Sunday, April 21, 2019

FAMILY MATTERS by Gaurav Monga


20 April 2019
by Gaurav Monga

“Running away from Ranjan is not easy given that Ranjan is whom you are running away from.”
A series of short deadpan disarming Magic Realism stories, with airy spaces between them, spaces for you to nose-breathe, spaces to cut out while believing they were once people, and the Gestalt of these stories or snippets is a picture of this extended family, one with noses to speak of, dead end arguments, a wife called a little box, fathers that maintain control, but names could be changed, English teachers fancied, but not sure if the man who was called Lone Ranger was also the clown. As to me, I am Gautam Uncle and I hide behind trees and tell lies. It is more of a word collage than a book or picture. A little box of treats. A chapbox.
Eibonvale Press

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Uneasy by Andrew Hook


20 April 2019
by Andrew Hook

“Nothing was so clear as interpretation.”
What is a pipette? This novella is. A powerful vision of a city and its cafes and pent-up sex. Its muscularity of wordy surrealism made of chicken parts in the mouth. Beast masks. A perfumery, too. Lavender. Leaving, suspensefully, its central synchroni-city of Paris nameless but clear. Our lady Imogen. A spent match mark on Imogen’s stomach followed later by another man’s cigarette mark on a wall. A peeled tattoo. A woman called Imogen on the rut quest in a foreign city; a woman stalking men, who could ever think it! A creative joining of disparate things as in Breton’s surrealism. Bacon and pork, where the former is an artist. Breton and a Briton. London day and Paris night. Hopefully not a spoiler, under a vulva sky, if not a vanilla one, she finds her man. Visits with him, by the end, among other places, the Ile de la Cité explicitly, amid “the sexual power of monuments”, where “Gargoyles tottered” in the heat. “Porcelain cracked”, not pork. “Fenders steamed.” She is finally our lady. “I am shame.” Arguably skewered like meat or even crucified by this weekend’s passion as I write this in real-time. Yet a hindsight prophecy about what just happened a few days ago in the same city, but written about here how long ago? A genius loci, supreme. A pipette squeezed spot on, I feel.
“It is easy to flirt with hindsight.”
My previous reviews of this author HERE
  1. Notre Dame is shown on the back cover of this Eibonvale Press book that was published before the recent events.
  2. EF087D50-298D-41EF-9954-D488480F7F2F
    A quote from another Eibonvale Press novella published simultaneously with the above one: reviewed here:

