Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Absent Company - Steve Rasnic Tem

8 thoughts on “Absent Company – Steve Rasnic Tem”

  1. The main reason for buying this book is to read and review the ‘AMONG THE LIVING’ novella. All the other stories I have read and reviewed already in 2012, viz.:
    At the Bureau
    A briefly and darkly effective Ligottian pre-Temian corporate horror story or Temian pre-Ligottian corporate horror story, where, appropriately, for my first experience with reading a new-fangled ebook, the symbiosis of two Chandleresque protagonists mime mutual binoculars squinting at each other through each other’s “frosted glass” of cold paranoiac prejudice (upon, as it happens, the coldest night of the UK winter so far), as if they can’t quite believe what they are seeing or if they are seeing it at all. Weeping, pleading, swearing, praying for something substantively “…lettered in bold, black characters.” (10 Feb 12 – 6.25 pm gmt)
    “Everybody needs a crutch now…”
    And this story is even colder. One for our age of austerities. Beautifully bleak. An obsession with crutches, some weak, some strong, perhaps some, I imagine, even scrimshaw. (Another ‘Tree Ring Anthology’?) Generations eking out a living in a time of quantitative uneasing – and a single hope at the end is out-stared, out-grinned through another window (or symbiotic screen?) – to the tap tap tap of someone’s keyboard (my thought, not the story’s thought originally, though it may be the story’s today). A story that I think I shall remember for a good while, if not forever, as disarmingly great. Glad I’ve been put on to this ‘book’. (10 Feb 12 – an hour later)
    The Bad People
    When real-time reviewing a physical book – normally armed with a pencil – there is the easier nailing of quotes, directions, journey’s journeys in linear or multi-directions – but with this ebook, the experience is quite different, indeed more difficult, difficult, perhaps, in a constructive sense? Here with this story – longer than the previous two – I felt an uncanny ‘uncertainty’ imparted by the words and the words’ ‘unreal’ vehicle, an uncertain journey through a hot Mexico, but mixed implicitly and explicitly with today’s cold images, a father and a boy, not a son, but yes, a son as well, another man who is that ‘father’s’ alter ego, perhaps. And things always beyond the ‘page’, or ‘bad people’ always beyond the next village, a memory of a car accident just beyond the edge of memory, a Mexican history and climate merging into mythology and back again: an intriguing as well as uncertain journey, a journey, as ever, that changes simply because I always know (even if semi-consciously) that I am due to impart that same journey as part of itself (here, in public) — with added uncertainty by there being no paper for pages, no quotes to quote as no pencil in my fist to mark the text’s impervious ‘window’ or ‘car-windscreen’: a glass between hot and cold, past and present, father and boy, father and self, scar and unscar, meaning and meaninglessness… A strange haunting story. A blend of odd contrasts and uncertainties. A memorable experience. I think it will be memorable, more like. (10 Feb – another 90 minutes later)
    Another inter-generational male scenario, one that has just brought an ineluctable welling (leaking?) of tears to my aging eyes, almost literally as well as with full metaphorical force. The battle against entropy-through-structural-and-endemic-dampness by means of poignant human endeavour to maintain doing the small things for the benefit of one’s family, even if those small things amounted to nothing really significant or, perhaps, a great deal? One never knows. The rituals of conscientious living are portrayed here wonderfully, together with fiction’s creepiness of spiritual and material encroachment in a family house by the creek. [This story also evoked in me – within the context of this special review – a reminder of being myself likened to King Canute vis-a-vis my recent public pronouncements regarding ebooks seemingly encroaching upon traditional books and encouraging a culture of plagiarism/piracy and of published fiction authors losing their specialness (they can’t so readily do live concerts that musicians do so as to buy bread for their family before it grows mouldy). Similar to the story’s ‘rituals’, there have been decades of my own meticulous care and attention to books; of collecting; of writing; now of reviewing them and publishing/editing them: a semi-autistic series of well-meaning actions on my part today starting to seep away as the electronic creek draws even nearer? But, perhaps not. Surely the act of facing the situation out – with this story, possibly with this whole ebook once I’ve read it all – is the challenge, the sandpaper to the mould on the wall: just what I need to create a bridge across the generational parting of the Red Sea, across the two competing sides of Self, one increasingly aging, the other still the boy I once was. We shall see.] (11 Feb 12)
    Stone Head
    It’s as if I’ve been waiting to read this stone vignette all my life: the self-eschatological imprint of words chiselled not only beyond this electronic text but also beyond that in traditional books with its seeping-surface ink…. A fiction (together with the poignantly morbid considerations evoked by ‘Leaks’) that possibly explains for the first time my fascination — long term and my photos shorter-term here — with the philosophy of stone! (11 Feb 12 – two hours later)
    Mirror Man
    A substantial story – echoing the inter-generational matters heretofore: the blame or credit involved both ways in a sort of two-way-filter … and I can empathise fully, being a father of a daughter and son, myself. Here the book’s erstwhile glass or window or car-windscreen becomes a psychological rear-view mirror and — prior, I guess, to Sat Nav or GPS – almost a religion concerned with night driving, backdropped by a human-xenophobically nightmarish ‘nativism’ (a new word to me in this connection): a Lovecraftian-in-the-loop of life-long-slow-motion Kafkaesque ‘metamorphosis’ into mutancy rather than a quick-change act overnight between sleeping (dreaming) and waking. I am devastated by this story. But strangely exhilarated, too, that a piece of fiction can so skilfully devastate me. (11 Feb 12 – another 2 hours later)

  2. The Sky Come Down to Earth
    “But … the weather, the sky! It’s all white and it’s come to the window!”
    “…against the glass […] the pane it would be ice cold...”
    Even without a pencil, glad to nail those quotes. I am agog with this book’s resonances. This is one of those stories or fables that seems to have stayed with you for many years even though this is ostensibly the first time you’ve read it, one where the book’s erstwhile inter-generational two-way filter of security as well as lack of security, i.e. between child adoptees and adult adopters as well as between those blood-linked together (cf. the Mexico story), now comes together in a perfect pattern of intrinsic oxymoron: of a sensed ugliness and beauty: of fear and confidence: of relaxed comfort and alert sense of danger. The sky as metaphor seems to optimise such an oxymoron (oxygen as well as moraine?) — a sky simultaneously touched and untouchable, hot and cold, wet and dry on either side of the glass or window or crystal ball that one reads through or, rather, scries … but I cannot see exactly how it works. Enough that this author makes it work. Or allows it to do so almost volitionlessly. And with some readers not even consciously noticing but absorbing it into themselves nonetheless – a bit like being permeated and/or (psychologically) changed by the diurnal Wordsworthian, or pantheistic sky, itself changeable as filtered through those of us who sense its moods via our own moods. The art of fiction. (11 Feb 12 – another 90 minutes later)
    Houses Creaking in the Wind
    “…gazing out these windows, reading the dark before sleep,…”
    Scrying the wind and the creaks, too. Another vignette, this time not of stone but, contrastively, “the spaces betweeen his thoughts“, and the inter-generational tragedies that time keeps within itself for our memory to exhume like ghosts or flies. If I said anything further, I’d be more an accomplice than a reviewer! But I can say that the book, so far, certainly seems organic both as an Ariel and a Caliban. No mean feat. (11 Feb 12 – another 30 minutes later)
    Grim Monkeys
    “I sat silently as the funnel of static poured through my head, attempting to kindle some feeling, some thought, anything. I took no pride in my lack of feeling.”
    Well, that says something quite innocently, I guess, about the new ways of publishing fiction. Meanwhile, one does not often encounter in one’s whole lifetime a perfect literary short story, as opposed to a perfect genre one, but this literary story comes as close as one can dare hope, blending Conrad, Lowry, Greene – even Lovecraft following this book’s earlier native or nativist or miscegenate considerations, here ‘grim monkeys’. A parental abduction, a tug of love, to the Venezuelan jungle, a ‘freeing’ of the protagonist’s daughter: and the blending (once positive) continues towards a negative outcome, as if being back-to-nature is the worst possible solution to a civilised problem. The relationships inferred, the accomplished language containing those inferences, are all, for me, pitch near-perfect. Why ‘near’-perfect? Well, because the context of this book (so far), its inter-generational backdrop, its encroachments of damp entropy, its ‘oxymoron’, its once uncluttered sky now a tropic-cluttered sky, is needed to make the story in-itself wholly perfect. So, effectively, the story in-itself, without that context, wouldn’t be perfect? It teeters on a brink of decontextualised imperfection – but the last sentence is quite wonderful and makes it perfect in hindsight, despite the negative outcomes that created such a last sentence. Only in inspired fiction can such eked-out, perhaps unintended, serendipities be distilled. A reaching-out towards a literary gestalt, that can only be reached by not reaching it? All blood is mixed but is perfect for the body it fuels. Paternal love, too. Shortcomings harnessed are stronger than strengths unused. (11 Feb 12 – another 4 hours later)

