her belittling of maledom. Yet she criticises her daughter, too. Some of the misandry should bug me. But doesn’t. This book from 1995 was certainly before its time. Now we need to reach back for it, help it give birth to itself. Even an Old Woman can give birth….

    “The clouds of insects around the porch lights were noticeably thinner now than even a week ago,…”

  4. Chapter 5

    “Only a few tragedies every season. As though only a few, because they were inevitable, were also acceptable.”

    … a premonition of how the treatment of Covid-19 today is bound to pan out as it continues to spread? The inverse tontine of pragmatism. At least if only the old among us dwindle, that will solve our Social Care and other population problems…

    “So why had we developed a social system, not to mention a physiology, that depended on both female hibernation and male migration?”

    That sort of encapsulates the progress of this quite amazing and challenging novel and this Desmodus colony, that I learn more and more about, but not enough. Dealing with the then future gender interactions and changes, the future’s Climate Change, too, the future solipsism of the Internet. And my own later concept of Null Immortalis, here explicitly dealt with. And a woman’s feeding frenzy on stiff-penised bull blood etc. Writer’s block in a dream about flying, too.
    I am conscious that there is much here beyond me, (I was once called Desmondo Beyondo in one on-line group) but still I grasp at it. I have long talked about our triangulating the coordinates of a book TOGETHER, each of us using the gestalt real-time reviewing process to help each other and to overlap our emotional, spiritual and intellectual Venn Diagrams. Description to interpretation to evaluation.
    Please excuse my heavy quote rate below to assist this process. I am still sure that we shall eventually reach a lighthouse later in this book but if not, we shall reach Ambergen as Ambergris, instead?
    Sleeping in transit.
    Truck not glider?

    “Nobody was ever especially comfortable leaving the infants in the charge of prepubescent child care workers while the adults and teenagers either slept or played. Conventional wisdom had it that this awkward system was an adaptation left over from the days of maternity colonies separate from single-sex migration; if so, I reflected sourly, it was time for the next evolutionary step.”

    “…it was probably managerial stupidity to entrust the solution of so major a problem to the very people whose incompetence had caused it in the first place.”

    “—I would not have known a dead Old Woman from a live one, or what to do if I knew they were dead.”

    “Everyone who wasn’t me wasn’t quite real.”

    “—the memories have come to mean more to me than did the incident itself.”

    “Although seasonal migration had a vaguely comparable effect for men, because of our differing metabolic patterns between winter in the south and summer up north, migration had turned out to be not nearly so effective an evolutionary adaptation as hibernation.”

    “But Ma used to tell me stories about how much Chloe had loved me, how much time she had spent with me, how she had tended me in the nursery long after she’d passed puberty and hadn’t had to anymore.”

    “To put an even finer point on it, in this category of mechanical failure alone there were infinite possibilities for disaster: engine breakdown, problems with the elaborate climate control systems, an exhaust or a cold air leak into the trailers. Virtually anything could happen.”

    “What, for instance, could possibly be the evolutionary value of our species’ stubborn refusal to accept mortality? Surely we all had always known we would all die. Surely there could be no disputing the even more dreaded corollary: In one way or another, we would all lose everyone we loved. With a few alleged exceptions, the veracity of which enjoyed far from universal acceptance, everyone ever born had died.”

    “By the deepest part of the winter, a hibernator’s heartbeat was virtually imperceptible,…’

    “And there was also a relentless conviction that the entire social order depended on our successfully bringing the females through the winter.”

    “In the creamy autumn dusk, there was hardly a living thing that some female or mass of females did not consider edible—apples, marigolds and asters, gnats, toads, field mice, barn swallows.”

    “This hunger and the doomed attempt to take the edge off it could, I reflected sourly, go on forever.”

  5. This is the sort of book that any gestalt real-time reviewing risks SPOILERS, however much care one takes to mitigate them.

    Chapter 6

    “There were apocryphal stories about clashes between towns people and migrators generations ago, when we were flying, when we were taking so much blood. But we were different now; we had, most of us, evolved.”

    This seems to be becoming a very strange, believable and, what must have been in 1995, a ground-breaking pattern (if only the readership at the time could have recognised it), a pattern far more wide-ranging and sophisticated than I first expected. A convoy of male migration ALONG WITH accompanying female hibernations in vehicles that at one moment seem to prophesy those smuggling refugees from Europe to UK today, so rife with incubating dangers to life and, at the next moment, as a complete complex of systems that men like Joel are overseeing from downbeat motel to motel. With designated drivers and reservations, driving between foodlots of sweet permeations of aroma. Playing lethal ‘chicken’, too, amid the boisterous crew of family and others..

