36 thoughts on “Thanatrauma – Steve Rasnic Tem

  1. It’s always late Autumn it seems…

    I reviewed the first story on 9 November 2018, in its then context, as follows…



    “It wasn’t an unusual sky for a cold, late autumn day,…”

    Hodge’s early November, as it still is today, and Evenson’s loose skin body man who is not a man but as told by a man – and this Tem is a heart-wrenching theme and threnody of words about the narrator’s wife’s death after many years of amenable, maybe even raptured, marriage and his own subsequent attenuation. A revisit to the type of care he had to give her, selflessly caring also that his visiting daughters’ sensibilities were not unduly disrupted. His garden and the mushrooms. The growing dysfunction of the house itself. The raccoons outside who disrupted the rubbish before it was collected. The ensuing snow as some sort of aid to cleansing, like his now over-regular hot showers. This o so dark story as some sort of light that others about to make this journey need — to feed off its paradoxical power of cleansing through disintegration, the realisation of an unnecessary guilt at letting oneself go, if that is what it takes. Thanatos as Träumtrawler of the soul. Träumerei not trauma. Dream leaking out not frenzy.


    The very powerful visionary experience as poetic prose within the mind of an old man like me – the title says it all, but says nothing, too. No mean feat.
    Seems appropriate that a hour ago I read (before reading this) SHE GAVE HIM (here) the feet that went with these shoes.
    I won’t tell you of the kissing porches, though. I’ll leave you read that bit of the old man’s vision for yourself.

  3. It is always late Autumn it seems, and I originally read and reviewed the next story exactly a year ago tomorrow, as follows….



    “The world of the dead was every bit as unequal and unjust as the world of the living.”

    Outside the door, so, beyond our own lockdowns today, ironically. And, usually, till now, I feel practised in revealing stories recently published that are instinctively prophetic about our situation today, but were written before this situation actually started. This work, I somehow sense, was written after it started, i.e. written during last Spring? It is a truly wonderful evocation of ‘zombie apocalypse’ fiction, a unique form of it where the dead are akin to gradually desiccating kites, and where the protagonist, Jay, wonders if the condition is airborne or not, but he keeps his attic flues open, with spring foliage climbing up the lower walls and windows. This work explicitly differentiates between ‘waking dreams’ and ‘sleeping dreams’ and, so, I feel this is a co-vivid dream that now resides commonly for us all between these two types of dreaming, this dream couched in pure classic Rasnic Tem, a dream that conveys feelings about our predicament today, conveys it with the poetic truth of fiction without which such feelings could not exist

  4. From a field of shoes to “a field of stars extended over hundreds of square miles.”


    “You were in a story which worked for you for a very long time. But that story has ended, and yet you find you are still alive, and now you are in a different story you do not yet understand.”

    A story, its title the eventual tantalisingly yearning jump of which starts a rite of passage, in more ways than one, a sea cruise as undertaken by an old man who has lost his wife as well as his confidence, a cruise that his two beautiful daughters have sent him on to get him out of himself as it were, a cruise to the Caribbean. Chagall, a Chandelier that is upside down, a Jonestown of sun bathers, and a so-called woman’s kiss… a kiss that subsumes him and, via the dirt and decay of the cruder quarters below decks, he manages to survive and eventually takes an excursion from the ship to a lively port to buy crass souvenirs for his daughters for when he returns, but best to write postcards to them in case he doesn’t. You see, this has been a wonderfully typical Tempting evocation (subsuming in its own right, rite or write), an evocation of a story by this author that I did not understand, but it’s a nightmare worth having, and thus I defiantly and petulantly believe that, at my time of life, nightmares are what I relish more than anything else. A story that goes beyond Null Immortalis, beyond the Zeno’s Paradox of jumping even halfway there. Towards being in a mind’s deep water. Struggling for an understanding of a consciousness that somehow “should have been dead, drowning in excruciatingly slow motion.” Or, rather, it was a misunderstanding that I sought and inevitably found.

  5. I read and reviewed the next story in 2018 as follows:



    “Protection in general, I’ve decided, is a problematic enterprise. You lose everything in the end.”

    I have read a lot of Tem. And this, I am sure, is one of his more concise masterpieces. Concise, but, in the bad light of today’s times, blurring demarcations, paradoxically making things less concise, with this character at first seemingly less of a family man whose wife and children are out of the house, but more an old man where they are never due to return, and then, ignited by a seeming earthquake, he becomes the very detective watching him, himself investigatively stalking himself as it were, all factored into a world of wise observations that I find as an old man now myself ring true about the nature of sleep, health and safety, and the changing perspectives of that bad light. A bad light with Trump and Brexit as two representatives of it? But perhaps such a political consideration on my part demeans this Tem attempt at depicting the world we live in as its own crime fiction upon itself.


