Grotesquerie – Richard Gavin

UNDERTOW PUBLICATIONS 2020

My previous reviews of this author: 

Omens by Richard Gavin 

Primeval Wood – by Richard Gavin

Sylvan Dread – Richard Gavin

Plus a number of stories in anthologies linked from https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/richard-gavin/

And my previous reviews of this publisher: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/undertow-publications/

When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

19 thoughts on “Grotesquerie – Richard Gavin

  1. BANISHMENTS

    Remembering this to be a horror classic, I have read it again before yet re-reading my previous review of it HERE and I would advise you to do the same.
    It horrifies even more with age. Especially with the quite unchanged yet old-world text now seeming to contain the now waxen effigy of references to phone photos and social media posts, “the kind an old-world blacksmith might have wrought with hammer and flame.”
    And now — with “but had begun to autopsy its script in search of hidden truths” — the unchanged text also echoes my gestalt processes of real-time review, using the word ‘autopsy’ that now seems to echo the story’s ending. Whether I noticed that before or not, I forget. And now that you’ve read this story, I give you (and myself) permission to re-read my previous review, beyond the undersurging of any grate in the past’s lockdown floor.

  2. FRAGILE MASKS

    I think I may have an antipathy for Halloween stories, and I couldn’t finish this one, despite some nice touches here and there. The happenstance conflux of a foursome with a connected backstory in a wayside hotel and its subsequent plot machinations I found off-putting.

  3. The next story I reviewed in 2015 as follows, in its then context HERE.

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    NEITHERNOR

    “She calls this series Neithernor, because they are neither one thing nor the other. One sees two things at once,…”

    A brilliant term for that form of art, here sculptural work by the male narrator’s long-lost female cousin. This story itself, for me, is also a Neithernor. EITHER absurdist, with an orgy of what I have long called Aickman’s ‘disarming strangenesses’, crammed back to back in the plot, together with a Ligottian lavatory or cubbyhole of Dadaist ready-mades of hair or wire, with the male narrator later forgetting his artist cousin for another woman who tests him with avant garde classical music, I sense, and he decides to test her back with his cousin’s art which he returns to find… OR it is a traditional horrific Gothic tale, with mystic undercurrents, that fights to neutralise the absurdism. Sun or Symbol, I am strobing between the two. Similar to what I described above about the ending of the previous story now, in hindsight, strobing, too.

  4. DEEP EDEN

    “We simply accept its presence within us, like a growing contagion, an elusive virus.”

    A truly haunting tale first published in the pivotal year of 2016, arguably prophetic, with a fearless faith in fiction as an ultimate truth to be hawled. Here a community’s Exodus as pit-canaries to the emerald effulgence within a disused mining system and its “vent fans” — and then daringly towards a further Nemonymous Night of inner Earth, a shrine’s doorway to something potentially even deeper and more curative. As if Genesis were the book that followed Exodus instead of preceding it. Bellwethers and Bellflowers.

  5. THE PATTER OF TINY FEET

    “…an Egyptian funerary god named Sepa. There were also sepia-toned photographs of tiny churchyards.”

    …being just two contiguous fragments of an organic ouroboros gestalt of images disguised as a peripheral glimpse by Sam (filmic location manager) of the archetypal contrivance of a horror film venue, a derelict farmhouse off the main road’s beaten track, with a capped well as his eventual lockdown or womb outside and books inside like De Vermis Mysteriis. A farmhouse and a grey worm’s jointure as its stock monster…with any peripheral glimpse of this horror story’s own constructive contrivance having been absorbed by its own archetypes of derelict venue symbolising Sam’s enforced backstory of barren marriage prospects with a different insidious-sounding patter as capping for its self-gobbled gestalt pattern.

  6. THE RASPING ABSENCE

    Gavinostic — as well as being covidually dream-like — is also apotheosis of weird fiction striving to become real life situations, or vice versa, a pair of battles that creates a balanced tension between madness-nothingness and unexpected benefits therefrom, becoming “coal-smudge-anonymous” as a hawling of mine as well as yours. Here we follow the negative breakdown or constructive epiphany of Trent, who makes news reports for TV, and here this entrammelment by the matters he reports entails his own mine of discovery that is the Bell Mine (cf bellflower in Deep Eden) and theories of Dark Matter, and, then, with his family, wife and daughter, he takes them not on his breakdown but on a hopeful breakupward at a seaside resort to clear the air for hopeful happiness. Yet, there at the resort, is a scraggy old man who I feel could be like me, mad and insistent in his hawling, not creating art installations, as I hope to do, but necessarily filling some gap with his culled bags of beach sand. A co-vivid “contagion” of purpose that co-infects Trent. Dreams of strangers in labs for Trent. And dangers for Trent’s family? Not a capped well, as before in Patter, but an “uncapped bottle”, an “inhumed cauldron”, a cornucopia as co-op, omniscience as rasping together or hawling of grinding emptiness. Fiction as dire friction. Conrad’s heart of darkness as well as Eliot’s hollow men. An eel of Sartrean nausea.

