A poem written when I was younger, probably mid 1960s…
My answer to Thomas Ligotti’s own comments from HERE in 2007 on my review of his CONSPIRACY book…
This exchange seems to have triggered my GESTALT REAL-TIME REVIEWING that started in 2008…
The Always Rising of the Night
by Scott Nicolay
“Most any other time she would have pounced on the worm and gulped it down,…”
Part of me wanted to hate this novella, as I did not want it to excel those novellas from this mighty book that I have already praised, but, after a difficult, yet admirable, literary start with Joycean incantations, lost cats, waffling stew, a Stroopwafel, all on Deirdre’s aeroplane journey, and matchless, dense prose about imaginative Brazilian visions of salamanders and other scientific vistas and university research, as well as giant otters, a place where Deirdre’s Valkyrie of a daughter called Brigit vanished, and there are also swimming memories of Greg amidst his family store’s backstory, this being Deirdre’s husband and Brigit’s father who committed suicide, YES, after these challenging passages to read, this novella did not simply begin to captivate or capture me (as I said above about the Dumont work), but it literally ABDUCTED me just as paranoiac Deidre is tantamount to abducted for the cinematically described ‘Event’ at a ‘Pool Party’, abducted by Candace and by the other characters whom we have already met alongside her in the earlier events of the plot (here ending up like the group at the end of Rosemary’s Baby but at a wonderfully conveyed Renaissance Faire instead of a backroom).
A moon balloon, a windmill, and a sky without clouds included within this vision (part of the inadvertent trap I fell into, a trap echoing bits of Queen of Clouds and its pre-sequel The Moon King?); and there are echoes of all the reader-challenging visions earlier in this novella that one needs to be initiated into before reaching the cataclysmic climax, whatever the sad mother-daughter rift that still remains between a different Rosemary called Deidre and a different baby called Brigit, despite their linking-up preternaturally via the skilful word-ceremonies of this work.
Amazing images such as green towers et al, and this being a near future or parallel world with our own real historical events acting as backstory. The Locatrice Implacable and Roger’s loquat beer, the paranoia of being pursued by men in black and Robin(!), compare the Shadow Riders (At My Back…) …. And so much more.
There are four elbow triggers, two about a messy kitchen that Deirdre uses as therapy to clear up, as possibly I do here with the more challenging, arguably messier parts of this novella, but the important elbow trigger is the one that introduces the plot’s main cursor character Candace. The most startling moment, however, for me, one that possibly gave me the biggest frisson that any literary work has ever given me before, involved the remote sharing of a laptop computer, the moment in the plot where it happens being perfectly pitched and incredibly effective and arguably original. As was the later realisation that the text of this story itself had slowly typed out somewhere in it “IDESAM”.
This novella is a killer.
“The worm wriggled on but the salamander remained locked in her stance, one forefoot fixed in midair.”
Full Scott Nicolay collection context of above review here: https://etepsed.wordpress.com/scott-nicolay/#comment-2482
The Anodizing Line
by Scott Nicolay
“This job is just a stepping stone for you but it’s your father’s whole career.”
I genuinely feel awestruck by what I have just read, completely fazed out of my tiny reading brain, in fact! Another full-length novella gulped inside, and its own reference to a ‘limp hose’ becomes tantamount to those photos of Worms Horribilis I showed earlier after AFTER. This work even has another stopclock!
Let’s be honest, one factor in this reading experience has been the synchronous, even preternatural, privilege of an intense mutual synergy with another new work that I happen to be reading alongside this one and its chapter 21 that I read this very morning (here), and its mind-fazing machine-for-machine’s-sake building that transpires into a weird vista of a landscape quite beyond it as seen via a cube within it. And, likewise, here in the Nicolay, just one example being…
“…somewhere deep amidst the crab claw mangrove thickets of machinery a great cogged wheel spinning like the underwater sun.”