    “What if everything uncoupled at the very moment he stood between cars?”

    You can never be sure. But this work is surely alone worth the price of the book from which I am reading it in real-time. A Tem classic story that I would have deeply regretted not reading if I had been subsumed by whatever awaits me before having read it. Like those tides in Holihaven. Here, in the Tem, these tides are said to be sucked back by natural causes or wilful monsters.

    “I imagine terrible things are watching me. But even that’s better than believing I am completely alone.”

    …said by someone with my wife’s name. I can hardly be subsumed by her kiss as that old man earlier above was by a kiss during a different version of a so-called cruise.

    The story of an asexual or lightly bi-sexual man who lectures in transcendental poetry and now lives alone after his last partner had gone. Alone enough to be persuaded on this trip, with no one waiting for him back home, a trip by forms of transport he had not experienced before, i.e. train and ship. Except the ship is held up not only by the tides but also, for me, by the vague shapes in the fog of a latent Zeno’s Paradox…

    “Look at that route diagram near the ceiling. We really should have arrived in less than half this time!”


    A story I am afraid that did little for me other than a bit of suspense on Malice Night as an erstwhile voyeur called Randall is punished amid many Halloween images and populations of cross-patched and wounded masqueraders … as he crossed states in his unreliable car towards his fateful night with the woman who haunted and taunted him from the dead. Miraculously, though, it sort of fitted nicely with the previous story AM /THOUGHT /ALWAYS that I read and reviewed just now (here) before reading this one!

  8. I reviewed the next story in 2019, as follows…



    “, gobbling up more of the calendar with each trip of the world around the sun.”

    I want a Tem classic about Christmas FOR Christmas, one about a harassed single mother and her small daughter, her last-minute Christmas shopping in a near-derelict store, leaving her daughter with an elf woman and an amorphous Santa. This is good enough a story that I enjoyed, but it is, I am afraid, not a Tem classic by my own standards of expectation to which I have learnt to become accustomed.


    However, “Whatever You Want” did contain ‘…the loss of a future she could now only imagine.’ – and it resonates meaningfully with “What Never Was” that I happened to read and review (here) about half an hour before encountering this Tem again!


    Or ladycow or ladybug, depending where you are coming from. From Never Never Land or wheresoever one refrains to stop living in. A 69 year old woman sitting beside her dying husband in hospital, a wordy woman who passes the time doing crosswords, talking to the nurses of the trivial and the important — and watching whatever rises from the not-yet-dead body or whether to fly away herself, but whither together or not. A worthy wordy Tem that will ever haunt me with its oblique sense of bereavement’s rite of passage, and routes between the possible and the impossible. Impossible to re-tell or interpret even by parsing its words — parsing as another word for dying … here a death that threatens to burn its bridge of meaning, before attempting to cross it. Flying beyond smoky vents of hospital or home. There are never the right words to fit at such times, I guess.


    If I thought I had discovered above a new-to-me classic Tem story, then this one is surely the classic among all Tem classics. I do not even feel able to quote anything from it as I would end up quoting the whole story! Surely, my admitted susceptibility to the-passion-of-the-reading-moment syndrome would not deceive me enough to change any of what I think sincerely about it when I am able to have a hindsight upon it. I also do not feel able to tell you much about this tale of Clarice for fear of spoiling a seriously classic weird story; suffice to say, it depicts a dystopia of displacement and diaspora, and tells of the man who becomes a woman’s eyes that scry such decay and detritus, indeed Clarice’s Inspector.

  11. Pingback: Having eyes for fiction… | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  12. Heterocera

    “But you get to be a certain age—and she certainly had—you expect terrible events to happen, you imagine them in excruciating detail, so when they do happen there seems to be little left to feel.”

    The most poignant vignette of a husband’s elongated death, not elongated in dying, but an actual state of thanatrauma before the authorities are told. Heteroserendipity without really wanting it.
    In interface with a grown-up daughter whose duty is due to descend into a dark wonderland of a father’s rotted clothes, while blaming moths etc. &c. et cetera


    A houseful of girls as a sleepover party happens to coincide with an unforecast multi-hurricane: weather created by adults or not, and the planet that hated them for their seeming to hate it. A sleepover officiated by a couple of mutual wives. Not yet locked down so much as locked out — by those they once officiated within. What do we take from all that?
    …that today even Fate has gone crazy, I wouldn’t wonder. All our sleep is now over.

  14. TORN


    “He needed to find shelter, but where do you shelter when everything is tearing itself apart?”

