We All Hear Stories In The Dark – Robert Shearman

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PS Publishing / Drugstore Indian Press 2020

Cover and interior art: Reggie Oliver

My previous reviews of Robert Shearman: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/robert-shearman/ and of this publisher: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/ps-publishing/ and of this artist: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/reggie-oliver/

When I read these three massive volumes, Covfefe permitting, my thoughts will start to be shown in the comment stream below…

37 thoughts on “We All Hear Stories In The Dark – Robert Shearman

  1. ”Can you recall the lasting effect of the most deeply disturbing collection of horror stories you’ve ever encountered? The narratives join hands…” — From THE USELESS by Dominy Clements, a story in THE HA OF HA

    PROLOGUE

    This prologue in the first volume is genuinely inspiring to me, and I actually feel unable to share even its basic thrust with you in case I set off the wrong chain of reading events… suffice to say I feel that my whole career of Gestalt Real-Time Reviewing over 12 years has been geared to this perhaps grand climax. When you read this book’s prologue, and if you have some knowledge of my reviewing processes, you will hopefully gather at least an inkling of what I mean about that. But this review should not be about me. It will firmly deal with the following 101 stories. Meanwhile, please bear in mind that, in the realms of experiencing literature, music and art, my default position is to eschew set choices, to bend rules and to bristle at any order…. except perhaps the sacrosanct order crystallised in print. No choosing of my own path to adventure. My first collection with 67 stories in 2003 was printed in alphabetical order by title of story. But, as I say, this review is not about me! I do sincerely promise.

  2. At the beginning of this year, just as Coronavirus started playing with us, I embarked upon the long-term project of real-time reviewing, one by one, the enormous short story canon of William Trevor, a project I recently completed before July started. And I have similar high expectations for this equally daunting project, reading and reviewing this huge Shearman canon, starting today in July with….

    ALICE THROUGH THE PLASTIC SHEET
    …an absurdist horror story that contains what it calls a “mild coincidence” and, later, a “happy coincidence”, and neighbours in the middle-class, career-driven suburbs suffer loud Christmas music IN JULY from THEIR neighbours, thought to be new neighbours, different neighbours, freshly packed neighbours… both sets of neighbours with dogs, video golf games role playing famous golfers, shit delivered to shit. Married sex penetrating married sex with mannequin suppositories, I guess. They may as well have died unnoticed. They probably did.

    “Was it just lots of little songs mashed into one unending paste, or were his neighbours simply playing the longest song in the world?”

      • And I see there is at least one unnumbered story, thus making 103 stories in total, so far,
        An untitled but numbered story is included in that provisional total.
        It says somewhere in this book: “A STORY THAT IS READ TWICE IS NEVER EXACTLY THE SAME”
        I have often found books changing overnight, when left unread, something I have reported in my reviews over the years!

  3. THE ALL NEW ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD

    “Sleeping with the next door neighbour had been rubbing her nose in it rather.”

    With a plastic swimming pool and a little plastic chair outside the deputy headmaster’s office in symbiosis with Alice’s plastic sheet, there is a definite morally ambiguous connection between this story and the previous one above. Marital as well as neighbourly ambiguity. Like father, like son, or the Child is Father of the Man, a shifting of ownership from neighbour to neighbour, generation to generation, statue to statue (Winston Churchill), where it was mannequin to mannequin previously, and with the golfing heroes of the son in that very previous story, this particular hero uses the slings and arrows of gratuitous crimes against our pesky pets. Well nothing is all bad!

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  5. AND THIS IS HOW WE FALL

    “THERE ARE SUCH THINGS as second chances after all!”

    …like those stories we are allowed to read twice?
    Seriously, this is a powerfully moving story of old style coffin horror and time-loops of naked fingers — in those ampersand days, a nakedness that’s more bone than mannequin plastic, I guess — from generation to generation (that ‘Child is Father of the Man’ again from the previous story), this one being a story literally written as a story on a coffin lid, alongside the need to read it to its end. With the help of the latest Michael Kelly in a long line of Michael Kellys. All enhanced with a frisson of sheer horror of hell that I feel outdoes Poe’s Premature Burial and even that in the Ka of Gifford Hillary…following your onset of a sort of knowledge that there is nobody to rescue you because of some plague of sore throat and fever (described in this story), a plague that you infer has now beset the world outside.
    I have felt this before, but Robert Shearman is identifiable as a story-writer as much as Robert Aickman has ever been thus identifiable, kindred spirits, but paradoxically quite different ones, too.

  6. AND THIS IS WHERE WE FALTER

    “What dying man gasping for air bothers with semicolons, of all things!”