Let’s be clear, these works are quite dissimilar with detailed plots unrecognisable from each other and there is no way these works could have known of each other. Yes, this synergy is just one factor why I have been awestruck. But the synergy was tantamount to an extra bonus track on a Bowie LP for me, because this Nicolay novella alone is worth dying for. With its mix of music references and its seemingly pointless factory’s clutter of machinery and dangerous chemicals and hoses, heat exchangers, and mazes of corridors, and PVC, and roof tanks, with only cursory health and safety, and other sludge ponds, indeed a vast factory complex where Kelly is working as a summer holiday temp, a young man with social awkwardness and whose father works at the factory in a low key position. He teams up with another more confident holiday temp called Bobby whose father is one of the factory’s top managers. That fact is not the only tension of characterisation and motives within the plot, and it’s their relationship that is supremely believable and suspenseful and eventually disturbing, just as some of the jobs in the factory these young men need to face are breathtakingly suspenseful. I cannot itemise all the scenes and their emotions, and inferences one makes about them, but one veritably lives with them, blow by blow, and Bobby’s supposed sexual goals with the girls in the highly secret Flashbulb section of the factory.
Their first task in the factory, just as one example, is clearing up mounds of contraptive clutter upon a vast balcony, and a foreman who has it in for them. Kelly’s character is wonderfully evolved and we really feel for him in whatever already affects a neuro-diverse man like him as well as his restraints or proclivities. It is all very heart-wrenching and essentially real. But it’s the nature of the factory and its environs and its sludge clearing scenes that are the ultimate unforgettabilities of this work. And the final scenes with an older man called Striker are something that come straight at you, and I dare suggest there is more and more to this work than meets the eye, stunning material that one gradually dwells on with one’s conclusions still ever-developing.
I am yearning to tell you more, such as the quim trembler!… but as I said before about another work above, it can only be read for yourself to even approximate the power I sense from having just done so. And, for me, I think I noticed at least four ‘elbow’ trigger-points in the plot. And Bobby’s a douchebag. And there is also Kelly’s “Joy Division and the Cure” as a trauma, a music reference that perhaps takes on a new meaning here — an ‘Oh oh oh oh oh, oooh’ to quote Bowie. But flip remarks like that from me should not in any way diminish the obvious attritionally consistent and seriously intended power of this work’s development and climax.
“So witness the future.”
Full context of above review here: https://etepsed.wordpress.com/scott-nicolay/
Two consecutive reviews today….
THE TALKING TREES by Sean O’Faolain
A wild version of adolescent boys from the Red Abbey school who are ever on about girls and pink porpoises and sexy notions, and a girl posing in gym knickers accompanied by whose violin music? — Haydn and Seek … and a paraphernalia of a sense of something like guilt or parental influence, and sweet shops or secreting sweets for oneself instead of a gang bang? A sort of post-Just-William and his Outlaws, but with raging puberty…
Mad and manic, and it is quite unbelievable that a story like this actually existed!
I myself never got to enter the talking trees but got happily married instead.
W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM: Winter Cruise
“She was only very slightly disconcerted when she found that Madame Bollin was coal-black. She told herself that one had to accept the rough with the smooth and that it takes all sorts to make a world.”
I do not quite understand the significance of that as Mme Bollin never appears in the story. The story of the only woman on board a ship, and that is Venetia (née Alice) Reid, virgin spinster, and travelling cheap on this German freight ship to cruise around Haiti to see interesting places, but she has somehow a rapprochement with a pure Aryan radio-operator on board so as to cure her propensity to be insufferably boring to the Wagner-singing Captain, and to the ship’s doctor and to the other crew, No plot spoilers, merely my innuendo as to the then mœurs of race and of gender and of the writing of pointless if mildly entertaining stories such as this one.
A momentary editorial slip-up in this otherwise inspiring anthology?
My reviews of what I consider to be Somerset Maugham’s much greater stories: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/01/18/short-stories-somerset-maugham/
Contexts of these reviews: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/26609-2/ and https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/05/09/penguin-modern-stories/
SYLVIA TOWNSEND WARNER: The Trumpet Shall Sound
“Oh, it makes my blood boil!’”
Those relatives waiting for a funeral hearse to arrive, during the era of blackout and rations, featuring many folk, here brought back to life, working-class folk that I remember still living in the 1950s around me. Bigamy, iodine socks, double declutching, bad fish versus disinfectant — and a stoical acceptance of life and death but still saying ‘What’s the use?’
And cheated rations under the bed keeping company with the jerry!
But with added ingredients such as four mutes, and a landmine falling through the air above the prehensile coffin that is being lowered into its new ‘lair’
The main viewpoint – one of the aunts: “If you’d got to be a woman it was better to be an old-fashioned woman, with plenty of work to keep your mind off it.” Even a viewpoint of the new vicar, too. And not forgetting Dodger Blackbone, perhaps reconciled to the mourning aunt by a bit of nookie when sheltering in the grave? But who… “touched his elbow, pointed to the grave.”