    “The city was awakening as we staggered back into our motel room, meaning that a hundred thousand potential enemies were regaining consciousness, presumably refreshed and ready for a new day.”

    As Joel inspects one hibernation vehicle, he meets the (or an?) Old Woman — the one who has taken over this book, I wonder, in Null Immortalis?
    And I think, too, of what in 1995 must have been prophesied mushrooms as gray caps on this route to Ambergen…

    “A concentrated presence like an absence. […] …the flesh visible at jawline, pubis, armpit was a mottled, lustrous gray.”

  6. Chapter 7

    “Whenever I got out of the truck and made my way into some field or copse or glade, for the purpose of defiling it with my excrement which would shortly be transformed by natural processes and alteration of perspective into fertilizer, I was acutely aware of the presence in the trailer. She shared the expansive night with me, a companionship far more unnerving than loneliness, although I felt loneliness acutely, too.
    I could not fathom why she was there; I had never heard of an Old Woman leaving the dens at all, much less traveling all the way to Ambergen in this motley company.”

    This book becomes more and more powerful, more and more challenging — challenging with that very power of, say, Joel’s clinical blood-nicking from a drifter and Rory’s full-on blood-rape of a local girl — and challenging with the constructive struggle to unravel its meaning. It was well ahead of its time, I deem.
    Also, with thoughts on mother-son relationships, its sense of disorderly yet paradoxically well-ordered diaspora, and dreams of personal gliding, with hyphens as handholds in rock-climbing.

    “All men were weak, dependent, impoverished in both physical strength and character.”

    “…that I’d just, in fact, dreamed a fragment of The Dream.”

  7. Chapter 8

    “One of the most seductive forms of magical thinking was this: If I could worry in sufficient detail and with sufficient energy about a particular trouble, it would not happen. It never worked, of course; or, more precisely, there was no way to ascertain whether it worked or not.”

    Indeed there is a ‘migratory crib death’ of a baby…on this journey as we reach its destination.
    And DO PLEASE read the ‘green’ paragraph describing Ambergen. Worth alone the whole entry fee to this book perhaps, with this paragraph’s context. And without the book itself there would be no such context!

    “…wet, thick with life just this side of rot.”

  8. Chapter 9

    “, and I was both actor and audience.”

    You really must experience alongside Joel his visit to the vehicle where the tiers of women are incubating in an apotheosis of the Tem style. His conversation with Rory. (“Why?” I asked warily. “Are you sick?” / He nodded miserably. “I think so. I think I’m really sick.”) And his conversation with David while watching wrestling on TV, and the concept of women’s control over optimum childbirth…

  9. Chapter 10

    “…a whole season’s worth of babies, myself among them, a mass of infancy whose individuals were virtually inseparable even to themselves. And every part of my body—which, though tiny and incompletely formed, was all I had—touched by some other body.”


    “I couldn’t escape the sensation of being touched everywhere, on every surface, by inchoate, undifferentiated life, and at the far circumference arc…”

  10. Chapter 11

    “The fine smoke of the burning weed, filtered through water and through the oxygen-rich air that the dense flora exhaled into the room, made my head swim, pleasantly but with an edge of uneasiness. I was not entirely relaxed, but much of my tension was soaking away.”

    With increasing elements of my prestigious dysfunction room of literature (a list where I shall now place this book), this sauna scene has itself elements of the earlier LEK….

    “…and I moved back and forth between sleep and consciousness as if through a thoroughly permeable boundary. I could taste blood against the roof of my mouth, tiny globules bursting like candy with a liquid center.”

    And there are prophetic interfamilial elements, too, reminiscent of the much later film of the commune in Midsommar … Joel’s niece and nephew in a dance of pain with their father. And Joel’s nightly inspection of the hibernaculum trucks. A wound in one of the hibernating ladies….
    All of this making this novel seem even more worthy of my dysfunction room. Do please read it and be gobsmacked how you haven’t read this before, you who are already steeped so deeply and widely in the realms of weird literature!