    A period piece for our times, where, at least figuratively, the earth’s once firm ground under our feet has become as uncertain as the waves of a sea; gasping for air I may soon become to be, but I shall still manage to finish this real-time review, I vow! This work appears to be a disarming prequel of the previous story above, one where its themes of demiurge become semicolon, more enclosed coffin horror, if not coughing. The Chinee yellow getting beneath the skin of a future American president, or should that be orange? The story of genius-loci that is told around the sea story-within-a-story reminds me of Dunwich in Suffolk (while eschewing any explicit reference to Azathoth lurking at the centre of the earth, although I found it implicit) together with the gestalt kamikaze ‘urge’ of Thomas Hardy stories (that I happen to be concurrently real-time reviewing) and the walking coffins of Charles Dickens in Tale of Two Cities. These two AND (&) tales by Shearman mix the God and Devil in arguably optimal ways, alongside this book’s (so far) ‘Child is Father of the Man’ theme. That expression is the Wordsworthian use by me of an outdated generic Man for Mankind. The ‘kind’ bit being Woman; I learnt this since my own childhood – generally speaking. Clemence eventually returns, after all. But that has already happened in the sequel. Turning the lid of each & every box. Sometimes inadvertently reading things twice – or not at all! (Our own life’s box today lifted in the real-time around this story within a story’s story?!)

  7. ANGELS IN AUSTRALIA

    “He had in Elspeth a wife he loved, and who loved him in return, and who seemed to him the most beautiful angel in creation, and who was patient and kind…”

    …alongside some antipodal angst’s comparison of JULY with Christmas! And that father-son dynastic syndrome extrapolated again…
    This, meanwhile, is a truly remarkable story, one I shall never forget (and I suspect I may need to say similar things again during my review’s future rite of passage through this book) and its father’s own rite of passage is a 19th century one from Scotland to Australia, it being a hilariously satirical, disarmingly absurdist, breathtakingly fantastical, emotionally, sometimes cruelly, patterned panoply of the upstanding status of the British and Britain in the world then and to some extent now, together with macho bloodsport hunting lore, and genders stereotyped, and deploying the eponymous angels as a race apart. All this and more, culminating in what I shall call a loop in sorrow and affection and, even, miscegenate sex, a loop transcending the at first seeming slavish submission of angel feathers (see FEATHER again?) and perhaps transcending, too, man’s oppression of those he finds different. A loop that will haunt you. Ecosystems and Darwinianisms, too. Ick, ick, ick.

  8. And from those Swiftian Gulliverities and Modest Proposals above we now reach the most immodest Modest Proposal possible…

    BABY SICK

    The sickety-sick to the nth power of onanism – one of two stories numbered 66 – and we outdo even Ralph Robert Moore stories, one Robert more, as the foolhardy reader tries to interpret this ultra-politically incorrect fable telling of a Baby-in-utero as a sexual fantasy. The meatless chicken bone just one more of those earlier naked fingers?
    In the further yet-to-be-read context of this book, this work will eventually change no doubt from (god)forsaken lumpen foetal monstrousness towards a gestalt that fills our holes of emptiness with holistic glory. And in the meantime, this is certainly a reading experience and a half!
    We all fear stories in the dark.

  9. THE BATHTUB

    “She knew what was hiding inside the taps. Fingers.”

    Young SARAH, in a story by SHEAR, is obsessed with the acronym of people’s names, particularly her own names, also with the numerology pareidolia of bus and train routes. But, above all, she has some obsessive phobia about her grandmother’s spooky bathtub, in a house where she and her mother need to stay. I felt the accretively subsuming spookiness of the bathtub, too, but I was also taken with Sarah’s attitude against the hugs of her grandmother, the subsuming nature that such inter-generational hugs have now taken on in our own real-time today, and the need to avoid smells in, say, cinnamon and cigarettes. Smells as tastes? Somehow, I noted that her own speech marks are missing at the end, even when she is speaking. I know ‘a story after its end’ where that phenomenon depicts a ghost’s speech…A very effective story to depict marital break up and how it affects the children. A bathtub as the symbol of the womb, a womb to be returned to, too, a story now, perhaps for the first time, in shudderingly ironic synergy with the previous story?

  10. THE BEAST AT WORLD’S EDGE

    “The oceans were all about him, lapping away at every bit of his body, oh, they wanted in.”

    The perfect segue to Sarah’s subsuming bathtub hugs. Here treacly subsumings. A mighty sublime and imaginative theme and variations transcending even what might have been Verne-Poe visions of a ship adventurously seeking the edge of the world and, hopefully, reaching beyond it. And we are placed inside the mind of one of the sailors as they meet destructively head on to this amazingly depicted edge of the world and his visualising something like the ‘Baby Sick’ octopus foetus and, then, his own daughter – left back home in his backstory – now as a beautiful mermaid at the edge, and his becoming tantamount to the Beast, but not Azathoth at the centre of the earth, as I previously prophesised above, but something EVEN worse than Azathoth — thankfully, though, better at its edge than at its centre!