“…a column of dust was still boiling up,…”
This story reminds me of the socially quaint period humour and darkness of William Trevor, whose ‘The Old Boys’ I am currently reviewing here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/03/31/two-novels-by-william-trevor/, having in recent years also reviewed all his stories!
Full context of this story’s inclusion in a Penguin Anthology and my review of it : https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/26609-2/
Robert Aickman, too: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/robert-aickman/
“Sentences can be changed.”
Plots, too … by readers or misreaders? Or those fighting to keep on top of plots to understand them or stop them changing or stop them getting out of hand? I am keeping my head above its rising water of dilemmas such as political posturing versus action, dilemmas and disputes between characters, seditions and, yes, sentences versus sentences.
“…there were too many pieces and he couldn’t make them fit. […] Even when you have connections.”
Is that Billy, or is that me? But I certainly feel the ‘heart-breaking’ poignancy of the Dickensian kids, one in particular who is about to take a big part by climbing above it all? The institutionalised, the mind being taken away by sentence sedition as well as by propaganda, ink fighting ink, and this includes my watching earlier this morning on TV the military parade (with its ranks of turned smile-frozen faces) in the Moscow of my own alternate world (in Red Square where I once walked), my own different alternate world in which I am reading this book! “If there so many more improvees, it stands to reason that more will become habituated…” — giving this book a sense of anger, of lying and being in brainwashed denial. It may be an important work in hindsight, as well as being pure entertainment, each leg of its spider becoming an alternate thread of meaning? “….setting family against family, cause against need and, through the printed word, weaving truth and lies to manipulate public opinion…” — the ultimate “ink trap.” — “…the increase in sentence severity.”
“But we’re trying to catch zephyrs here.”
Context of the above review of the new Neil Williiamson book: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/04/13/queen-of-clouds-neil-williamson/
One shoved four is worth twelve at a push
Edited by Judith Burnley during 1969-1972
My previous reviews of older or classic books: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/reviews-of-older-books/
And other Penguin short stories here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/26609-2/ and https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2021/12/26/the-penguin-book-of-the-contemporary-british-short-story/
When I read these stories, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…
by Scott Nicolay
“…she allowed her mind to move […] as if crossing a row of stepping stones planted in a creek.”
This is a full-length novella that I have spent stopwatch time consistently visiting throughout my day so far from very early this morning, feeling compelled to do so, and that surely must say something special about it. I rarely read long works in such a one-day gulp. It held me, and eventually charmed me, scared me, too. A gulp of the slug that Colleen herself gulped or let slip inside her like Paul when he was still alive, as well as gulping a ‘slug’ of Jäger, whatever that is, but it sounds as if it is strong stuff if not just another unpredictable beast become a consistent beauty.
This long work was a rare exception, whereby I thought it a ‘monster’ plot that one often sees caricatured by a reader’s face frighteningly agog at a pulp magazine with a scary monster on the cover; but this was the first of such plots that really really worked for me in a blatantly scary as well as a more subtle feeling of what was happening here. The monster itself is damned hauntingly memorable and I dare not — for fear of spoiling everything — describe how it is skilfully built up here from its first appearance to its later habits.
All stemming from a scenario in a place called Seaside, decimated by superstorm Sandy, and Colleen’s return there to check her shorehouse, as only allowed by rules of the police, between certain hours. She deliberately becomes a sort of Crusoe figure there, haunted by her own backstory of men in her life: Derrick (a sort of Depp figure if Amber is to be believed), her late secret lover Paul, and her late stepping-stone father. And there is also a loner whose name is tantalising and incantatorily not clear. I wonder who of these taught her the sand trick to cope with shit?
I tried to remember, throughout the reading process, loads and loads of things that happened in it to tell you about but, eventually — as pages ever-turned into more pages — I realised there would be little point. Just simply read this genuinely scary monster work with believably subtle-complex and accessibly unique characterisations. And a hugely powerful genius-loci of decimated Seaside. And vivid nightmares, too, that she dreams outside the reality of her ordeals. Unpredictability versus consistency as a significant theme throughout. And I have no further tongue to voice my reactions to this work.
The Sprite sugar rush, notwithstanding.
Full context of this author collection review here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/04/26/and-at-my-back-i-always-hear-scott-nicolay/