    “The undertow must have been stronger than Trent realized…”

  7. SCOLD’S BRIDLE: A CRUELTY

    A disarming ‘conte cruel’ — with Charles Birkin, Deadpan Book of Horrors and something uniquely Gavinostic as its elements. A man who sells his wrought ironwork from his “cell” of a lockup or lockdown garage without much profit and he’s asked by his teacher neighbour to build a Lepus mask for teaching purposes, but it does not end there. Ironic that the word ironic is used when the mask, in eventual use, gleams in the sun, sunlight elsewhere described as “molten slag”. A minefield of “swelter”. A millstone of guilt. Each rivet of tortured metal and then there is the next neighbour’s job…. We’re now all to be cruelly constrained, from birth to oldest age, I guess.

  8. CRAWLSPACE ORACLE

    “Rhiannon’s arms felt like concrete.”

    Today’s lockdown tropes in this 2019 published story as filtered through a crawlspace of distilled horror tropes, a wordy literary means to make such a filtering to work in both directions of flow. Here, with a fable upon the repercussions of having a seeming King Midas touch with money. In a downbeat community with downgraded entertainers after lockdown, such as ventriloquists now little more than scarecrows, and other slouching figures. Even enwebbing the heroine Rhiannon’s husband into the plot with all manner of his disloyalties and links between another womb and reality via umbilical cords as direct or closed circuit filters…speaking through us readers, we readers now feeling like nothing but mouthing responders to the text’s own words — words about, inter alia, ‘immersive ghost stories’…. “…the cement steps that connected the ugly lawn to a residence that was not much larger than a storage locker […] an army bunker …as though it hadn’t been properly cleaned since the analogue age.[…] He felt that the great pattern was everywhere, in all things at all times.” Some Logos made flesh.

  9. I read and reviewed the next story here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2014/10/04/puppets-in-carcosa/#comment-3309 and below is what I wrote about it in that context….

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    After The Final by Richard Gavin
    “Maximilian switched on the antiquated television set that he’d wired up to the man’s head.”
    And that, incredibly, has significant resonance, for me, with a similar sense of old TV in the previous story just reviewed: aided and abetted by the astonishingly nightmarish prose (typical of the whole of this Gavin story) that follows the above sentence.
    This is a fevered, despair-seeking quest – with, for me, the flow of HPL’s ‘The Hound’ word music, if not its details – for summoning the presence of Professor Nobody, to re-ignite by obeisance the Professor’s teachings and fellowship of ‘macabrists’, an Avant Garde tradition of eventual skull rictus as taught by one’s post-student Life Final, its Finality even before it began. And the story’s final lines, its coda, leading to “Nobody, Nobody…” in assonance with the flow of the finale in ‘The Hound’…
    Nobody, Nobody, a minimalist dislocation from understanding that the story could never have even been begun to be written let alone finished, after the final final, by Nobody or Nemo…
    “The plague’s widespread.”

    =======================================

    Yes, “The plague’s widespread.”

  10. I read and reviewed the next story here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/07/24/crooked-houses/#comment-19543 and below is what I wrote about it in that context…

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    THE SULLIED PANE by Richard Gavin

    “, and its lone uncovered window was so clouded with accumulated grime it was as if pollen had been baked into the pane.”

    A sense of archaic configuration of style, interestingly contrasting with Maxine’s “job in human resources”, she with the “prefect mouth”, visiting her new in-laws along with her husband, their son Xavier. In a stylish house with a strange outhouse and the said pane. Orchids versus stench. Where the mother (jealous of her three sons growing up beyond her) resorted at night. Maxine’s normal newly married sex life is duly darkened with more intensity — with “Id-soaked images”, not ‘shooed’ off but ‘shoehorned’ in. And an urn’s prefectural of death.

  11. CAST LOTS

    “Anything lost in the undertow often floundered.”

    …but emerging from it, stands up and walks, however nightmarishly. This 2015 story, meanwhile, represents remarkably, and prophetically, and perhaps historically, the first real experience in literature of a co-vivid dream, by a plot’s description involving two such dreams — synaesthetically detailed dreams (‘details sweating menace and fell purpose’) here made Gavinostic, each a nightmare where its reach is beyond sleep into real life and is exactly what many of us are now experiencing regularly in recent months. Dreams involving Joyce’s “different lot in life” and her backstory and a girl called Morgan. One residual part of Joyce’s nightmare shows half-dead birds piled up on her lawn after her waking, as if they had suffered some “epidemic that had stolen their lives”, having floundered in the undertow of dream. I even believe I myself as reader have dreamt that this character Joyce has made mention somewhere of ‘The Dead’ by James Joyce. The connections with yoga and asana are still sanely as well as verifiably present in the text. Or they were when I last checked.