Friday, April 19, 2019

This House of Wounds – Georgina Bruce

20 thoughts on “This House of Wounds – Georgina Bruce

  1. “Let’s get you dreeming again, shall we?”
    Yes, here we go, that quote being from the first story below; here I go hawling again, my humble version of dreeming….
    “I woman. I — can’t follow the thread of myself any more. Can’t narrate.”
    Memories and dreams in a fractured poetic perfection of narration. Indeed, the third paragraph is (as it calls itself in its final one word sentence) perfect, a perfect paragraph. Just read it, deconstruct it, analyse it, play with it, chew it, and you will find it perfect, too. There are other shards within this text that also shine forth — as you read them piecemeal in real-time — in a form greater than the whole. Yet, paradoxically, when you finish the whole, you are convinced its gestalt is greater than its parts. Full of pain, yearning, susceptibility to others’ machinations, body-mind anguish, human weaknesses and strengths, being imposed upon by others, yet equally imposing upon other discrete parts of one’s own self. So much one can’t reach or understand. Even that attic where thinking started? In the house of wounds.
    “There in the attic window of the saddest house she’d ever known, something burned bright red and orange. Just below it, standing on the porch roof in an old-fashioned black dress, her dark veil pulled back to show her terrible pale face, the old woman screamed, and screamed, and screamed.”
    — Steve Rasnic Tem (The Woman in the Attic)
  2. “Throughout Jane Eyre, Jane describes her inner spirit as fiery, her inner landscape as a “ridge of lighted heath” (Chapter 4). Bertha (Mrs Rochester) seems to be the outward manifestation of Jane’s interior fire.” – just quoted from somewhere on the Internet.
    Cf the rabbit woman in the next story?
    A post-Kiernan tour de force as a theme and variations on Lewis Carroll’s Alice books, one that takes the breath away with its streams of conscious and poetic interplay (with TS Eliot at one point). I cannot do justice to this portrait of Aven/Neva, nor can I even be eclectic about its references, nor even dare quote from it; its horror and catharsis, the Scalvages, the psychological and spiritual implications to whomsoever wrote this story and to any reader who decides to read it, the implications of our world’s Gestalt or Mind or Gaia, and much that I find myself relating to as a process still working on me after reading it. You heard about Red Queening here, first? Let me know.
    I read and reviewed the next story about six months ago when it first came out, as follows…
    by Georgina Bruce
    “I never seem to know what you’re talking about these days.”
    But does anyone need to do so? I let this new tract of Bruisegina roll over me with frissons of expectation, a sense of meaning and meaninglessness, even with one meaningful typo that may not have been a typo on the first page, a language that sometimes made me think it had a narrative “stutter”, and it seemed appropriate to be a dream within a movie or a movie within a dream or another permutation of that, as David (Lynch?) and Laura (Dern?) (who collaborated on several films, thus giving me an urge to this perhaps crazy insight) seem to be movie-making here in the woods with antlers and bears and royal existences to seek, and with flavours of Red Riding Hood and the Three Bears, Kazuo Ishigiro’s hotel in The Unconsoled, work by Angela Carter and Caitlín R. Kiernan, Farjeon’s Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard, this story’s own “Dreemy People”, and, of course, a Lynch type movie, plus sexual flows of light that the words infer from between the legs…and a basic yearning to transcend the movie where one lives or dreams.
    “Beautiful dead girls. Exquisite misogyny.”
  4. I read and reviewed the next story in 2013, as follows…
    iz246gCat World – Georgina Bruce
    “Maybe she found the women who help,…”
    Sisters again – here two little girls named Oh and Little One. Oh’s name reminded me of Oy in King’s The Dark Tower series, where, when reading and reviewing those mighty books, I often vocalised Oy into ‘I’ – and now following the ‘you’ of a previous sister in this magazine’s fiction aptly blending with the ease of moving through doors of perception, as in the King books, here in ‘Cat World’ to where cats live, containing a gentle, but eventually dark, ‘growing-fantasy’ similar to that in ‘Triolet’, also with the undercurrent of that Sisterhood diaspora which seems subtly to continue here, possibly with Little One as the sentry for what might be a ‘Naughty Girls’ Home’, an establishment managed by two characters named Book and Mr Cow. Haunting material that also has the rain of the de Bodard story – and Little One then worries about growing into grass rather than poems, I guess. Or about ending up with those children in the Tidhar story? But are the greatest horrors Oh and Little One themselves? Depends which way you migrate, forward or back or sideways towards Mother Moon…or downwards like Icarus? Beautifully written and tantalising. Do seek its node or core.
    “We are not little girls, I think. We are something much more terrible.”
  5. I read and reviewed the n still story in 2017, as follows…
    THE BOOK OF DREEMS by Georgina Bruce
    “That inky black lake in the centre of her head, sucking at her memories.”