  3. Rider
    “…as if she were walking into a bank of clouds.”
    Although quite different, this story constructively synergises with the Caitlin Kiernan story I reviewed here, containing their sense of the potential machine within the sea – or the mermaid… Here, with Tem, we have a truly rhapsodic account of a woman (a grown up version of the lost daughter in ‘Grim Monkeys’?) with her notebook where she records her often poetic thoughts about life’s ‘predicament’ … by the sea, a snow-strewn beach (so significant for me personally living as I do by the sea, today also very snowy) – and now not the sky but the sea as some pantheistic force: so telling due to the earlier context. Her broken relationship and now a new relationship with a mysterious (‘dark’ with white eyes (like a grim monkey?)) man-of-the-sea upon a horse…. Through her ‘boredom’, a yearning for excitement now further increased – or appeased? The last line of the story, even more tellingly in this book’s context, mentions “glass bowls underground” and again I think of a machine about to emerge rather than a mermaid? Or simply a union – like that in Blackwood’s ‘Centaur’ novel – with the soul of the earth, its core. (12 Feb 12)
    Escape on a Train
    The window tappings continue all night long, but he never sees anything. In the morning he discovers hundreds of round, slightly greasy spots on the glass.”
    Those tappings again leading to a scryable text? I am ever more agog at this book’s resonances with itself (and with my first reading of it as my first experience of reading a fiction ebook). This basically is an enjoyably well-crafted absurdist tale (reminding me favourably of much 20th Century European literature) – involving the Theory of Relativity and the insulation of travelling on a train past life’s tragedies without the ability of helping or even connecting, all mingled with this book’s fragile inter-generational caring for children. Yes, absurdist but also genuinely emotional. Didactic, too, in a good way. The Ariel reaching out for the Caliban and vice versa, but because of the glass between never to connect. The glass that keeps full immersion from the electronically coded text? I feel immersed, but am I? If yes, it is probably because Tem is a rare transcending writer. “Those other people, the ones outside the train, are merely lost messages coded into the winds,…” (12 Feb 12 – two hours later)
    The Far Side of the Lake
    It is hard to address this long story, nail the quotes, set out the themes echoing the rest of the book so far (like a maze of back-doubles in right-of-way disputes or the explicit ‘sleepwalking’ of driving a car without a GPS as in the earlier story) – but this story of an aging-before-his time man (like me?) with a grown-up son and daughter (like me) and a wife (like me) now deceased (unlike my wife) – this unbearably sad story is a miracle cure, too. A paradox. But that’s what’s great about dark literature when it’s successful, as this is. I can’t enumerate all the connections, the skilful ignitions of emotion and metaphor and image, the ‘glass doors’, the removal of trees (treebooks?), the party across the lake, like the fire seen from the earlier train (like those ‘sea trees’ above on this website page), your blood children as a memory-investment, the inter-generational care for your young ones and then those young ones, later, caring for those who once cared for them, the vision of ghosts and insects (flies) again, a mountain bullying the sky, a man in his sixties, like me, who needs to be warned against making faux pas etc., a man facing or having faced tragedy as we all must face it one day, groceries in a shop for him like foreign objects, photos of one’s loved ones propped up in their frames as if by ‘crutches’, his eyes ‘leaking’ again rather than weeping, news of a young star dying suddenly (just like the news of Whitney Houston today as I write this). A masterpiece, this story. Never to be forgotten. Literature like one has children – as a precious investment, not necessarily for yourself, but for posterity to benefit as you will indirectly from that very posterity or you do benefit from it now by knowing satisfyingly that that posterity is assured. Both selfish and selfless. That oxymoron again bubbling within the lake, waiting for that fisherman who is waiting for something to happen in this story who may now hook it to the shore. “But they were spectres, flickering, beating desperately against the inside of the glass as their lights began to fade.” (12 Feb 12 – another 3 hours later)
    [INTERMISSION: I feel it is appropriate at this point to show below my real-time review in 2010 (here) of this author’s story published in the book ‘Null Immortalis’: <<The Green Dog by Steve Rasnic Tem “And as the man in the brown chair declined, becoming less like a man and more like a piece of badly worn furniture…” A Kafkaesque Metamorphosis: here by by overlapping rather than strict switching; I simply love this story; it makes me laugh and cry in equal measures, perhaps because it seems to relate to me and the time of my life in a revelatory way. But I’m also sure it is a great story in itself without my personal reactions to it. Another great story, you ask? Well, how can I help but call them as they are? There is is also a spooky feeling for me (as some other previous connections related above in this review are also spooky) regarding the amount of interconnections with the leitmotifs identified so far in this book: the ‘shrinking’ as in ‘A Giant in the House’, ‘The Toymaker of Bremen’, ‘You Have Nothing To Fear’ and other stories – the mirror images (so utterly twinned with ‘Even The Mirror’ ), the Venn dreams or dream sickness, the physical lexic oddities (here including a semi-colon that is related to genitalia), even, perhaps, the taxidermic tropes of ‘Lucien’s Menagerie’… (5 Aug 10 – another 3 hours later) And how could I miss it – ”Turn Again’ including the ‘meat suit’. (5 Aug 10 – another 45 mins later) Cf. the tongue-man in ‘Broom People’. (6 Aug 10)>>]

  4. Presage
    “She beat on the glass but they would not turn and look at her.”
    The book’s third vignette, but now a cross between stone and air: the tangibility of rain (or creatures that live in the wet like rain?) creating a subsuming (as if hugging her more and more) of a woman by visions of strangers (including, inter-generationally, her young daughter also as a stranger) in her house and other accoutrements of death; yet someone that could eventually be depicted in stone, forever, I guess, or through “grey glass” making it simply look like stone. It is almost as if ‘Presage’ actually presaged such a review of itself as this one: cast through a glass darkly [- a dystopic vision ahead of only ebooks to read!?] “…the clouds of mist which covered the ground and lowered the sky and filled her mouth...” (12 Feb 12 – another hour later)
    A male version – in synergy with ‘Presage’ – being similarly subsumed, but here by vagrants — and by a type of inter-generational amnesia that works perfectly in the context of this book so far. I have also discovered an external synergy of some coincidental power with a story called ‘Stamping Ground’ by Carole Johnstone that I reviewed here. This a form of dance of the derelicts, a frighteningly effective pattern to be scried from the patterns of people that surround us and who, here, without the glass between, can get too close despite your aversion choreography still managing to drag you into their moves…. [And like Tom in the Lake story possibly seeing food as alien and, for some oblique reason, needing to be kept beyond the sell-by date on purpose just as an excuse to throw it away. As if foxing or corner-crimping or tearing or marginalising are ingredients of an incurable disease? Perhaps one day I’ll eat my words.] (12 Feb 12 – another 90 minutes later)
    “The glass was extraordinarily clean. A good omen. In fact the glass was so clean you’d hardly know it was there.”
    Indeed, glass that is remarkably still clean, after fingering it as my ipad’s screen: to move its inner furniture around. I thought that Tem had gone into overdrive with some of the earlier stories. This one demonstrates, I feel, an overdrive of an overdrive. No lingering doubts about this author now; not that I would have already let them linger for long ever since embarking on this public, fish-bowl journey of a real-time review with this book’s first story. ‘Aquarium’, meanwhile, is absurdist like the Train story, but a completely fresh slant upon such modernism, while maintaining a pungently traditional linearity around its startling inner structure of a crazy kaleidoscope, and with a prose-style / subject-matter that is (are) richly textured, even in the open process of conveying this book’s erstwhile themes and thoughts, its depths and surfaces, all with impeccable imaginative force. A world of a professional-seeming cataloguer (himself an aquarium ‘Tarr and Fether’ ‘insider’), a cataloguer of real antiquities of furniture, including furniture of childhood ‘correction’ within a historically structural world: half hotel, half orphanage, half aquarium. Letting this book’s accoutrements linger on the tongue of literature itself: the book’s inter-generationality as orphan connections (“Families make us human“), oh so true for the ambiance of our reading of this book, plus another car-board rear-view mirror, allowing us to watch the retrocausalities of each story filtering the visionary power through a new prism of the next story – and then the next. Especially this one. (12 Feb 12 – another 4 hours later)
    In the Trees
    “The forest floated up out of its roots and shouted.”
    Here the father-son inter-generationality (and with his little girl, too, alongside the ever-pervasive spouse) becomes a powerful fable – while portraying a clumsily well-intentioned fallibility of doing one’s best in every little thing one does, like encouraging an anxious child to beat his fear of sleep, echoing much in this book so far: one of those fables you sense you have read before but ostensibly you haven’t. Perhaps it’s already in the reader’s ‘sap’ (sap strengthening rather than sapping), its words flowing through the Jungian Collective Unconscious or simply, inexplicably molten? Each generation is the other’s climbing-tree, almost conceivable as a retrocausal circle of effect. And, again, the flames climb the trees, seen from across the other side of the metaphorical lake, here silver ones of the electronic (?) moon as it tries selflessly to pull the books from the branches or selflessly to push them back again, as I infer. (13 Feb 12)
    Among the Old
    “The ancient trees turn colour even as I watch; they are expert with the properties of light.”
    As if by magic, this vignette complements the previous – in hindsight – co-vignette: where the circularity of youth and age, text and light, multiplicity and singularity, becomes deeply poetic if simply conceived in a park where one keeps seeing one’s own face in others. As I do in this book. Once a book of trees, now of “silvering” moonlight? (13 Feb 11 – 20 minutes later)