  11. Chapter 12
    And like all phrases that become mind worms they can linger long after their meaning has expired.

    “Like the others, I was aware of more dream activity down here than up in Tallus. But they were free-associative, fragmentary, mostly nonsensical dreams that burst like bubbles the moment I awoke and left only the impression of sensory vividness, no messages, no storylines or cryptic clues.”

    ‘Down here’, being Ambergen. Jokes and dreams, some in competition. Lackadaisical residue hung over from some house party, as if we had got though today’s Coronavirus with resort to sexual or bodily things beyond it, but also as if all our stuffing had been taken out of us. One of Joel’s nephews like a down-sliding sucker on the outside window. Only later for his father to say ‘It sucks.’
    This continues to awe me.

  12. Chapter 13

    “The farther I went with this examination, the farther I yearned to go, the more urgent became my need to peer and prod and guess.”

    … as with my mode of reading/reviewing this book called Desmodus, so does Joel (seeking sanctuary from the storified cut and thrust of other familial matters) searches the tiers of hibernating women in a state of Null Immortalis…

    “But no matter what instrumentation or intuition was at my disposal, I could not detect their dreams.”

    Recognising, too “…the intimate recognition of mortality that comes and goes, apparently unsustainable through day-to-day life no matter what we know in our hearts and souls.”

    Speculating on possible coitus with the Null Immortalis till the shock of recognising the vast difference between Null Immortalis and Death in one woman, while, earlier, touchingly and tellingly, for this prophetic and empathic author, she describes Joel, with a different woman, lingering and saying to himself: “With pleasure I noted how the texture of her graying hair differed from that which still had its melanin.”

  13. Chapter 14

    “Maybe the difficulties came from being at Ambergen in the winter instead of at Tallus in the spring.
    Or maybe I was wrong. Maybe childbirth was always like this. Maybe that was one hell of an hour.”

    I don’t think I have before read such powerful passages describing childbirth and its aftermath. A chapter that should be painted somehow, not into a dark corner, but into the best possible literary frame. Complete with its emotional craquelure.

  14. Chapter 15

    “I had never been good with plot twists.”

    …nor with books that increasingly surprise me, where all my theories of gestalt falter. Books that, against all the odds, increasingly horrify me, too. I would dub this ‘fontanel fantasy’. With implications I sincerely dare not share here, a sort of brain fluid anti-Natalism, parasitic symbiosis between men and women, but, as I often ask, do filters (or, here, dynastic weirs) work in both directions of flow? We are heading into Transcendia now in 2020, and in 1995 it was just in the germ of an as yet non-sucked brain that once wrote this? We are now as readers the intellectual vampires of this very book? To heal us or hawl us to Hell? As Joel sets off with his surrogate son upon McCarthy’s Road? It’s anyone’s guess, anyone’s gestalt.

  15. Chapter 16

    “Above the small plain altar was a stained glass window depicting the crucified Christ, all primary colors and primitive shapes; prismed through it came the unpleasant rays of the sun rising over the high plains.
    We had eaten en route. It was not an easy thing for me to feed Eli the way in which he could eat; with my mouth pressed to his, the way I had seen and never really noticed dozens if not hundreds of mothers feed their babies, I tried without complete success to control the muscles and reflexes of regurgitation so that he got the right amount of partly digested food but I was not quite vomiting.”

    This book needs reading for yourself, rather than desmodally, for the growing relationship, even synergy between Joel and the baby that he has tantamount to kidnapped so as to rescue it, even to heal it with a better form of emotional acupuncture than those earlier invasive incisions in the soft carapace of the skull? Paternity over maternity? I sense he will fail, but please don’t take my word for it, and I shall just give you some quoted landmarks as we travel through the text that feels to me like a virgin text, between the lines of which or under which the chambers of the Earth’s own skull are to be plumbed, even sucked?

    “In some of the stories, our ancestors had evolved in the dark underground chambers, and our emergence into the upper world was regarded as still incomplete, still incipient and even inchoate. Other tales involved mythic heroes, always female, who were our progenitors.”

  16. Chapter 17

    “I also couldn’t stop him from sending out the signals that would allow her own maternal echolocation instincts to home right in on him. Every time he clicked and squealed in that particular fashion, I did my best to distract him, and I had to consciously restrain myself from forcibly quieting him.”

    “The stone, sheer as taut vertical panels of fine lace, interrupted sound waves and turned them into anagrams.”

