Jon Padgett, Editor-in-Chief
My previous reviews of this journal: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/vastarien/
Romana Lockwood, Hailey Piper, Michael Uhall, Carson Winter, Philippa Evans, Mari Ness, Christi Nogle, Gwen C. Katz, Stephanie M. Wytovich, Greg Sisco, Tori Fredrick, John Claude Smith, George Prekas, Juleigh Howard-Hobson, Georgia Cook, Sean M. Thompson, Joanna Parypinski, Rhonda Eikamp, Christa Carmen, S. L. Edwards, LC von Hessen, Sara Tantlinger, Perry Ruhland, Paul L. Bates, Jenny Darmody, Mari Ness, Emer O’Hanlon, Dejan Ognjanović, Clint Smith, Ivy Grimes, Kurt Fawver.
When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…
TENEBROUS RAMBLINGS by Romana Lockwood
Another timely and evocative introduction by this author to another Vastarien, it also being an account mischievously divulged to any of us who have already entered the ‘new church’, telling, too, how others may follow from the old one. An account eked out to us of this author’s even more mischievous Uncle Elias once arriving in a community to be tapped by him for fellow believers to follow us here, as quietly salacious and mercenary and otherly as you, as bespoke reader, may allow him or yourself to be.
My previous reviews of Romana Lockwood: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/romana-lockwood/
Which brings us to the Amelia Syndrome as a different version of ‘followers gathered’…
The Unpleasant State of Beginning – Hailey Piper
“Places went missing sometimes, same as people.”
I genuinely felt gathered into a nightmare by this substantive story, as I followed Amelia’s spiritually-GPSless journey to a small island in a lake, after her having been brought up by two mothers, now seeking her origin in face of herself dead as well as alive and as tall sisters, and I think this story avoided all my connections, spurned my gestalt, and it scorned even my passion of the reading moment, scuppering those thoughts I momentarily had of the theme of adoption to single sex parents and what a virgin birth might be. Miraculously inspiring within overwhelming dark subsuming — no mean feat.
I even fear that my fearless faith in fiction has been shaken towards an indefinable fearfulness of self. Not a self as a doppelgänger but as a real myself outside of my self.
“Tall as trees, you know. Didn’t think it was connected.”
Matsuri — Michael Uhall
“Almost like it was winking, implicating us in the conspiracy of its own decay.”
Les nœuds de Ligotti. Knots are ligotti.
A story that for me echoes what I have long thought, that a hoax is as uncertain as true faith. You need to be both to be either.
A man with an “aimless sort of fatalism”, heading towards palliative care for a wasting disease, a disease more complicated than just ‘wasting’, and inspiringly described, and this man takes off for Japan as a sort of catharsis of origin and completion (a rite of passage resonating with Amelia’s in the previous story), a pathway of ‘we are all in this together’ whoever and wherever we are, then he is hypnotised by a street performer’s legerdemain under a red lantern with candy sweets, marbles and living puppets, towards Life as a self-cannibalistic abomination, “tasting the tasteless taste”….
Ever haunted by the pareidoliac gestalt as I have done for years, whilst it is nothing but a hoax, whereby even winking at you is not an option! Null Immortalis, indeed.
Some absolutely brilliant unmissable prose in this work with emotions evoked you may or may not wish to share. We are all trapped in it together, though, so no escape. We just mould different fleshy patterns from this all-enveloping textmass around us. We still yearn for the Sword of Faith to solve its impossible knot, Gordian or not, in one fell stroke. No amount of endless ratiocination will manage it, otherwise.
“As soon as a shape promised to emerge, it burst, collapsing back into the source…”
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/michael-uhall/
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THE MUSHROOM MEN by Carson Winter
It seems miraculous that, on my birthday today I decide to resume my scheduled real-time reviews, after having, for a few months, been involved with my review project upon the work of my favourite ever writer: Elizabeth Bowen one of whose main themes is what have been called ‘Shadowy Thirds’ … and here we have, as well as Flying Saucers, a man as part of a triangle of men on foray, and a telling experience for the reader of an ‘anarchism’ of existence and identity, and naturally human wishfulness of resurrection of one’s loved dead, not least also to mention here the anarchism of being ‘high’ on this story’s wonderfully tactile and often shocking descriptions of a panoply of mushrooms and a fourth ‘shadowy third’ as an Anchor or Anarchist in the shape of the main protagonist’s dead daughter or a horse or other tusked animal …
My previous review of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2021/01/08/vastarien-vol-3-issue-2/#comment-20800
There may still be significant delays in completing this review in the wake of my Elizabeth Bowen and Robert Aickman projects…
Heartstrings by Philippa Evans
“I believed anyone might grasp the beating, bleeding heart of reality if they only knew the right words. That’s what magic is: the right words.”
A powerful vision of words and an experiment involving more than just direct contact between what the words mean and their reality, dealing again with the previous story’s morphing of identity and existence, as evoked in us by a redacted notebook kept by woman handpicked for a device that maps her mind when subjected to images and words, a woman herself chosen for her literary and linguistic studies, and this affects or even creates the reality of her love life with another woman and what they watch together, and much else flayed and flensed here from words about which there is not mush room left in my stop-gapped, sporadically stop-jabbed redaction of a head for me to report to you what they revealed …Especially if you speak Hopi, I guess.
The ever stop-gapped time in Bowen’s fiction?
SCULPTING by Mari Ness
“I watched. I watched. I saw you
change my eyes, my skin –“
A tantalising poem whereby, surely, I found myself integrated back to what I was before I was subjected to being watched by the previous story!
She Ain’t Stoppin’ by Christi Nogle
“In the dream, he was there in a blink.
In reality, it was a torturous slog. “
“It was not even slow motion, was it? It was a complete stillness.”