    The Little Dead Girl
    “I’m just going to have to give you a bath! All that filthy clay on you…”
    Now an ostensibly dysfunctional inter-generationality between a mother and daughter (genuinely dysfunctional in contrast to the father-son situation earlier today which was well-intentioned if clumsy) – with the daughter seeming to have a traditional ‘imaginary friend’ who appears in various places as a dead little girl. It is all rather disturbing: and I wonder if the paper sacks used for the daughter’s lunch that she effectively stock-piled each day as accumulating rubbish in a ditch on the way to school has some oblique synergy with the polemics, if any, of my review heretofore. I am at a loss how to place this story in the growing gestalt – perhaps that will become clearer. As it does, to some extent, when seen in synergy externally with ‘The Little Dirty Girl’ by Joanna Russ (that I reviewed here): as if that clay is some sort of potential ‘statue rind’? A nurturing or heart-melting bath (as illustrated above) rather than a scraping-off one? And the story’s special school some sort of punishment come full circle for us all when seeing our faces – as earlier today – in the faces of others, even in the faces of some so very old that dead they’ve become? (13 Feb 12 – another 90 minutes later)
    In a Guest House
    “…then the bald man passed serving plates around, nodding vigorously as if it were the most wonderful thing in the world to be doing.”
    (Those little meticulous caring things again cumulatively considered). And now that ‘special school’ is replaced, and paralleled, by a Guest House. The story of Brian, a well-intentioned, if fallible, salesman and clumsily caring father and husband whose worries are paying the bills. After perhaps ‘sleepwalking’ while driving his office car, he strangely finds himself in a Guest House where worries are seemingly expunged (except for the odd anxiety of the other guests’ strange behaviour or clothes provided that are so starchy clean they have edges sharp enough to cut or glimpses of half-monstrous pets coming round the door into the dining-room or accumulating strangers ever-changing as guests or a consistent presence of the disarmingly officious bald man). A gentle, flat-lining experience … but, then, when seen in in external synergy with Robert Aickman’s ‘The Hospice’ (that I reviewed here), I wonder if Book is effectively talking to Book rather than Story talking to Story within the same Book, because of the now uncovered ease of electronic communication between both these Stories from different books with each of them having recently been re-published in an electronic way…? For me at least, this is an added, if mischievously questionable, frisson to an already delightfully enjoyable absurdist fantasy. (13 Feb 12 – another 90 minutes later)
    flag “Can you recall the lasting effect of the most deeply disturbing collection of horror stories you’ve ever encountered? The narratives join hands…” — Dominy Clements

  5. Underground
    A substantial Tem story, without a doubt, and, for me, a personally important one that (like all the stories in this book so far) I’ve just read for the first time. It carries this book’s own internally connected themes plus a pre 9/11 ground zero (or cone zero – see another Nemonymous volume that preceded cern zoo), here a seemingly deliberate building construction hole, with encroaching themes of that hole ineluctably being out of control, and themes concerning explicitly stated statues, ‘tree-men’, travel to ‘earth’s core’, the swimmability within ground or earth [and in my novel ‘Nemonymous Night’ it is flyability in the earth as well as swimmability! – a novel, for me, felicitously and coincidentally and differently resonating with Tem’s ‘Underground’ as perhaps encapsulated by the concept of what I call ‘hawling’] – and the poignancy of ‘difference’, sexual prejudice and many other factors I could enumerate. Here quite brilliantly connected within Poe’s premature burial fear – and a bereft sense or fear of leaving no descendants (note that word!), even too fearful to leave one’s dead body so as to mulch the future? Hence, that bereftness, too, perhaps, when there is no inter-generationality by enforced personal proclivity, i.e. no potential posterity. It’s as if we’ve been led artfully to this point by the previous stories, whereby the meticulously caring among us can now be shown how to care horizontally as well as vertically. You will know what I mean. An intensely caring literature. And so much more, too, like messages not getting through. This one, for me, did. But one needs to read literature with all these moments of meticulous care in their cumulation so as to reach such a point. A ‘hawling’ of emotions to the surface so as to optimise their message, empowering it even further by making readers work hard to ‘hawl’ the meanings free from their clinging roots. But God knows, even optimisation is often not enough. We can only do our best. A story for our times. And for the moving ‘dead’ in the Guest House of our soul. (13 Feb 12 – another 90 minutes later)
    Dark Shapes in the Road
    I have sensed an anxiety about car-driving emanating from this book before now. Accidents, rear-view mirrors, night driving, ‘sleepwalking’, map-reading amid road-mazes – and, here, my own fears about such an activity (I have been driving a car since the early 1970s) are given exaggerated respect! To the extent of roadkill killing back… For me, a beautifully self-cringing Horror essay in dysfunctional health-and-safety concerns within the mind and actions – again typical for this book – of a family man and the meticulously vigilant care he must ever maintain moment by moment when driving his children from place to place. To the extent of such an anxiety becoming a greater danger in itself than the danger about which it is anxious. [This book increasingly seems to be telling me that it is about me rather than about anything else. Its covers about to be ripped off in an accident (if it had covers).] (13 Feb 12 – another 2 hours later)
    It stood in front of me in the mirror-like glass, filling my image completely, cancelling out my reflection.”
    And in the light of the previous story where I clinchingly saw myself in the book: here we have the actual ‘coded’ pixels – mentioned before in the book and in this review – coupled with the book’s crucial inter-generational factor (here father-daughter) merging and blending with a wonderfully grotesque in-joke about (a beautifully evoked) Lovecraftian Innsmouth imbued with that same author’s ‘Outsider’-syndrome. Indeed, a most frightening experience for any reader like me who has taken the meticulously loving care, detail by detail, tiny reference by tiny reference, authorial quirk by authorial quirk, to reach this far into the book and, thus, tantamount to have been contained by that same book: nay, a book that does not contain the reader but *is* the reader: a reader now trapped under the glass: amid many tangibly, if mutantly, three-dimensional words of graffiti like upraised skin disease and real gills pulsing instead of electronic text. (13 Feb 12 – another 90 minutes later)
    At the End of the Day
    At the end of the day he imagines that somewhere else, beyond the limited vision his windshield provides, events of terrible beauty are taking place.”
    A litany of ‘at-the-end-of-the-days’ eventually becomes – despite the basically trite nature of this phrase – incantatory, hypnotic … and a ‘terrible beauty’ does indeed stem from these dark poetics of a deliveryman (with, of course, the increasingly customary inter-generational family waiting for his return home from his earning their bread), a deliveryman with a package to deliver, grappling with this book’s already endemic anxieties and dangers of driving a vehicle through the map mazes of a crestfallen city (seems like the quantitative uneasing of today although I guess this story was spent delivering its own paper package long ago), driving his van with both package and message still to be delivered: fearing he will never get through to the correct address (the package’s message like the book’s earlier message about burial and cremation?): a delivery that simply must be made by the end of the day… This story, therefore, suitably seems to fit the rhythmic incantatory pattern of this book so far (not so much with repetitive words but with a form of secretly transformational grammar), a pattern which will send me to bed already asleep at the end of the day, at the end of today, ready for my own delivery-patterns of forgotten dream. I’ll soon be in neutral, after the day’s overdrive draws to another sporadic disengagement of my ill-synchromeshed clutch. Night night. (13 Feb 12 – another 3 hours later)

