Vastarien Vol. 5 No. 2



Jon Padgett, Editor-In-Chief

My previous reviews of this literary journal:

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

Work by Romana Lockwood, LC von Hessen, Amelia Gorman, Steve Rasnic Tem, Aleco Julius, Venezia Castro, Michelle Muenzler, John Brownlee, John Paul Davies, Scott McNee, Dyani Sabin, Sophia Ashley, Alina Măciucă, David Rees-Thomas, Charlene Elsby, Agwam Kessington, Shawn Phelps, Matt Sadowski, Shaoni C. White, Sara Wilson, Charles Wilkinson, Sofia Ezdina, Barbara A. Barnett, Stephen Hargadon, Marisca Pichette, Aaron Worth, Sarah Walker, T.M. Morgan, Anzhelina Polonskaya, C. O. Davidson.

34 thoughts on “Vastarien Vol. 5 No. 2

  1. Little Lamb, Who Made Thee: LC von Hessen

    “A fresh band-aid was stuck on the inside of her elbow and a line of surgical tape on her calf, concealing the pulse of a terrible ache.”

    This is the story that starts quite plainly and page-turningly with an 11 year old girl called Jessie and her younger brother staying with their Aunt and Uncle, while their parents make the regular trip to their lake holiday (whereby these parents can have sex properly, without the children, Jessie suspects!) The Uncle and Aunt are at first jolly people who start hopping and spinning games etc, but the smells of the meals, the type of TV programmes they watch and the stringy meat, and the general undercurrents, and the specimens in jars in certain room Jessie finds, all these evolve into a gestalt of old attitudes of a man ever above a woman, and a Christian religious allegory embodied by the story’s title and overcooked within the story itself, serving to subsume Jessie for the rest of her life. I felt stifled by reading it, in an increasingly deep way that I was meant never to know about consciously, and I realised the aforementioned gestalt sits within my own ageing generation like a bit of old lamb gristle (or gristle become something worse!). And it still sits there stagnating within me, whatever I try to do to remove it.

    My previous reviews of this author:

  2. Word of Mouth: Stephen Hargadon

    “The world is rich with suffering.”

    I recognised parts of me in Cottle, and parts of Cottle in me. Parts of each of us at different times. But there are parts neither of us share with the other. Old, of course, both of us being “a pinched grumbler”, goes without saying. Amidst “Dawdlers, strollers, smiling idlers. […] …frantic weirdlings. […] The pub philosophers. Garrulous strangers. […] Babblers and prattlers…” Listening to the “neglected frequencies.” “Muddling through…” Cottle with the guilt of his son Martin who died 17 years before. Cottle has just been to the pub and its lonely pints of beer, missed his bus home, waiting for the next, and taken captive by an archetypal slick barber (something for the weekend, sir?) with the name SNECK (snicker snacker, I guess) and mention of his nephew ENZO, a name which reminds me of the medicine they’ve just put me on as a last ditch stand. This story is itself a last ditch stand. I am grateful for it. HARGADON has long been my authorial medicine as pick-me-up (see the many linked reviews below.) I feel myself lucky that I never had a barber who took me to a rooftop world like a pretend God into His Heaven and also pretended to be my son Martin Neck and did what this story said He did to me.

    My previous reviews of Stephen Hargadon:

  3. Possible spoiler…

    Into the White: Steve Rasnic Tem

    This is a short trauma in white, a neurodiverse man living alone and prone to snowfall isolations, a man with a mysteriously tragic parental backstory that involved snow but was not directly caused by snow and a sidestory reaching out to a woman on the Internet, and the final whiteout under which he does not find his rosebud sled, but bits of a carousel where his own children once played, children the mannequin size of Ligotti’s children, I guess.

    My previous reviews of this author:

  4. No Visitors: Charles Wilkinson

    This Wilkinson work, like many of his works, is the apotheosis of 20th century English literature in its short story form (such as William Trevor, Bernard MacLaverty and many others reviewed recently in Penguin anthologies here). This is therefore a work by a still living member of such a culture, since blended with the likes of Robert Aickman, Thomas Ligotti and Ramsey Campbell, and now Wilkinson is literally everywhere, pervasive as this M.R. James character come back into our own present day in the 21st century from even before the 20th century!
    This is indeed the story of a man called Lenthall who lived with his body-carbuncle of an uncle in the uncle’s house, a regime with a strict no visitor policy and locking processes, but then the uncle dies and almost becomes the drained bodily fœtor of the sofa itself where he used to sit, or still sits on or within. Lenthall cannot envisage the front of the house, when he tries to describe it to an estate agent on the phone, the phone by which means the years’ deliveries left at a distance were arranged (no internet, then?)
    Lenthall now even thinks of going on a warm exotic holiday, for which the uncle-corpse could await its being dealt with. Trouble with neighbours, too, a common theme in the Wilkinson canon. I cannot do justice to all this. I am just envisaging the state of my own sofa when I pass into it soon, or am I transliterating senilely into my own body’s alphabet morass from this unmissable Wilkinson quagmire of genuine literary gold?