Sometimes, I read a story and I simply know how unreservedly great it is. This is definitely one such.
A relatively brief foray into the semantic quicksand or gluey half-on-half Zenoism as from an Aickman or an Elizabeth Bowen… with dreaming sporadically difficult to be differentiated from waking, and the fact of being dressed in one’s finest clothes that are not fine at all, and the unsavoury characters as crude and painterly Bosch depictions snickering with sly pornography folded into tubes, and innuendos — and adumbrations of the main protagonist’s wedding to a woman called Carmine, and the wedding feast in a barn, followed or preceded by a dream of waking up in a cellar, and his waiting bride on the wedding night is confused in my mind with a goddess who explodes…
Don’t even go there!
And I haven’t yet told you half of it!
Just to mention, though, the main protagonist — an ‘old timer’ among other such, slowed-down timers who ‘look like shit’ — seems to bear the name of ‘Lewis’…
“deep and sucking in places, he thought he might be carried down”
(My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/christi-nogle/ )
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Fold by Gwen C. Katz
No umlaut? And pomaded like an apple? And can Gwen see cats?
A university Mathematician finds himself needing to ‘see’, for real, the Fold equation he was studying, and his colleagues, I recall, from whose efforts he manages to have special Mad Scientist goggles made, and the frightening results seen through these goggles beyond sane geometry. I must have seen what he has seen to have written what I have written about what I remember the words creating, Hope, it is not a spoiler, to have a Krazy unintentional thought — viz. it was eating his wife’s cake that created what happened, not the goggles.
Pearl’s a ‘kitchen witch’ as in Veit’s Nell Novella that I read and reviewed about an hour before reading this story, I guess. Almost a fold in time?
“Yet it was a nothing with a force behind it, a nothing that wanted to make itself known.”
Night Mare by Stephanie M. Wytovich
“Will you stay
with me always? Bloody and barren,
broken and buried, your skeleton
against mine, this world our grave,
our makeshift coffin?”
That being a sample, from this wondrously useable Succubus poem…
Sucking a furthers share of life from someone else’s body ?
— or in this later nightmarish case study below, an Incubus in a provocatively nifty briefness of a story concerning a family of mother, father and their protagonist son and the timeshare deals between them…
On Borrowed Time by Greg Sisco
Ranging from sleep paralysis, loan sharks, exchangeable lungs and a house fire to the Faustian debts of Iife’s length as a shareable property itself. Here only loved ones will do. An absurdist fiction novelty that had its novel length sucked out of it just now by me? Maybe I will write it while I have enough time… dream on!
“Something about how your brain won’t let you move while you’re asleep, so you won’t hurt yourself dreaming.”
My previous review of Greg Sisco: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/10/31/nox-pareidolia/#comment-17250
‘…with the intermittent trans-ownership discovery of an abandoned suitcase the innards of which represents the baggage of your life so far, whoever YOU are.’
Voyeur by Tori Fredrick
“He hadn’t always thought of himself in that way, as somebody who could make a dream come true for somebody else. But it turned out she’d been right. This place was too nice for them.”
Fiancé and Fiancée in entropy, having started to live life together, he paranoiac about surveillance, and now with security cameras that he can access on apps when away from her… watching her degrade herself with exponential humiliation, which you would not believe, nor the kitten that got involved in one of the incidents that the Fiancé witnesses! Adeptly poignant as a story about a mutually blameworthy relationship, but also arguably one of the most disgusting stories I have ever read, and I’d like to fish out the emotionally less cooked chunks from both bowls leaving only nice vichyssoise. One bowl of it colder than the other as the final scene at the opened back-end of the story’s disguised or disgusted brain seemed to suggest. Seeming and even seeing are not always believing. Reading, neither.
Everything Will Be Okay by John Claude Smith
“All of this and none of this. Some of this.”
I am sure this must have the most shudderingly excruciation of an ending I have ever read, with genuine physical cringes induced. An ending that cruelly insists on perfecting this word-textured exercise in losing your own identity as well as that of the human woman you may have lived with so very very long (is there any other sort of woman than human?) — a sort of extreme Senile Dementia transliterated into a memory of your younger self suffering it. Or even younger than that, when your mother told you the title of it. And now, you are old enough to understand that you no longer understand anything and memories lie .., lie where?
“Not within. But on. On the inside of your eyelids.”
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/john-claude-smith/
Cross-referenced Everything Will Be Okay with Bird-Hogs here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/02/04/a-trick-of-the-shadow-by-r-ostermeier/#comment-24008
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The Bloody Story of His Canvas: A Reading of “The Lost Art of Twilight”
An academic article on Ligotti’s story, with full supporting evidence.
How to Send the Dead (Assuming You’ve Cremated Them Against Their Dying Wish)
A chilling poem with guilt built in.
Cross-referenced this poem here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2021/12/15/we-are-happy-we-are-doomed-kurt-fawver/#comment-23955
Sometimes It’s Just Like Hiding
By Georgia Cook
I found this well-written story of a marriage chilling, as an Aickmanesque obliquity crystallising, even more obliquely, ‘A Choice of Weapons’, with the prospect of a masquerade party in the couple’s social group, his domino mask cheap and tawdry, her fox mask immaculately stylish, and this serves to accentuate an already passionate resentment by the man for his wife’s success. A fable where we become our own masks. And I felt eye-holes staring, between the lines, at my eyes or eyelids reading it.
Down the Dark Hallway: An Essay on P.T.
Sean M. Thompson
Another non-fiction article starting: “When it comes to the world of video games, the name Hideo Kojima is divisive.”
My fiction reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/sean-m-thompson/
This review continues here: https://nemonymousnight.wordpress.com/882-2/