  6. Woken fresh, this morning. Valentine’s Day. My second thought today (after giving my wife my traditional ‘anonymous’ card to mark the day), was about the long-held tradition of giving a copy of the Bible (certainly in the UK) to participants of Court cases for swearing the oath on. I was wondering if they will ever start offering an Ebook version of the Bible contained within a Kindle or Ipad to place one’s hand upon? Just asking that question bears somewhat upon the subject of any books that are held to be sacred (however many editions of them exist) and perhaps tells us something about this whole ongoing debate. The centuries-long existence of physical books, whatever they contain, however new or old they are, will always prove something about remaining ‘sacred’ in some sense of that word. (14 Feb 12 – 8.00 a.m. gmt)
    The Far Side of the Lake – Steve Rasnic Tem
    Real-Time Review continued from HERE
    There were trees so tall he couldn’t see their tops. There was ground that hid stone and pockets of stone,…”
    A haunting ‘boy’ story blending the best of, say, King, Bradbury and Tem (cf: the climbing tree story earlier). The boy was physically born – as if by deliberate accident on his pregnant mother’s trip – in Chicago, a fact which, for me, and semi-consciously for his parents, has some astrologically mis-harmonic effect on his outcome as a person in his home town of Greystone Bay, thus presenting a new slant on this book’s fragility of inter-generationality theme. I say, ‘mis-harmonic’, but that depends how you look at it: as this boy, Willis, ‘benefits’ from what I call a primary-source imagination, a larger-than-life synaesthesia of creativity amid his often clumsy relationship with his peers, two of whom are well-characterised in this story. This story crystallises eventually towards an amorphous image, an image which paradoxically, against the grain, focusses the reader’s attention beyond life’s normal ‘real’ clutter towards a mystic awareness that only good fiction can actually create (cf: the centaur in that earlier story by the sea). [Transcending the real clutter of this ipad, as just one example: a transcendancy that is not required with a ‘primary source’ of a physical book: more spiritually intrinsic, for me, to a great work of fiction than a machine happens to be.] (14 Feb 12 – three and a half hours later)
    Ice House Pond
    “More life meant more death.”
    A novella-sized tour de force. The male protagonist says the pond is much bigger than it is. A strange statement. [But this ebook is much bigger than it is, too. I had no idea how big when I started it – unlike with a real thick book in your hand as you riffle through its pages assessing its scope. Certainly got my money’s worth.] Thus, by means of that ostensibly strange statement, sharing the previous story’s boy’s larger-than-life or imagino-kinetic abilities and whose ‘fog’ trope is now here to be frozen. The male protagonist (who suffers his own past of inter-generational tragedies of wife and daughter in a car accident and more) takes over a desolate ice-property (you have to read this novella to appreciate the enormous stunning scope of that expression, that ‘ice-property’ concept in real cold-numbing, cold-abrading, shard-tall grandeur as well as this book’s erstwhile seedy ‘Leaks‘ potential infecting that grandeur, the erstwhile ‘Underground‘ and its ‘hawling’ images, its death-sacrifices to prevent suffering, the purging of past sorrows by creating today greater sorrows or diseases that are paradoxically easier to bear, the Concentration Camp gas ovens [that map-maze with yellowish haze the “mad scientist’s” inner earth of my aforementioned ‘Nemonymous Night’ by dint of its sister novella ‘Weirdtongue’]; the Ice House’s inner scrying cryological crystal-ball shapes both sickishly mutant and ripe with potential stunning palaces of magic realism (not unlike that sometimes evoked by ‘Oscar and Lucinda’ in retrospect) – “…the cold had the presence and intensity of stone” – the ‘genius loci’ of the house, ice pond, ice house that he’s bought, complete with nursery, is via cumulatively powerful prose, or rather an ice-genie-loci? The sun like a huge white eye in the sky reminding me that it is my eye scrying the white screen of this novella (it’s white on my screen). “Magic ice“. “Ice palaces“. This is Greystone Bay again, now complete with a hinterland of the missing people that the ice has taken and turned into self-redemptive ghosts (your self, not necessarily their selves). An ice house with the scope of a literally global shock, too. Ice block, “love breath” (sharing a bed is important on Valentine’s Day of all days, and I agree with what this novella says so touchingly on this score!). “The oldest cold”. The madness-veined ice-walls. Can memories be frozen like food? (My question, not the novella’s). Fishermen fishing for painted fish (still waiting for something to happen?). Can you tell I’m impressed? Yes, I particularly resonate with the cruel kindness of such fiction. It is replete with traditional stylisms of the Horror fiction genre; it’s as if the artificial world built up cumulatively like an ice sculpture, striking image piled upon striking image with feverous authorial gluttony; it never actually goes over the top because of those genre tropes employed so skilfully, even though it may go over the top for some not accustomed to such literature; and it will melt like all great ice sculptures will inevitably melt as my memory fades with the onset of old age and even my sadnesses will be numbed by the coming ice beyond any melting. Accepting that is like appreciating what makes you accept that. Like this novella. There’s even a bookshop in it with real redolent books waiting to be riffled through. Only global catastrophe will destroy them, I guess. (14 Feb 12 – another 4 hours later)
    The Dancers in the Leaves
    “I used to have a living husband, a good man, and now I have a stone to visit on Sundays.”
    Someone who denies his status as a ghost-hunter tries to solve the rhapsodic angst of an old woman whose Valentine seems long past. I have an affinity with Autumn, as some may know already, having read my reviews. This is a delightful ‘dancing on air’ in the tradition of Frances Oliver fitting to exhume any Valentine worth his salt.. (14 Feb 12 – another 2 hours later)
    A complete and utter shock, I assure you. I can safely say that the experience of reading this story for the first time today (finished in the last few minutes) — in today’s context and in the light of what I have already said about Valentine’s Day above — is THE most amazing reading experience of my whole life. No exaggeration. And, furthermore, in itself, it is a great story, too, even when disregarding the dark serendipities seemingly involved in me reading it today of all days. A strongly explicit Valentine’s Day story with encroaching ‘Leaks’, as well as a plot definitely backstoried by this book’s theme of inter-generational posterity, here as a sad motive for this story’s (‘Tales of the Unexpected’-type) dénouement. ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE. I don’t necessarily expect you to believe me, but it is undeniably true. Here, as possible evidence, is the publisher’s public suggestion a few days ago that I embark on this book as my first real-time review of an ebook, i.e a book by an author whose work I knew I hadn’t read as much as I should have done – an author I have long admired from the odd few stories I have read of his before reading this book. I must now surely take breath, and continue this review another day. (14 Feb 12 – another hour later)
    Her flesh became a thin paper memory, dry and without scent.”
    This is a highly poetic soliloquy (disguised as a a fiction narrative) of a Ghost Hunter dwelling on bereavement and finally embracing impermanence, as he sits in his favourite trip out during the Autum of his yearss; a bouquet of smells, archaeologically-primed ectoplasm, global shock or earthquake (cf ‘Underground’ and ‘Ice House Pond’) – and a post-life, dare I say, post-Valentine meditation upon his late wife and then upon others “lost” from his life as another word for ‘dead’. It is beautiful, it is unbearable. Another reading experience to cherish. I am so glad I was encouraged to visit this book’s complete text. If it were not for ebooks I may never have been introduced to it. And the ‘thin paper memory’ quote above seems to be a tellingly oblique testament to that. And the story’s last lines, too. All that together with “old breath” to match the book’s earlier “cold breath”, tears “in the grain of stone“, “diggings“, scryings, cryings, cryologies. I originally sensed the aforementioned soliloquy to be Shakespearean, like one of Hamlet’s. Nah, no point in mentioning that in my review, I told myself. Just my imagination … until I came across the phrase “too solid flesh“. (15 Feb 12)