  11. BEDTIME STORIES FOR YASMIN

    “An enormous book, when he sat it down upon his lap and opened it up it was wider than he was, and she could only imagine how many stories there must be in there—“

    Another story with sweet smells – and of cigarettes. Another bathtub-type subsuming of mother and daughter. And, yes man, men that never were, the wilder storytelling of fathers or other avuncular family friends who did read bedtime stories to young girls like Yasmin, about darknesses under beds, as well as, sometimes, above them. Another darkly archetypal haunting vision, archetypal yet paradoxically unique to this book. Grim, Grimm, and inspiring.

  12. BLOOD

    I recall reading this story before, but somehow, predictably in this different world, it does not feel like the same story at all. I have not yet looked at my previous review of it, as I suspect there is indeed another review by me about it. I felt, like the male protagonist, that I was being taken on a different journey, to a different Paris and back again — as a revenge retribution by the mermaid in the Beast story above? Or Yasmin’s for being taught all the wrong stories? Whatever the case, I was consumed by this work, its aching to represent the man who felt he hadn’t had his penis fondled without sufficient intention from the one fondling it. A disarming way eventually to shear it from its root? Or a penis that had only been pretending to sleep? Waiting for blood to fill its steak consistency or foetal shape? And was the man with the pencil moustache — eating alone in that most haunting Parisian cafe in the middle of nowhere’s walls — the same man with a pencil moustache that met this teacher and his underage girl pupil at the airport on their return to England? And I shall now irretrievably post this review before seeing what it meant to me when I read it before. I cannot remember what I wrote about it at all. And would she have taken it seriously if I had actually completed it and given it to her, as a way to avoid the repercussions of our trip? A silently-hinged door that “could just swing open so stealthily, like a beast that had only been pretending to sleep—“

  13. BLUE CRAYON, YELLOW CRAYON

    “She looked down at her colouring book. Grim, not a hint of a smile.”

    Men and women as couples in this book are always saying they love each other TO each other, but do they ever mean it, or am I exaggerating when I say ‘always’? Here, a man conscientiously plugging away at a job in America is, for once, allowed to spend all Christmas with his wife and daughter in Edinburgh. Idyllic imaginings — as to what a wonderful Christmas he is about to spend with them — slowly fall by the wayside one by one during what turns out to be an increasingly difficult journey by aeroplane and then a late replacement train on the last lap to Edinburgh… in a special carriage that seems shiny black outside it and the people inside it deadened somewhat. The young girl on the train and his own daughter at home somehow the same person, and his thoughts are slipping away … like senile dementia will eventually seem to be? Or already is in my case? Rushing somewhere never really gets you there, I guess, and I often felt my own hopes as attritional ones amid the brighter periods between. Stabbing at the colouring-in book of life. No rhyme or reason to any of it. Rushing towards the disappointment of a once subconsciously envisaged shiny death. Or towards, at optimum, the Elysian Fields of those disjointed blues and yellows merged as green. Interrupted by jumping train. Missing out on childhood. Even leapfrogging the whole of one’s life itself. Thoughts keep bubbling to my Midsommar mind, probably till hindsight kicks in too late. As in the previous story, the ground rules of moral and bodily restraint were just another example of naivety. Midsommar at Christmas.

  14. BOBBO

    “I choose a story to read at random.”

    “, yes, crayons, didn’t children like to draw with crayons over everything?”

    Although the exact nature of this story read by me already had slipped my mind, I now know perhaps why I wrote this above earlier in my review: ‘…Robert Shearman is identifiable as a story-writer as much as Robert Aickman has ever been thus identifiable, kindred spirits, but paradoxically quite different ones, too.’
    This hilarious story where the writer narrator has a love-hate relationship with Aickman’s literary canon, and enters all sorts of shenanigans, including a Hospice-like sexual fling with a so-called relative of Aickman, so as to obtain an Aickman book found on cosmetic show in the hotel bar amid Reader’s Digests, a hotel less digestive though than the Hospice! It takes place in Bath, if not a bathtub! “Ick ick ick.”
    The whole wonderful story reminds me that I heard recently that me Gestalt real-time reviewing this enormous Shearman canon of stories is only slightly less mad than Shearman writing them in the first place!

  15. BRAND NEW SHINY SHINY

    “Whereas Marklew knew that each item he owned had been specifically hand-picked, that the entire collection was a single piece of art, that it was a summation of something, that it was a summation of him.”

    … as any gestalt eventually derived from THIS book collection might well be, too. And this truly remarkable and unforgettable story (yes, I somehow knew previously above that I would have to say that again, before long) is certainly a huge contribution to the collection, page-turningly dealing with some male macho privileged abusive collectivity, at conventions across seemingly random global capitals, of some stonemasonry of skulls and other dead-human pieces that Marklew bid for at the conventions’ poker strategy of auctions. Here the shiny shiny is similar to that blackness seen through the earlier train window above, but now a boy rather than a girl. To abuse his own leapfrog of lust for youth again? The boy jumping higher than possible off a stage like a frog or grasshopper, at one, point, we explicitly learn. Not forgetting the two complete skeletons in the bath one on top of the other.

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  17. Pingback: Book Notes: Robert Shearman and Margaret Oliphant – Late Democracy

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