    …and she eventually and paradoxically uses it to write out this consuming fury of a story, in which uncharacteristically for me I include an author bio at the end of a story as an intrinsic part of that story. Strange how this author’s work often makes me change my critical ways. I actually fear its spate of images or felt nightmares (so many here to spend in this work that still crowdfund my mind and to which I cannot do justice or give free rein) will either escape my grasp or turn on me like one of the previous story’s ‘dogs’ if I do not do justice to its inchoate meening. A dog here, too, and a similar sucking in of memories, this 22 year young woman’s memories and their gaps between and their forced march from dream to dreem, misspelling as a form of nightmare. Her man is 25 years older than her and has concocted a SF future moon travel scenario, a moon that comes back to bite her. I ended furious, too, full of her memories, empathy rampant. I now know what it is like. I already knew, but not to this extent. And the dog gurns. Funny how gurn looks like gum in this misspelt, misspelled world. Gums as part of a mouth. A broken mouth with puppet strings. No pearls there. “…or even with the gum. Dogs like to chew things, she guessed.”
    cf Kiernan’s “mnemonic rape” that i picked up when reviewing ‘The Red Tree’ last night here.
    “‘Fine,’ she snapped. ‘Fine.’”
    Everything is fine now? A remarkable, instinctively important work for me, as a man with his own shadow. The incantatory refrain of “a man who hated his shadow” embedded in the dual twining story of Queen Beast with her sister and the man himself called Davey with his archetypal marriage to Ruby, a shuttling rhombus between a ‘Charwoman’s Shadow’ (Dunsany) set against a man’s, a man’s reign, by synergy as well as mutual aversion, replaced by the Queen’s reign, I infer. A shuttling relationship fermented by the autonomous shadows that they cast, then cast off. Cast off as an expended Pilgrim’s Progress in a mind/body passion of cohering and spurning. Amazing prose style, as ever, that will need reading again and again. Davey and his Dad, too. So much to cohere. Aunt Beast and Rameau’s Nephew?
    “Then she did sigh, as a soft petalled rose blisses into flame.”
    “…trying to find meaning that isn’t there and I’m only going to open up old wounds.”
    I feel I’m a scarecrow who cannot walk but still retains a personal awareness, but somehow I am led through the installation-door of this spatial story-challenger, perhaps this book’s seminal work, its eponymous house as person-prose, from Brontë (‘wuthered’ used as a verb in this work) to du Maurier. For me, now managing to enter, accompanying Raewyn as narrator, into her once childhood house, remembering her sister Tanith, her mother, and there is also Raewyn’s Pete as her broken marital archetype, amounting to what I called earlier a shuttling rhombus. We can infer what must have gone on in this house from all manner of clues in the text, her mother’s own notebook words, her mother’s explodable television head, becoming the cloth mother of bed and self, and the ‘guest’ (you the reader?) as some watery centre of that rhombus, the pervading of this guest’s body with Raewyn’s body. Infinite repetitions. The old pier again. The cleaning, the blood. “Jif cif flash mr muscle.” “Lacuna. It is as it is in my mind.” …“like a fish hook/ a needle unthreading” and I could go on.
  8. “she twiddles the spiked wheel of a rhombus”
    —Ezra Pound
    “The water runs pink, and slugs of flesh slide down my legs.”
    Once a pound of flesh. Meanwhile, a new quadrilateral, here of husband, wife, narrator and dog. Referred pain by dogmask as a were-role, as aspects of health, career and love-life dysfunction are laid out here like a farrago underpinned by an inferred skeleton of geometry. Doctor Head being the wild card in the otherwise perfect picture of self as body-mind-soul. Mediaeval bloodletting, notwithstanding, even beyond any possible coordinates’ triangulation.
    “Why does everyone keep missing the point?”
  9. I reviewed the next story in Jan 2014, as follows…
    Wake Up, Phil by Georgina Bruce
    “‘If only you knew,’ said Throom. ‘If only you knew how many chances you’ve had.'”
    It seems unlikely that the author intended Throom to be a morph of Theramin, but it seems appropriate if she did so, especially in the context of the overall gestalt. The untouchable executive doctor in a corporation, a corporation that vies with another corporation, each seeking the slavish loyalties of its staff. This is on the face of it the clinching satire finale of Stufflebeam’s “I can’t escape my job” opening salvo. It is also a compelling and engaging absurdist narrative that sometimes approximates a painting by Picasso but is mainly a 1950s/1960s SF novel where townships work diligently at their own employments in the face of alien invasion or cerebral counter-clockworlds like Yoachim in reverse, and homely and housewifery things mixed in with the crazy fantasies or with a theramin music backing to various Forbidden Planets to where these wholesome nuclear families travelled to fraternise with robots or replicants or just playmates or puppy dogs,
    There is a character in this last story – a writer called Phil – middle-aged and portly and wearing Hawaiian shirts. I hope this is not a spoiler but, for me, and perhaps for me alone, this is Philip K Dick. But there you go – the light bulb’s finally gone out. Good job I had two.
    “Built-in obsolescence meant that Callihounds would die after seven years.”
  10. 17EA117F-DEA8-4712-8D32-012F422C2203
    “, and paper, always paper, and like this she comes to the edge of the square where the woman watched all day.”