    From Milton to this first chapter’s Yeats, this first segment of the first chapter hit the exact off-centre spot of my reading soul. A man called Taylor apparently preempting his own suicide with a lethal accident, and now we have his experience of death amidst Proust’s lost time, childhood’s toy soldiers still soldiers even with rhino tusks, an experience of his wife-abandoned father’s cruel strictures, even if a morphed off-centre set of memories, after the multi-hurricane or TORNado in that earlier girls’ Sleepover had gyred him here, via the Devil’s throat, like a Dorothy manqué?
    A distilled apotheosis of Book of Days?
    Read up to: “…the rotting frame absorbed it.”

    • “You could blame God, or you could blame the devil. In the end it didn’t matter—you were still screwed.”

      This is utter horror attrition as a mélange of one’s past and Hell projected upon it instead of any tea dunked into by a Petite Madeleine! It can only be read in small doses. It is utterly beyond words, but somehow it is expressed in words. I cannot do full justice to it. It is what the bus driver just said…

      Read up to: “Well, this here, this is what you’ve always been afraid of, isn’t it?”

      • This is what happens, he thought, to people who fail to connect.

        As for me, I’d end up reading this, so do I dare connect this bus with world news today — but here all the people outside the bus are burning instead of the ones within it!
        I’ve said it before — this writer can write some dangerous stuff and my journey today with him as bus driver is utterly undermining to any memories as an old man and what I might think during or after the process of death. It is so visionarily powerful, though, I would not have missed it for anything, because I needed to know, as a writer and avid reader, how far literature could actually go in disturbing me, before I go.

        Read up to end of Part I

    • II

      Read up to: “The beast men grabbed the young naked men, bending them over, and plowed their codpieces deep into the young men’s backsides.”

      This is what the story likely does, too, to the reader expected to be trapped into reading it.

      • “They believe their previous lives were like a dream a stone dreams when it dreams it is alive.”

        If I had sat down to try to write a rite of passage of all my worst fears then i could never have reached this optimum version of it!

        Read up to: “…their arms above the elbows were still bound to their bodies by the membrane.”

  15. “‘You mustn’t touch,’ his companion shouted, ‘unless you want to spend eternity the same way! Their isolation spreads to everyone who touches them.’”

    Different versions of Hell become a bespoke Hell for YOU. Unendingly.
    This is a new genre of fucked fiction that fucks you first.

    TORN ended but it remains a literary body-membrane never to be torn off. Toward Null Immortalis, whoever the mitigating, morphing companions you may transiently meet along the way. Even a potential catharsis like this is merely one such waystation toward your already pervasive Hell, pervasive but only ever halfway there.


    A prevailing unforgettable threnody of prose framed around a couple (with a son as if frozen out) and a resort to the man’s farm inherited from an equally frozen out father as if paralleling the relentless wind as TORNado above, father and son, who haunts whom, which son the sin, which pig the sin-eater?— echoing not only my staring at clouds as a child: an eternal race of clouds, also listening to the wind, then switching seasons in my mind as if some weather was a security blanket, and now, in this threnody, as if the snow here that imposes itself on this couple (with their son institutionalised away from them) is the same insulation of bodily-membrane from the still persistently clinging TORN above, a membrane now snowbound and frozen, on these endless attritional plains of existence that lie outside the city of the mind.

  17. I read the next story in 2020, as follows…


    A4AF321A-6E8D-4F32-9C60-8064C6D7B6DFBy the Sea

    “Like her parents, her siblings, and herself, they were people who lived their entire lives without notice, subject to the whims of the planet, of the weather and climate change, of the politicians and the governments and the armies…”

    Subject to the world’s ominous ocean, figuratively and in reality, its “hungry dream”, a naive, but powerfully wise, portrait of the naive, but powerfully wise, Sarah from childhood to age. The Age of Attrition’s final Accretion. The ocean’s or sea’s detritus and its inferred found-art, as I myself find and capture visually every day. Here I am alerted to its final found-art, as I shall call it, a found-art of which I was not aware… till now.

  18. The Way Station
    Homage to Stefan Grabiński

    “As the train entered the station he had the peculiar sensation that everything was speeding up around him, and yet he, in his car at this window, remained still for a time.”

    Simply, a beautiful and timeless weird story involving a naive man who had been a hermit in outlandish places since falling out with his father and his dilemma in whether to attend what he had heard was to be his father’s funeral, a cremation even, and then involving a journey in a train passing near-derelict stations, a journey that obliquely adds echoes to TORN’s father and son relationship and which of them was the other’s sin. Smoking cars, Zeno’s paradoxes, ticket offices, waiting rooms, et al.