  7. The Snow People
    Charlie Goode was a great believer in synchronicity.”
    The next Ghost-Hunter story seems to me to be the natural, yet unpredictable, progression of this book’s inter-generationality theme towards an absurdist but – due to this book’s ‘magic fiction’ as opposed to mere ‘magic realism’ alone – highly believable culmination. Via the imputed cryologies of ‘gradual’ bereavement and by means of ‘passing on’ rather than being ‘lost’ or vanishing altogether during the death process, here the powers let loose by the ‘Ice House Pond’ give their answer to all Ligottian nihilism by embracing that nihilism: by stitching music from snowflakes: allowing fiction to be our religion, tantamount. Seems to be synchronous with my ‘relaxed snowman’ photo above that was placed on this site around 5 Feb before I started reading this book. Do work through the logic of this story together with the foregoing backstories, and you will see, I hope, what I see in this story. There are some incredible descriptions of those hanging on to death and thus to life – ‘playing’ in the snow. It is simply a gem of a piece that needs to be read before you are lost or pass on yourself. Or possibly keep it unread, and you will never die? Meanwhile: “Inside, Charlie found Bobby helping Jimmy dump several boxes of old books and knick-knacks into a large crate labelled TRASH.” (15 Feb 11 – two hours later)
    [There is much cutlery in Elizabeth Bowen fiction.] As with ‘The Little Dead Girl’, I am unsure how this story fits into the book’s gestalt. There it was a gender issue, here a racial one. The ‘gay’ references in ‘Underground’, on the other hand, seemed readily to fit it. That’s not to say this story isn’t another striking example of Temrest (either a pause in life’s music that is more significant than the music itself or an implement to help reach across literature’s snooker-table towards meaning or the place where we all go during temporality’s endless bereavement process of Self). An oblique meaning that is often stronger than a linear one. It’s just the cutlery here provides a new version of the book’s ‘rear-view mirror’. And the beef in the freezer just another facet of the Ice House’s translucent stone and the visible ‘passing on’ or ‘lost’ creatures to be carved from within it. Or it is the text within the screen conveying interactions of book-matter, body-matter, meat-suits, climbing-trees … stories to entertain you or philosophy to tantalise you. Escapist Eschatology. (15 Feb 12 – another two and half hours)
    “…and dozens of variously designed lightning rods covering the rooftop like a city of fairyland towers.”
    …or ice palaces? Lightning-rods as a probably unnecessary precaution against Temrest turning to Tempest? This story is tantamount to a twinning with ‘Aquarium’, which at the time of me reading it a few days ago had an Elizabeth-Bowenesque feel with its sense of furniture and room and place, and here in this new story even more so. Also, I should make it clear – before I forget – that the last few stories in this book concern a well-characterised Ghost Hunter / Collector / Archaeologist of sorts called Charlie Goode: who is possibly the soul of this book. Not the author. Nor various independent internal narrators or protagonistic voices. But some future ghost made solid by its own past. His relationship with his grandson takes inter-generationality nearer to the thought that genes often miss a generation (as my grandmother Alice once told me). And, here, Charlie’s conscientiousness of resuming acquaintance with Jane, his first sweetheart (now grown old and who preceded a subsequent sweetheart who happened to become his wife now deceased with all the resonances that this situation entails by dint of this book’s preceding power). Meanwhile, this story mainly concerns the inverse of the de-cluttering of books and knick-knacks seen in ‘The Snow People’, i.e. now become, here, a re-cluttering by a whole past, by a whole family-hinterland: the retrieving of their knick-knacks, sculptures, statues etc as if what is being retrieved is a collection of the souls of so-called objects to be re-made as one soul. This resonates so sublimely with this book’s actual gestalt (as well as with the tentative gestalt I have personally given it concerning ebooks and traditional books) that I don’t think I will force it by taking these patterns too far (as I may have done already). The book works: with or without me. Perhaps the act of book-reviewing itself needs only a light touch to achieve. But I shall never learn. (15 Feb 12 – another 90 minutes later)
    Goode Farm
    [Elizabeth Bowen often wrote fulsomely about Christmas Eve in her many stories and novels – and about Christmas decorations – and the fractured soul beyond. Only rare books get reviewed on my cherished Elizabeth Bowen site. This is one such rare book, the first one that ends its review here.] This story has a the concept of archaeology made easier through snow than through earth, whatever the ‘hawling’-processes used, I infer. Here, Charlie is staying overnight in his childhood home of a family farm (probably driven himself there with some anxiety?), a place now become that ‘ice house’: hit, without warning, by a sudden blanketing snow storm (the Tempest having seemingly dislodged the Temrest after all) – and the snowman is no longer relaxed, I sense. The objects of memory or of family beneath their own shapelessness. The crux of the inter-generationality – amid this book’s meticulous caring actions as rhapsodic enumeration of Christmas decorations – is perhaps made clearer as backdrop to the ‘fairy tale’, as an epiphany that has been reached across the green baize by the foregoing book’s intrinsic Temrest? Krampas, Santa’s wicked little helper, who makes Charlie literally wish that genes had missed one generation, I guess. You will know what I mean should you read this whole book to this end point. An epiphany, true, but also a catharsis, a purging? You will have to see for yourself. Perhaps, the author will need to do so, too. The Intentional Fallacy absolves me, I hope. All I will say is that the “sharp green boughs” had explicit blood oozing from them. And Krampas is an anagram, nay, palindrome of ‘sapmark’. “…it had been passed down the generations,...”. Or had been passed on down them? Or lost by them? Hopefully, here rediscovered at the tail-end of eternity. My endless Autumn. (I shall now hope to place this simply great book on my bookshelf with all the others). (15 Feb 12 – another 2 hours later)

    First two sections.
    “Instead of returning to his seat he continued on to the front, eyeing the back of the driver’s head as he swayed. Once or twice he accidentally grabbed someone’s shoulder or arm to steady himself. He’d apologize profusely, but even when a couple of people told him he wasn’t supposed to be up on the moving bus he steadfastly made his way toward his destination.”
    This is a delight for someone like me who is a fan of Tem. A bit like Deadfall Hotel, so far, in tone, starting with Eric half waking half dreaming or half dozing half doing something other than sleeping in his bed, his wife beside him. Outright funny and obliquely absurd and strangely disquieting. Was that the unusual ringing of the phone awoke him? Twinges of agoraphobia, when called distantly by his brother to see his Mum dying in their hometown, a place he left for good many years before, and he reluctantly goes on the long-haul bus without his wife, with that sense of anxiety I get in journeys, whether the bus is going in the right direction? Or as far as his hometown? Only for him, it appears, says the justifiably grumpy driver, otherwise they would have turned back at the town before. This is fine vintage stuff. A blurred, fractious, disarmingly clumsy premature ageing about Eric?

  2. Next two sections
    “Instead, he wrapped himself up like the others, one more traveling mummy on the bus, and closed his eyes.”
    Well, we have the continued delight (for us, at least) of Eric’s idiosyncratic bus journey, each passenger with a supplied over-blanket, one passenger with a layer of newspaper, too, whom Eric just about recognises as being the older version of Nancy whom he once hoped would be his first girl friend back in the youthful day. Don’t let me tell you more of the now remembered encounter between Nancy and his Mum. You need to read it from scratch yourself to gain the full grotesquely hilarious benefit of it as a reading experience! But one thing I will mention is that I later noticed that “August was too warm” for the outfit Nancy then chose to wear. No change there, then!