  12. NOTES ON THE AZTEC DEATH WHISTLE

    “, I felt I’d been living in one prolonged nightmare, but now I have entered another.”

    This is a most frightening coda to the previous prophetic co-vivid story, whereby nightmares are now replicating from one to the other. The textual frame in this work about the eponymous whistle is so effectively couched to flense again what it unflenses.

  13. HEADSMAN’S TRUST: A MURDER BALLAD

    “…the bristling nerve, the pulsing red caverns and the stiff digits of bone.”

    This deploys the utterly unexpurgated rituals of an ancient-seeming headsman and the changing narrative points of view of his ritualised assistants in beheading ceremonies. Stench with its concomitant sounds, too. It becomes the hardest pornography of such matters, but without the sex. The stuff you read here is the strongest possible but manages this feat often with only imagined gore, yet the blood flows freely. It is that disarmingly — disheadingly? — dark and dire to read; you genuinely feel exponentially battered when coming out of the process of otherwise merely reading this pithouse of prose. It somehow sort of gets you.

    “Am I being tested?”

  14. CHAIN OF EMPATHY

    “Berthe struggled to sift memory from dream.”

    A blacksmith’s nail as the next covid spike? I do not wish to keep going on about co-vivid dreams, but I am unable to turn my eye way from ‘chain of empathy’ as the perfect chiming with the “co-“ part of such dreaming. And I sense this may be the Gavinostic epitome, his most personally seminal, perhaps most shocking, deployment of his literary and/or theosophical arts, whereby such a chain of empathy represents an ineluctable accretion of persuading fiction, via our suspended disbelief, into truth, and thus we never really unsuspend it — and, indeed, when any one of us reaches the end of this work and becomes the sole reader who fully understands it and thus the only one who can help Berthe…except we all inevitably share this dream with triangulated multi-coordinates of its extended reality — and thus we are all collucid in its fulfilment? All of this seems bolstered by the adeptly believable characterisation of Berthe, her family backstory, her unshakeable spinsterhood over the years, the duality of her own naïve self with whomsoever she calls the Master, amid haints and Hearth-Eaters…eventually arriving at a self-harming scene featuring the erstwhile nail, a scene about which you, who have not yet read it, will be wary about reading at all, at least for fear of never forgetting it! But we need to do so, to become that sole reader who can help her.

  15. “He curs’d him in coughing, in sneezing, in winking;”
    — ‘The Jackdaw of Rheims’
    Richard Harris Barham (1788–1845)

    THREE KNOCKS ON A BURIED DOOR

    “The abode had consisted of a lone room. The window was a cut-out square over which plastic sheeting hung by wafer tape. This sheet pulsed noisily, like an infected lung.”

    But that was not the final “lockbox” our male protagonist eventually reaches in this story, a lockbox with the Whovian Tardis reach of a co-vivid dream, indeed a reach into a Lewis-Carrollian world that enfolds one with an earlier ‘mask like a stocking’ on a face that soon becomes a blindfold while at a ‘mad tea-party’ — eventually as death is due to blindfold our mind’s eye.
    This is a suspenseful, page-turning work with the brilliant concept of having an inherited obsession with knocking on strangers’ doors, inherited from the woman he once fatalistically made his partner. And, oh yes, a Jackdaw called Rheims.

  16. I reviewed the final work here, as follows:

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    TEN OF SWORDS: RUIN

    “‘I didn’t know they made coffins this tiny,’ Celeste breathlessly declared.”

    For most of this novella, a superbly atmospheric ritual of storytelling, a Damian Murphy-like path of two sisters, Celeste and Desdemona, with methodical goals and precise constraints, e.g. a washing bowl, to welcome their parents’ return in their boat, to a house with visionary happenings, sometimes frightening. But the choice of a buried Tarot card creates a monster from the mother. And later, meaning-led tales told between them, one being about a white queen’s moon-burial and more; we are left with one sister as genius loci of a lake’s island, if people can have their own spirit of place, this sister being sought by two men (men who are lovers to each other) while the other sister is now moon-buried herself, I infer. Or the two sisters buried within each other like Russian dolls (“matryoshka” – not ‘natroyshka’, as this text has it?). The men, eventually, too?
    Connections towards gestalt, to be scried for occult meaning. I have so far failed to create this gestalt for myself. The final pages have confused me, after great inspiration earlier in this work. Perhaps you will not fail. Perhaps I myself will not fail, once revelation comes.

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