    “…but sometimes she felt as if her husband had abandoned her to face a new and terrible, evolving reality.”

    Today I think that, if the world’s human population was simply constituted of old people and no young ones, then Tem would be considered not only as a great author as he is now but also the greatest and most poignant author in the whole of that very world. Another most powerful threnody conveying a world’s physical and emotional Thanatectonics through the eyes of Phyllis having been pre-deceased by her long-time husband, and the mixed feelings about her past with him and the loose ends and hardcore repairs he’d listed whilst alive and left behind. A backward noise of dissatisfaction with what had gone before amidst an encroaching despair that evolves into shrieks of more than just herself but the She she had Banned… and, I hate to admit it, I could easily empathise with the husband and what his character had been like, but incredibly I could easily empathise with her, too. A fragility of my erstwhile home as well as the home that is my head. And the building subsumption outside it. Especially that ever-incurable seepage in one corner of the roof!


    “I don’t want to leave anything behind!”

    A realistic, frighteningly demented absurdism as a coda of a vignette to the previous story, as the old ones among us who are remaindered in the so called rest home tongue up those loose ends of any home’s hardcore while celebrating when witnessing that death is an escape for us from those trying to cure us.


    “He didn’t want anything from the old house. He had too much of his own stuff he was trying to get rid of. He didn’t want to leave a lot for people to dispose of after he was gone.”

    That earlier time-tangled hardcore stuff again. Tom Tobin a minor celebrity involved. in horror films etc, and he receives letters forwarded from someone cursory he once met at a convention, delivered a year or two late after several separate forwards. Tangled letters in more ways than one. Tangling the hardcore loose ends of the town (described with its own untangleable tangles to the reader’s brain), the town he returns to for his almost estranged brother Will’s retirement party, after a mixed career as a policeman. A palimpsest of a substantive story that mixes present and past, Tom’s childhood imaginary friend ‘Toby’, his once Mad Scientist experiments as a boy, the consequent bullying and cruelty he gave Will, as well as adumbrations of their bullying father and many of the TORN feelings flooded back to me….

    “There was also a great deal of unexplainable wire, coat hanger or electrical or fencing, some of which he would have thought the scavengers would have taken but for some reason had not. Most of it was bent into circles and loops, and he thought of those drawings he’d received, with all their complicated swirls.”

    I quoted that because it simply made me quote it. And so much more bullying of me to quote other passages, but I resisted. The gestalt can wait.

    But the recurrent blinks (stand-alone treacherous stares, ‘treacherous stairs’) brought me back to the story and its denouement as Tom returns, his body and clothes hardcore-scratched, to the retirement party and then hurriedly re-dressed by his sister-in-law to attend Will’s big day. But then again when I tried to relate the imaginary friend to those forwardings… “I just lost time.”

    “but maybe he belonged nowhere and maybe nowhere was where he was.”

    “When Tom reached out his torn hands,…”


    As the Gestalt Man, I am now allowed only three short quotes to be torn from the body of this text, an importuning quite different from the earlier bullying by a text to quote everything in it! — a bullying that I just suffered in the previous entry.
    Surely, you will never forget the importuning ‘parts man’ portrayed in this story, and this character is so potentially iconic I am surprised that it is not already a Jungian archetype of literature in general. Seriously.
    Well, everything I say in my book reviews is intended to be taken seriously. And this story has an aura of the whole book so far: a dead spouse after a hardcore of years, dead Father as now just a part of the Thanatos that needs transcending, there being other characters regathered for a long life’s hinterland of memory — an aura now become a Pilgrim’s Progress of a Faustian myth. This man, Christian, yes, that is indeed his name, and perhaps it was significant that his still life of a son was born in a Catholic hospital, just another of the importuned, importurned, importorn parts from the body of his remaindered soul, like a series of stigmatically surgical prestidigitations …all portrayed by Christian’s perceived vehicle of existence being symbolised by a stretch limo from the 1930s that is travelling and regathering the now sometimes torpid, if talkative, tropes of people from his past life and the ills he had done them, or thought he had done them. Not only his father and wife, but mother, girl friend, and the Son of Grace. A car with its built-in ‘parts man’, instead of seeking him out when its parts start falling off, as they do. Here, though, they should have humanly bled, too, not just hardcore leaked. The words bleed instead, without the need of saying so. We all start as a raw still-life, until it moves and lives as us. And sometimes doesn’t. Until the end. Trans End.

    “Christian wanted to object, but had no idea what he was objecting to.”

    “…this march of everyone familiar into everything unknown.”

    “‘You must turn soon,’…”

    • I read the final story in 2020, as follows…



      “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.

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