  3. Next section
    “Some of the vines had actually made inroads into the pavement, which meant real trouble after a few cycles of freeze and thaw.”
    Eric is dropped by the bus at the ‘door’ of the farm, and you won’t believe the dereliction’s description of itself, surely beyond even dark deliberation by any author, I would guess. Including vestigial human appendages, fake or real, that I cannot even hint at from what I just read. Though I just did! And his brother’s welcoming words include some fake news…?
    As an aside, I often notice inadvertent or preternatural connections with other books I am gestalt real-time reviewing simultaneously. Compare the above quote with the story’s ambiance read yesterday HERE and this novella’s whole scenario with the inverse nature of expectations when arriving at a building and difficult rites of passage (including similar vines in the quote above!) in a different novella today being experienced HERE.

  4. Next two sections
    These sections as I seem to have opportunely called them making the whole. Like some people being the whole of the place where they live or lived as its genius loci, being the constituent traits of body and mind that make or made them, the person we know or knew, those sections of self that we cohere to make the person we love – or hate… or fear … or wish to forget … or remember when we have forgotten them … or put out of sight even when they stand in front of us.
    As I do with my gestalt real-time reviewing, cultivating, like Voltaire, a book’s fine garden. Or making it more overgrown and cluttered, an ideal retreat? Among the living.
    “…he heard himself yelling, the sound issuing from everywhere.”

  5. Next two sections
    “This is sink hole country.”
    Where deadly snakes are called salesmen, an overgrown garden the depth of a family’s past not as ‘white trash’ but as a residual mulch of living itself, still living? Even moving, beyond just being static household waste? Enough space to lose a cell phone, whose number Eric once ‘taught’ not told Marie back home, beyond the start of the bus journey. (Sorry, Marie wasn’t his ‘wife’ back home, as I said at the start of this review, but live-in girl friend.)
    Now to the sharp-edged spades of digging further into this story’s own sink-hole about a sink-hole. Must be careful not to slice off my own foot in the process! Sectioned, as reviewer.

  6. Last foresections
    “Some things, once begun, had to be played out until an ending was achieved, of whatever sort.”
    An ending is achieved. But at what cost? So utterly poignant, so uplifting in a strange inchoate convulsion of realisation. For any fans of Tem reading my sectioned review, I’d say this novella is essential reading. Surprised I had never heard of it before.
    The last few scenes, the digging in the garden, the gestalt of Mother, the relationship between the two brothers, the art installations discovered, so utterly convulsive again, the routines of existence compared between the two of them, their existential doubts, the new triangulation of the coordinates of the Nancy memory (the woman recognised on the bus journey out), then the bus journey back, the telling observations of the scenes inside and outside the bus. We are that bus? The return to the city but to whom?
    “A number of things came out all at once, connected.”


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Singularity and Other Stories – Melanie Tem (1)

29 thoughts on “Singularity and Other Stories – Melanie Tem”

  1. TELLS
    “– more than once I’d performed alone inside a room while the client peeped from the hushed and dim-lit corridor.”
    …via the security squint-hole of a hotel’s room door.
    As we do here, watching through the squint hole of the ‘pretty boy’ first-person narrative lens, but do we see the panorama of the mountains where he takes his male client called Jon, someone who seems only to need a snuggle or cuddle…nothing more overtly sexual.
    This story is full of ‘tells’ stemming from poker games, a serendipitous chance of buyer and seller of love, ‘tells’ that extend to all manner of human emotions and motives, and I learnt a lot about such machinations in this story, and the interchanging coldness and warmth of human nature, but who of our two main protagonists, could I tell, was which?
    Author and narrator, too? And through whose peephole?

    “…the crack in the windshield is spreading,…”
    …spreading to encompass the panorama of old Howard’s farm, as he dwells, from within his entropic truck, upon thoughts of his own marriage, his cityside son who has had no yen to inherit farming in his blood, his daughter in law Jody, and his own marriage to Eleanor…
    “…and Russian olives not far away.”
    Still entropic, we are using Howard’s widening point of view, and with the now proven capability of his becoming lost in one of his own fields that he planted, as one of those endemic hailstorms approaches over the mountains, mountains he can often discern on the horizon. Another story of tells, story spells, of tender insulation against others but a hidden love nonetheless, a guilt, too. A poignant story that irrigates the past?
    “You can’t keep your children from straying into the cornfield, but you’re duty-bound to teach them how to get out.”

    “Fiona was not playing ‘Misty’ now but a riff off her own, variations on themes of formlessness and formative love.”
    If there is a story designed for my own gestalt of tastes in stories, this is it, or at least one of a rare few. Slightly atonal key, at least. It is a Sinatra-Garland-Streisand-type-rhapsodic character study of a number of musicians and singers who tour the piano bars, members of the audience, too, with a deliciously unspoken-but-implicitly-sung-metaphor-smoky roomful, doomful tone. And its human repercussions, at an insulated level of imagined style and sound. Cannot do justice to it. Needs to be read.
    As if the cover’s peepful eye has become a musical key-hole?

    “cm + df, it said.”
    A truly aching story of an ever-loving 17 year old marriage. Oh, Bonnie and Adrian, I feel for you both, not just one of you. Adrian unaccountably and suddenly leaves off loving and goes wild in the Mall. Leaving Bonnie with the two sons. Towards her vision of a diaspora (a word I often use in connection with Joel Lane fiction in a similar context of grouping together lost souls), a diaspora of all her friends’ lost husbands on the banks of a river. I feel like the reading of this story is tantamount to carving my own graffiti, its word by its word, searing into the bark, like peepholes, a bark that once contained the pages’ wood and letting in things to destroy me from within, even though those things come from without. Not a SF prophecy of mass early Alzheimer’s but a real one of late Alzheimer’s come early enough to save our later pain. Or more than this. Or less.

    “The hole in the side of her head seemed to be deeper than thin scalp. She tried to reach the itch inside.”
    Extrapolating the Tempo from Tem…
    This is alien to me, as well as horrific, the concept of “amusia”. My whole life is drowned in music. A SF story that starts without music, straight-faced, battle of wills and alien care for this woman with a rare obsessive madness akin to amusia, even if the aliens couldn’t care, music being kept somewhere deep in their history – a woman fighting against music’s itch, its pressure for her self-harm, and I tried to empathise, but of course, music is everywhere eventually, in discordance and atonality, even, for me, in silence as composed by Cage as well as in a Cantata by Bach, and, here, in one of the aliens humming. DId that alien even WANT to care? Exposing her to the inevitable gestalt of music that we all must face, even when empathising otherwise. Music that is in our souls. No escape. An itch like death?

  6. ICED IN
    “Binding the star-pattern quilt with Mom, which didn’t make the long iced-in days go any faster but did give them edges and design; she still used the quilt, in tatters now because she hadn’t kept up with the mending. ‘Sorry, Mom.'”
    Deeply felt decision-making that makes us human, and here is Kelly in the house – where she lived with her Mom and others – now beset by an ice-storm without snow, with cracks in the wall the size of icicles. The description of ice could cut you, literally, gouge you as if you were aspen? Denny, her man, I guess, had wandered off in a similar ice-storm some years ago? Well, that’s what resides in my mind from this powerful tale, having read it this morning. And we have followed Kelly as, disoriented, she tries to route herself towards that part of the house known as the ‘just in case’ room where some of her Mom’s warm quilts still might be. We all need our own just-in-case room, in case those human decisions don’t go well – and where death cannot reach us?
    (The woman to whom I have so far been married for 47 years also makes quilts, her name variously known as Killy or Denny, depending on who is calling her.)

    “Madison’s thoughts were babyish, full of holes and sharp broken pieces and mushy spots, mostly about fighting things off — fighting something off right now, something circling and poking and trying to get in –”
    Little Shit knew this space. An important story, I guess, the next one in this Singularity of Stories. This growing gestalt of go-betweenness.
    About a woman who acts as a honey trap for paedophiles, physically challenged by height with child-like proportions, while needing a ‘boobie girdle’ and being shaved. A rite of passage as her latest case is someone called Lourdes whom Madison/Littke Shit already closely knows, Lourdes who works, too, as a social worker, allegedly exploiting the access allowed.
    Rôle-play scenario (as in UBO?) where fingering is just a way you’ve been fingered before, using a doll or something more real. Madison and her alter ego Little Shit in interaction, too. This is a very clever scenario, one with which one can become involved, I guess. A story that is a honey trap itself? Sex like music in the amusia story? Full of ‘tells’.
    Very well characterised and defiantly memorable. Important, as I say.