    This is an inner-world, an ancestral, racist catharsis down here as Joel faces Rory, as if in one of those wrestling matches watched earlier in this book, although I can now no longer remember properly, and I know now why I must have invented gestalt real-time reviewing of such books as this one, those, sometimes inchoate, hyper-imaginaria of literature. Because as I grow older, my mind starts unsticking more easily, losing the plot from the openings that books open up in my own aged version of the fontanel, a crust softening even as it hardens, like the limestone in these caves…

    “I despaired, not for the first time, at the myriad of different things we ought to know in order to live in this world and do not.”

  17. Chapter 18

    “The ammonia odor of his urine and the rich, acrid smell of his guano made me cough and lightly cover the baby’s face, a gesture I found faintly laughable even as I made it.
    “Well,” I said, “why don’t you show me how you really feel?”
    He stood back, readjusted his clothes, and surveyed the area he had marked. “Cool,” he said proudly. In fact, he had altered the contours of the rock in ways that, as time passed, would be no more or less interesting than patterns and formations fashioned by dripping water, layered sediment, earthquakes, the burrowing and building of those who lived here. So, was this defacement, to be loathed and avoided, or creation? Was it my responsibility to protect the world from Rory, or to stay out of the way as Rory and the world changed each other?”

    Incredibly, Rory’s lullabies for the baby were often far more effective than Joel’s. And we have here an underground attrition, unique in all literature, I suggest, of a wild love-hate relationship, here between two men, an uncle and nephew, around a tiny baby (a mighty Tem adoptive or parental schematic) as the creative burden or stigma of the two men. The challenge and response synergy of Toynbee…? Sun versus its own spat out corona?

    “A rather vague but compelling theory took shape that civilization arose out of the tension and then the balance and then the tension again between chaos and order.”

  18. Chapter 19

    “There were too many rooms, nestled inside each other like Chinese boxes, strung together like beads irregularly spaced and sized, or not accessible at all one from the other. There were too many forms, made of rock but constantly changing, rock dripping down from ceiling or growing up from floors or shooting out in loops and spirals and angles that moved in place, I swore. Dripping; growing; shooting—action verbs not usually associated with rock. It was too bewildering.”

    Earth’s Core, and Azathoth at its centre I propound. Well, perhaps this novel is related to mine in that way, neither having read the other when each wrote itself without human intervention?

    “…the machinations of the expedition both mad and methodical, frantic and careful to a fault.”

    That is the way I humbly work both as writer and reviewer. I feel they, some Tem of Them, found me in the caves, somehow, too. And placed me in my rightful niche, on their wall.
    Wind in tunnels and caves as a prehensile epiphany. Families and relatives, sometimes in erotic union with each other. So deadly erotic even the LEK leaks away into a miasma in favour of utter grinding and ground. A midearthsommar. You will surely not be able to believe this book even exists. It is beyond shock. It is utterly over the top by being found underground. Nobody will give it house room. But perhaps we are now ready…
    “I wrestled the baby free.”

  19. Chapters 20 & 21

    “Alone somewhere in the caverns, as I had been now for a long, amorphous time, I clung to a wall. The rock was porous and giving; it molded itself around me. I had been practicing, acclimating myself to going incrementally higher and higher. Having started at the bottom, I knew where the edge of the wall was at that point, but otherwise it seemed boundless. There were sensations of curvature, of rotation. It was like climbing the inner surface of an infinite sphere.”

    Above is a message to me as I read and reviewed only a few days ago the Aliya Whiteley story here, that I now understand much better; and vice versa with this book itself.
    And it is as if it is not only Joel etching his own name and date of birth as modus operandi of legacy into the rockwall of this dream or vision of truths, not only him but ‘me, too’? That me who is nobody, Nemo, Null Immortalis, never passing over beyond death. Of course, none of this was intended, in accordance with the Intentional Fallacy. With the very interesting Ernie character, Rory’s earlier homophobia and racism are now perhaps transcended…beyond the coronal night mask.
    Power comes from the inchoate not from the straightforward.
    And there are some other haunting scenes, imagined, dreamt or real, with (BEWARE SPOILER) Joel and his dead mother, his mother now as the Commare or Old Woman. I hope my own dead mother shares these visions, visions having now been gifted to us by Melanie for the benefit of all the dead.
    This book rocks.

    Reflection, Refraction, Dispersion.
    Description, interpretation, extrapolation, evaluation. The new path of literary criticism towards gestalt.


  20. Pingback: Desmondeus | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews (from 2008)

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