  5. Tenebrous Ramblings: Romana Lockwood

    “I have stood among neighbors whose toilets spouted great gouts of blood…”

    Another regular column by this evasive luminary (Bio includes: “She takes daily walks, her coffee black, her cats calico, and her tea sweet”) whose real name I wish I knew. Whoever it is (and it may well be Romana Lockwood herself), I hope the Editorial Management Teamsters will continue to turn a blind eye to these columns to enable their continuance in future Vastariens. Or I may have to be rushed to hospital by a different set of EMTs to have a Classic Casserole surgically removed from my brain!

  6. Pipes: Alina Măciucă

    “Dan never came unless he called her ‘mom’.”

    A story centred on a woman called Cătălina in words that miraculously impart through their interconnected channels of meaning a growing cataclysm of gossiping pipes (not only normal utility pipes but also combined conduits for insidious forces from some legendary groundbase?), such pipes within an apartment block merging people’s secret lives with some social media concatenation mixed with responding Alexa voices into a structural implosion of deliberately removed inner walls to somehow prove relationships were still OK within each substructure of domesticity. Even Cătălina’s own bones joined in. I shall read THESE BONES OF CLAY next. Then THE BONES OF SMALL MAMMALS.
    I am glad I have lived with my wife in a bungalow house for many years!

  7. Pingback: CHICAGO FORECASTS: CHRIS VAUGHAN | Shadows & Elbows

  8. Pipes are special versions of endless holes… yet here the one you choose is softer? more subsuming? more personal even though others also have gone into the same hole and never came back? whatever the elbow moments contained by the words to slow the immersion?

    These Bones of Clay: Dyani Sabin

    “…dared you to go take a look, elbowing his date like they knew something you
    didn’t. Assholes. […] …you feel dirt on both sides of your legs, and you can rise
    up onto your elbows but no higher. […] Scratching and screaming, clay gets under
    your fingernails, stains your elbows…”

    What date did you go to into this truly consuming story? Today’s date, for me, but will I ever re-read what I say about it? A creatively inverse Natalism, perhaps not entirely Anti. The pipework of the narrator’s mother or the Mother seen here nostalgically amidst orange or golden-yellow colour images. A sort of Ligottian carnival sideshow where a house has a basement with ‘endless holes’ (as a roller-uncoaster to some earth’s core where Azathoth sits?) The last bit is my own bespoke journey into this landmark story’s hole. Don’t go there!
    Holes you can’t see the back of. And, once wriggling into it, not decisive enough to turn back. “…a hole is a hole” …A whole is a whole, a gestalt a gestalt. But now I fear it isn’t. “…age pulling the wood back to the Earth…”

  9. The Bones of Small Mammals: Scott McNee

    “‘We need to speak to you about an incident, Mister James.’”

    The story of this MR JAMES. It somehow reminds me of my own beachcombing where I live: the pier, the grey skies, but, even in my old age, I have not yet fallen out with my wife of a half a century’s standing, but what I see in this story is my doppelgänger or a witchfinder’s witchfinder, and his own pickings in a complex ‘globster’ or gestalt of meaning’s goo, found on the beach, and now in this story, amidst the zigzag slopes of destiny, I sense. A presence that threatens itself. Thankfully my children have no children. This great story truly stinks. Makes me think it is the fell obverse of my nightjar.

  10. No Longer Remotely Human: Metamorphosis in the Horror of Junji Ito
    by Aleco Julius

    An academic non-fiction article, as far as I can see.


    Time is Like a Spider, Love Like a Dream: Michelle Muenzler

    What it says on the tine. A very fine and provocative prose poem.

    “I’ve lost cats in that carpet. Hamsters. Boyfriends, girlfriends. At least a dozen dimes.”

    My previous review of this poet:

  11. The Outer Thread: Venezia Castro

    Time is indeed like a spider. But a spider is not always like a spider. And this story is suspenseful and utterly dark, possibly darker than any other story. Don’t say I didn’t warn you as a sort of enticement. But one has to pay for continuing what one does, and for home’s light and now rare cosy warmth. I’ll leave you to decide but I urge you to read it alongside me, taking you with me in there by this review of it, a taster without the spoiler of knowing what reading it actually entails. Trust me. Follow the rabbit down the hole towards home.

  12. The Bleating Belfry: John Brownlee

    “If the bell rang, it did so silently.”