    “One time Ib showed her where Layayx is. First it was a dot that kept moving lik a teeny-tiny ball.”
    “Then her tooth come out, a little bloody white kernel between her two fingers.”
    A socket story, one I needed to work hard at to extract its node of vision. The story works hard with itself, too, as the aliens’ language when living with People people on Earth whom they are progressively adopting needs to fit root in socket, language AND bodies, and the text takes time to fit the two together, by dint of phonetics, semantics, mores and the bodies themselves (teeth and hair and limb or flipper appendages etc.) And also with bodies, peeing, pooping … and their organs of sex? It is the story of Sonya looking forward to adoption day when the Judge’s hammer will make her an alien in one fell swoop, in all respects, or so she thinks. Poignantly, the outcome is different. And this story being published alongside ‘Little Shit’ is, for me, revelatory. Is this review the first time the two stories have been mutually synergised, as they must be? The touching of body parts, the social worker, a complementary and foul, here Axan, curse of unwelcome touching? Whether rôle or real.

  9. I read and reviewed the next story in March 2013 and below is what I wrote about it then in that earlier context –
    “The rotation of streets (right on Monroe which had been yellow, […] asphalt streets with potholes and faded center lines and traffic lights, […] the red energy kind of aggression…”
    If the previous story was ‘plainly told’, this story of mnemonic triggers instead of (but comparable to) the ‘spores’ is constructively and densely textured with a wonderful acquiral of prose you can chew, smell and taste and send your mind along it: ever towards its satisfyingly accretive meaning, revealing an inferred, spikily sexy plot that climaxes with an effective SF Horror scenario one is rarely privileged to encounter. Without giving too much away, it’s a theme and variations on memory via jigsaws of gender, intention, self, culture, holo and body, each consciousness managing to uphold some sort of integrity when faced with others also trying to manage their own integrity, with an aura, amid this process, of prize fighting (or sexual congress (or genetic engineering)). Personally, I found all this forming a parallel with my five year tussle with shaping gestalts from fiction’s leitmotifs as part of my real-time reviewing. Canetti’s crowd participants towards a unit, Butler’s spores as a crystallisation of a particular emotion, images passing through a “phenakistoscope” becoming whole and real…while tuned to the dissonance of a bow across cello strings…or is this all “strategic hyperbole” on my part?

  10. DREAN
    “You didn’t want to be in trouble with Muvver. You really didn’t want to be in trouble with the Protectors.”
    An engaging story with some words from a playful lookalike language (Clockwork Orange, Riddley Walker?), where there are accepted strictures of behaviour for Agnes (aka as another name, too), with a GG as well as a Muvver. And the Favver with Proctectors, not for him to be protected so much as children like Agnes. Protected by being emptied of drean. And of a story in the head after sleeping, And of soft music: Cf amusia and the encroaching of music earlier in this book. Also other accretive destructions of Agnes’ trust as there were for the ‘girls’ in the Little Shit / Corn Teeth diptych of stories.
    Reminds me felicitously of the tone and aura of a place called Oothangbart, in a novel I read and reviewed recently, and they have ‘a place beyond’, here in Tem a place out-of-Wernatown with shiny buildings, and there a place called Bristol…

    “He kept repeating, ‘Can’t stay go away can’t stay go away,’ until finally, to stop himself, he burst into tears.”
    A woman’s monologue as story, about her three children (one adopted, one a daughter, but not the adopted one, with his own special needs, his birth mother with drugs, the monologuist herself as a mother with alcohol) over a long period of time, their differences from each other, their staying power, their loseability, her daughter’s seeming normal, alongside her own, the mother’s, normality or otherwise, her own, the mother’s, differences and frailties and eventual strengths within herself over the same period.
    But are the three children the parts of a single gestalt child? And with their mother, the monologuist, as her own part of that gestalt, and as eventual G (and later as GG?), as all the stories in this book will eventually become a gestalt’s gestalt, a singularity of stories stemming from the same mother?
    A telling story that does not give its pay-off after a single reading, but predictably will do so should I read it again, giving me birth as its reader, to stop me rambling, wandering?

    “I said that once to one of the two or three grandmas or great grandmas who live in the Emmons household.”
    A shortish coda to the Gs and GGs from the previous pair of stories, here another druggie-mothered now adoptee child (continues naïve as she grows up) eventually developing pregnancies with those in the adopting household, but whose snakes were made to transcend lessons in biology or astronomy? The universe is one enormous generative organ, I guess. Sad, thoughtful story about naïveté and nativity, yet devastatingly horrific on the quiet, if you read it one way. A gentle fable about the relentlessly meticulous rituals in the art of honey traps in cake-making, if you read it another way. Which are you?

  13. DHOST
    “We’re carving punkins, Grandma! Bye!”
    Whether Dhost or Drean, in childspeak, this is another G as grandparent story, one about Gail’s three, then four, year old granddaughter Corry, a name short for a word that would be a spoiler to divulge here. Corry’s father is Gail’s son. The father and son and Holy Ghost? What about him? He is in prison, unvisited, almost incommunicado till the end. The daughter in law a feisty go-between between the grandparents and the granddaughter. The ghost and dhost in symbiosis?
    As well as an intriguing contribution to this book’s singularity, the story is an effective ghost story around Halloween – and includes cookie baking. And not being able to handle the future properly even if you saw the future.
    One day will there be a Corry’s son, I wonder?

    “…and the rainbow fringe of its mane.
    The aroma of horseflesh and flowers without a name.
    A nickering at the border of words.”
    My enjambement, not the book’s.
    The apotheosis of poignancy, if any story can claim such a superlative.
    And this story surely can.
    Amelia is at the stage I can recognise in myself of brain mush and dozing that I can imagine daytime TV instilling, or is the onset of age? Well, she has visits from a boy, she whom he adopts as his Half-Grandma. With waffles and astronomy, and more, and in this book’s preceding conducive context, even more telling. And an extra horse in the paddock in her garden, a white one with a knob in the centre of the forehead, an incipient cancer or the nub of a horn? – or the omen of a fatal cancer-saving stroke? And the boy’s reaction, and Amelia’s, to the beast.’s vicinity between them….exquisitely, constructively sad.
    ½G + small child = a Singularity?

    “a foreign language: fractions”
    I wonder if this is the same type of gorilla as in the Flannery O’Connor story. If so, it takes on a Peeping Tom in plain sight theme, where the gorilla sitting outside a girl’s bedroom window as she grows into puberty takes on a new light!
    The girl is lonely, only one friend, and so there is a referred way she thinks the gorilla is lonely, too. A lonely female gorilla, she assumes by the pronoun she uses as ‘her’. There is no single interpretation of this story, the way the gorilla’s yellow eyes actually come into the room through the glass of the window. No rhyme and reason for this gorilla being where the girl sees it – a new Fay Wray not with her KK but her better ½ as G? I could go on with other interpretations. They may become central to some future gestalt of a gorilla… or some unique foreign language that nobody yet knows how to translate.

  16. HOUSE FULL OF HEARTS (with Joseph R. Tem)
    “Scary stuff could get you anywhere, anytime it felt like it, and the world was full of scary stuff.”
    Delightfully child-like naïveté about the nativity of childhood’s monsters, like an alligator under the bed, but soon the birth of what I thought at first was Steve McQueen’s pink cinematic Blob or Noel Edmunds’ Mr. Blobby, but soon to overtake the story with a plague of its own eponymity. At first a frightening plague of this story’s eponyms but, by following Kelly’s lonely gorilla, the horror trope itself seems paradoxically a welcome replacement for one’s parents and for the safety that the nest between them in their bed once provided? Scary stuff can indeed get you anywhere!
    Still thinking about it. That’s no mean feat.