    This is quite gratuitously what it is. An anti-church erection of a story with a chiaroscuro contrast within it. It was as if each warm word “straddled a block of ice.” A hidden chapel or church, embedded within the otherwise ordinary neighbourhood houses, with morse-coded rites and a belfry where the bleating sacrifice was its clapper. About one gate-crash leading to another gate-crash, a marriage of a man and woman and a need to find what should not be found. As with the previous aptly by-lined Castro story above, you have now been duly warned so as to be entranced. Come, come, come into this Shub-Niggurath erection of words. Even worse or better than you can imagine.

    “Whatever the song, it was printed in a font only a beating heart could read.”

  13. Unraveling: Barbara A. Barnett

    “Why should she fear unraveling the Mad Prophet’s threads?”

    This story was designed to disturb me, and me alone. To ‘unnerve’ me, unravel me, before I unravelled this story. A story in the guise of a story of a woman translator of an ancient Mad Prophet, also as woman, yes, a studious translator or word unraveller working in her study, receiving notes, not the usual notes from her servants pushed under the study door about domestic matters or the imploring messages from an ex (a male ballet dancer), but these are notes from her study closet itself, pushed under its door, a closet to which nobody could have access. There is big difference between eccentricity and madness, as these words claim, if I unravel them aright. And I fear now what I have known for some while without admitting it. Indeed there is a dire gestalt that I fear I reach out for, by teasing out threads, as I ever do! I am actually deeply affected by this story pushed under some door in my consciousness.

    “Why your obsession with language has left you with so little to say.”

    But I shall try to resist the effects of this story, because a story it surely is. It is merely a story of an embittered ex trying to get his revenge, with himself subsuming herself. En pointe?


    But to ravel is also to unravel! — ‘To RAVEL means both to Disentangle and to Entangle.’ — as stated five years ago: HERE

    My previous review of this author almost exactly 12 years ago: HERE
    (What can have I opened? Seriously. OMFG.)

  14. Jellybean: John Paul Davies

    A finely worded poem of sprung childhood love and horror, over-doused by holy water. A boy with his naive hidden jellybean and what it may become by such a Christening?

    Postulation: Sophia N. Ashley

    “& I take the space between your legs for an accurate premise.”

    I am not an expert on poetry, but this poem, for me, is also a finely tuned evocative and emotional one ….perhaps from the same girl’s point of view as in the above poem now grown up?

  15. Ghosts, Always: David Rees-Thomas

    A dolby atmos installation. A haunting hotel story about sound sampling, building a recorded score of hotel manoeuvres spoken by people or incidental ricochets of its architecture where the protagonist ( as one of those speaking people) is staying, we assume, in a room where she becomes its legacy or one of its ghosts of always — ghosts, then guests as hotel staff or fans of her work who visit it, visit her as the assumed well known ambient musician called Dove. As sampled by Dave.

  16. The Other Sides of Doors: Charlene Elsby

    “You can’t rely on your reader to make the assumptions you want them to…”

    Only Daimons knock to show wanting entrance to Domains and here it is someone called Madison., intriguingly evoking a whole new science in the interpretation of door knocking…and inferences as to what, if anything, is on the other side.

    “Death is coming, death is inevitable, and out of everything that exists, there are some things that are dead so far and some things that are dead not yet and from these two categories, it seemed I fit best into the latter.”

  17. Monster Seed: Agwam Kessington
A poem seeded as if to die for, to eat for, to kill for — privilege as an EVIL GRIPE toward….


    ….the mixed messages of the words in…

    Confusion Now Hath Made His Masterpiece: Shawn Phelps

    “He had the smug expression of a man who knows an inside joke, one that you are not privy to and quite possibly are the object of.”

    And surely this story is that very masterpieces, about an old man too mean to be me, here named Percy Oswald, toward cosplayed wordplays, coarsely scrawled but copyread, as morphed through the eyes of his narrator of a social worker made to visit his room in a verminous home for such madness and deprivation and neurodiversity. An old man like me thus narrated to be co-opting confusion and a world’s entropy, in a ‘hydrographia’ of mingled notebook pages and doodles upon them made into visions from thumb-flick cartoons, a morass of such things even when the social worker as co-opted, too, in turn, by this new ‘God’ of self is later snowed upon by such wise litter, to go with my own anagram mania when writing about them!
    Yes, a genuine masterpiece, and needs to be noted, noted again, and passed on and on from publication to publication. Co-opting new readers as social workers with a mad purpose to harness such selfsame madness, a confusion that actually works upon those whom they are sent to help care for.

    What! can the devil speak true? — from ‘Macbeth’

  18. Disinfection: Matt Sadowski

    Let me be plain for once. This is a detailed tour de force description of OCD and germs as monsters, a mindset that a man as a boy learns from his Dad, and, later in years, when his own son is born this work, as a stunning primary source of such detail, becomes an apotheosis of Ligottian Anti-Natalism in a reasoned but manic way.

  19. Laugh Track: Shaoni C. White

    A poem with a few rude words and a refrain, a ha of ha, full of images that went into my Midas brain and are still being processed as a bonus track…

    and, without my being a reviewer of — nor an expert on — poetry, this next work too…

    Bird’s Eye Rhyolite: Sara Wilson

    Perhaps my nest of poetics is deeper than I can reach?

    From Darkness, to Darkness: Anzhelina Polonskaya (translated by Andrew Wachtel)*

    Here a word cloud not anagrams. But none the less for that.

    *I also appreciated – Winter at the Provincial

  20. Remembering Five Generations of Mayfly History, on the Sixth and Last Day: Marisca Pichette

    “I have more exes than friends.”

    This is disassociated half-self looking down at the other (better?) half cooking; the latter half (no doubt thinking she is the whole self) is unaware of the onlooker looking at her also playing with her phone and contacting exes, a chequered life of barroom bruises, et al, while the other half drowns…
    I am sure I got all that wrong, while watched, too, by a punctuating life’s worth of a mayfly.

    “Suicide is a demanding hobby.”

  21. In Caelo, in Terra: Aaron Worth

    Boys, during the second world war, keep watch on a ‘bum’ with black teeth and some missing fingers; he seems to be selling ‘star maps’ and they think these are cheating tourist guides to the whereabouts of film stars. But one day they spot a lot of money passing hands. After mugging the bum, ones of the boys finds a ‘spreading madness’, as above, so below, that seems to centre on XHOTOL, a word that reaches no satisfying anagram in my book. The ultimate nightmare for me. A trap set and successfully sprung.

    “Like the great jellyfish, you know, and the seven dead puppets…and the blind spider with the two names, and…”

    My review of this author’s THE THEATRE OF OVID:

  22. The Mark: C. O. Davidson

    “‘There,’ she says, and releases you, as the last crimson tint of the birthmark—that sole token of human perfection—fades into the flush of her cheek.”

    This is a wondrous literary transformation, as if written today by a new Virginia Woolf or Katherine Mansfield, a take on a woman admiring another woman in the queue wanting to become her rather than make her come, all part of a believable academic scene of students and teachers, seeing her again in a dress shop, and she seeing you, she still in red, and, by her actions, you actually become like her. No, you are subsumed. Stolen.

  23. The Merchant of Places and Precious Things: Sofia Ezdina

    A prose poem of a woman called Sacks who scries trains on the subway and stays at a hotel called Station, a bartering, or shoplifting, as it says, with the other residents — the subsumption in the previous story above? An explicit ‘metathesis’, too, to match my meta-anagrams above.
    Sometimes a subsumption can be healing, sometimes a nightmare.
    This is the coda to the whole journal? Arguably, yes. But, for some unknown esoteric or preternatural reason in my arbitrary random pickings, I see the vast Vastarien symphony of emptiness and considered weight has not quite yet ended….

  24. The Conductor: Sarah Walker

    “The graffiti was unlike any he had seen in the past. Though just chicken scratches, it stood out from all the rest and as he stared, words began to become visible, and then a pattern developed.”

    …as happens, I have found over the years, with the gestalt real-time reviewing of appropriately chosen literature (such as Vastarien.)
    Here the words that Sterling scries become their own pareidolia of message, with a taste of my apophenia of metathetic anagrams above. But I am defeated again by TAMAM SHUD, as with XHOTOL earlier. Dare I look them up afterwards on the internet?

    “It was only a dream brought on by that graffiti. And DeAngelo had left him, just like the others.”

    Sterling’s love is spurned by another man called DeAngelo, in this world of train drifters.

    “Maybe truth wasn’t true. Maybe it was more a matter of perception.”

    I hope I may be forgiven for aspiring to be this moving story’s own Conductor, its gestalt-pattern maker. Hearing beautiful music in Xenakis, as I do. Healing and Nightmare, as one. This story clinches the deal of this whole journal, for me. I hope that deal is found to be helped by me.

    “He looked like a lost soul; one being sucked into the oblivion of a collapsed star that poisoned the very air around him.”

    My previous review of Sarah Walker:

    • The star maps of XHOTOL? But when inside the collapsed star you are able to leave that poisoned air behind? Along with Alexander Zelenyj’s DEATHRAY BRADBURYS and Attila Veres’ FOGTOWN….and Sarah Walker’s TAMAM SHUD.

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