  17. THE NAME
    James the elder brother acts as babysitter for his two younger brothers or brats as he calls them, when the feisty Mum goes out to work, the father having departed after the divorce, the Dad who once took James fishing. He always needs to read aloud to them the story of Rumpelstiltskin … the imp who pops out the book like a real pop up person and only James can interact with him…. curse words, baseball, guessing the imp’s real name…
    I have failed this story. It was as if it taunted me for failing it. I even tried to work out a name from the letters that make up ‘mad’ and ‘scared’ so as to appease it. A story that now suddenly looks over my shoulder as I write this review about it. I hope half measures are better than none.

  18. THE CO-OP
    “…mother and daughter, how closely they both must resemble the mother and grandmother who had died at the mouths of her children…”
    That G equation and fraction again, but here the path of one to the other is almost unbearable as children are often unbearable in more ways than one. This is conveyed by a story of a child-minding co-operative, held today by various mothers with their babies and children in Julie’s basement, a day when the sky’s waters break, and serious floods from this rain ensue outside… with the scene inside threaded with food images, squirmy and slick-coated, and the women’s tales of their mothers and mothering – and the sheer attrition of having children at all, eating their way from inside, eating away at our lives, with at least one reference to throwing out sacrifices from the womb-balloon, as I might put it, if not the story putting it that way…
    You will not forget this powerful story. Don’t forget fathers, too, I say!

    “But for many years now, her needs for sleep and wakefulness had had as little to do with cycles of night and day as her aging did with the seasons.”
    By this Grace,
    Go we all.
    This work, at first, I thought was a retelling of Hansel and Gretel where there are now two witches (one with an ulcerated leg) and their explicit oven, the well-characterised people they tempt together with their enmeshed stories into the negligently upkept and littered house, but with both witches effectively becoming an aging Hansel and Gretel themselves, Babes in the Wood, after one witch was tempted in by the other witch many years before. (After all, their cat was a male mis-named as Jennifer.)
    This engagingly, if age-and-body-revoltingly and pathetically, literary-Beckettian story pans out differently but tellingly. And I, for one, think of all our ‘trails and webs’, in the context of gestalt real-time reviewing, and of these two quotes from the story…
    “…but the stories didn’t enmesh — hers with each other, or hers with theirs.”
    “Incomplete webs hovered in the air, strands straining to twist with other strands, tentacles hungry and groping.”

    “Parents can’t win, you know it?”
    Loosely associated with the earlier ‘doll’ story, social workers, a ‘grandmotherly’ influence, a father confesses the circumstances of his battle with bereavement when his wife dies and with his daughter caught in the trammels of the grandmotherly-seeming woman who lives opposite, who makes dolls, some life-sized and who co-opts his small daughter.
    This is a genuinely nightmarish story of dolls, and one of empathic fatherhood. Including the many daughters with whom you often have to deal, mood by mood, look by look, even when you only have one daughter…

    “He wasn’t good enough for her. I could not imagine what she saw in him.
    Unless it was the unlimited opportunity to play puppeteer, sculptor, inventor.”
    The author, too, all us authors. Until we work at crafting our characters, set them moving, and wait for them to discover who we are…
    “A role-reversed Pygmalion” to be “filled out like an inflatable doll”?
    This is Brenda talking to us, perhaps talking back to her author, as she visits another Kelly in this book, her friend from college who married Ron. Kelly appears fey, attenuated, but later temporarily inflated, warmed back from her chill, by the arrival of her young sons. As once Brenda’s father was attenuated in her own arms before his death.
    In which direction is your life’s attenuation, along the route of the G of gender or of the G of generation?
    Homely cooking, though, continues. The show must continue…
    This plot’s outcome as an example of this series of spiritual vampirisms of both Soul and Body makes me think that our inflatability is never proof against the puncturing of either Soul or Body. To the sound of wind chimes made slightly incarnate.

    “It took only a few seconds, and both she and Nathaniel shattered into some other form, countless other forms, shards and slivers of other forms forever beyond her reach.”
    I presume this is one of Melanie Tem’s acclaimed classics, even one of the great classics of all literature, on the level of Flannery O’Connor’s best. It tells of Abigail finding herself as a whore as young as possibly 13 in what I see naively, Britishly, as the mid-west and then, as she grows older, her journey by stagecoach as a product of a marriage agent to the Wild West. Her attachments and loves. So brilliantly characterised and described stylishly, with sagebrush, souls or not, snakes, flies, wingspans, orphan trains and, yes, again, snakes.
    Memorably special.
    “: high swift motion, bright sun and bright sky and bright wind.”

    “Made a mistake
    Kissed a snake”
    Can you imagine a ‘creature’ called Kathy? Or a precocious, petulant, tantrumic 11 year old girl called Crystal with pendulous breasts? I somehow think this textured fairy tale in modern times with a modern mother, complete with skipping rhymes about Cinderella, is told from the point of view of mild-mannered Cynthia, another 11 year old, rather than her mother Bridget’s from which it is otherwise ostensibly told. But who the changeling, who the captive, who the capturer and who the still point of this poetic wordstorm of nightmarish mothering, one that co-opts even the Co-Op as well as the snake in the previous story?
    God the driver, who’s up with Him on the top, who riding inside? After all, the Grimms and Hans Christian were men, but there are no men in this story except an imputed darkened Dale.
    This story itself is a changeling I somehow feel. And if I return to it, it will tell quite a different story from the one I think I have just read. Each reader a disturbed foundling.

    “Perhaps we are related. From the Diaspora.”
    A monologue, addressed to many named people, discretely, no?
    It has a broken rhythm tinged with Français; he is a guide in the Aroostook County, bigger than a lot of states, he says. Of gorbeys, moosebirds, jays, fog and his daughter Lina. And ring doughnuts. Engagingly idiosyncratic to my English ear. A genius loci I got.

    “It wasn’t long before I was thinking about my daughter, which was where my thoughts always settled when no place else would have them.”
    This is another story of social workers and mother-daughter relationships, relationships here in a negative symbiosis rather than a positive synergy, relationships of adopters and adoptees, too, tied into images from Grimms’ fairy stories, including Hansel and Gretel and Red Riding Hood. This includes the social worker’s mentor’s own such symbiosis with her own vanished daughter as well as that of those individuals who are subject to such social work. I found this plot a bit contrived compared to earlier ones, but beautifully written nevertheless.
    Meanwhile, here in this 1999 story, for another tantamount to a wilful child? … “For a little while the stand-in was treated like a king, wore fancy clothes and jewels and told everybody what to do. Then they burned him at the stake or buried him alive.” ….One can only hope.

    “a plain dog for his dog”
    Then Loozy the ‘guide’ dog wants to eat Clement’s unplain dog, and like finding oneself in a country of the blind by reading a blind story that slowly unfolds its visionary story by allowing the reader to feel the way into it rather than seeing it clearly straightaway.
    Seph’s family-building, the enforced eye-harm as a version of self harm, the no nickname girl unlike Katharine/Katha in the previous story. Backs to Walls, if not sunk in Wells. Workaday being an empty plate to be filled with unknown coins and notes. Alt-time, this review revealing its own inchoate version of blind real-time, blindness being something all story texts after all depend on to make your vision sharper, not seeing the characters, but truly feeling their harsh love and survival techniques, give or take the many rooted eye-props in this book….(by Jessica Fortner)

  27. BRAIDS
    “Once you get a boy friend you braid your hair. My mom’s got braids and all my aunties. I’m the oldest girl cousin. Don’t have a boyfriend. Don’t want one.”
    A very striking story, so utterly literary but free-flowing of this young girl called Regina and her extended family, their customs and expectations, the nature of their hair, one Granny’s feisty jigs, and Regina’s love of riding of GGs (gee-gees, aka horses) with her Sapphic horse mentor.
    Her Mom doesn’t know who her dad is. And Marcus wants to be her boy friend and braid her hair. A significant scene ensues of subtly were-horse riding and braiding and a final Sapphic kiss. Beautifully done.
    I am about halfway in this book, and it has slid down so easily. I may now have a sabbatical from reading it for a short while to let its wonderful pent-up expectations percolate. It is certainly a landmark book, and it seems, so far, in blended synergy with three other marathon reads and reviews of mine In recent years: Silvina Ocampo, Clarice Lispector and Leena Krohn.