    Another amazing poetic quadrilateral with (a) a voodooing jobbing handwritten epistler of a crow on the tattered banks of crow road writing letters, for Jenny, to a war’s battlefields, battlefields from where (b) Jenny’s sad bruised or wounded house-husband Robin returns to her, (c) Jenny herself and (d) the daughter Jenny has with the crow.
    ‘The evolution of bruise’, as yesterday’s blurb on the Essex book said.
    • “…a sheet of lost and yellowing stationery, until at last the first glimmer of bird came through.” — Steve Rasnic Tem
      Crow Voodoo is, by remarkable chance, in mutual synergy with today’s Tem that I happened to read and review just half an hour later here.
  11. A63EE604-5E77-4932-9B3D-C6F1AC49D906
    From the previous story’s pen on paper to this one’s penknife as given to his daughter Eva by the father. Be they nibs or the ineluctable outflux of invisible but lethal edges of a blade-sharp geometry underpinning — as the Queen of Knives Gestalt — this quadrilateral dysfunction of mother, father, Eva and the Other Eva as imposter syndrome… “quiet and continent”, Eva’s snicks are unseen by teacher till the end of the school day.
    “mother tongue […] mother-of-pearl”
    By chance, as I read this story Linda Perhacs’ song ‘Parallelograms’ came on from my programmed recording of last night’s Late Junction on Radio 3. (Check out the playlist on-line if you doubt me!)
    “As if to merely speak of him will cause the bruises to bloom…”
    A moving portrait of a woman lorry driver, indeed a map of her faith as well as the lands she drives, a story containing such a map itself as well a dog-headed St Christopher. She is fey, she is fey and flying, in dream if not in reality, dogged by a recurring attenuation by disease. Dogged, too, by an abusive husband just released from prison. I had a sense here, too, of a visionary overseer like Blake, just one remove from Blade?
  13. I reviewed the next story in 2017 when it was published in Imposter Syndrome…
    Little Heart
    “She wanted to break a house in half. Tear it apart in her hands.”
    ‘Wrong mother’ in the ‘picture house’
    “the wrong mother washes up on the beach, and follows the wrong man to the wrong house.”
    “; everyone’s voices streamed in distorted bubbles towards a surface she could not break.)”
    A counterpart to this book’s previous story that might have been the Wrong Story of the Wrong House. However far he or she can trace.
    Once a counterpart, now a cut-up, with phrases and sentences from this story. A cut-up installation, too, of a video of a celluloid black and white cinema film starring the female protagonist’s mother. A film that was so significant to the interpretable hang-ups and breaking of – or breakages by – this protagonist daughter who is also today a teacher of students.
    A cut-up of dream and celluloid implicating the protagonist’s father who called his daughter Little Heart, implicating him as the nightmare forged by such a cut-up. This is a complex, compelling story, and I dare not even attempt to interpret its past as fiction, nor re-tell it, as the story itself does call out the past as a fiction that can be misinterpreted, whether it be rape (explicitly mentioned) or something far more intangible… Dare not implicate myself in the evident strong and personal memories of the protagonist. It is powerful enough a reading experience without my breaking its eggshells to reveal more, something I fear I already have done without knowing. My real-time review that is also a cut-up, a cautious performance in black and white words upon the screen that is the Internet.
  14. I reviewed the next story when it was published in Crimewave…
    “He had always suspected that the world could do this — place sudden magic in his hands.”
    If the previous story was what crime fiction should be, with its dark side of Manchester and missing toes and unrequited love and fragments as discarded souvenirs, then this story has all those, too, “nothing much to appeal to him in Manchester,” and “shoes lay askew on the sand, empty now,” and “he threw out his train ticket, his other souvenirs”; it also has the knife and the hitman that we always expected to cut off someone’s toes perhaps, here those of the young holidaying art student called Paul (amid summer’s European galleries), but, meanwhile, Paul’s unrequited love is not necessarily for the women or migrant whores he overtly desires or fears or resents, nor for the men he entices with his own good looks to buy him a cup of coffee, but now the unrequited love and search for his ideal are also a love and search for the perfection (or gestalt?) of art in the galleries he tours and for the art that emerges from under his own brush or pencil, or from what someone else draws of Paul himself under a different brush or pencil, and for what that art gradually provides as a love to be requited, as an ideal that this story itself provides in effect from under its own pen or keyboard. Trapped in the paper, the story itself says somewhere. A complex, haunting vision from which we can take many messages. Art as an amoral force. Ultimately disturbing, yet it is its own magic in your hands. To be connected to art, there to teach you how to succeed or, more likely, fail while trying to transcend life’s sordid temptations amid morphing desires and misunderstood gender traits, a transcending as a new form of Aesthetics — arguably, I suggest, a dress rehearsal for the complexities of life itself, whereby you might just succeed better than you otherwise would have done without such Aesthetics. For Paul, to ride Snake Goddesses as well as Giorgione Venuses.
  15. 41C2E20E-1ADF-486A-906F-51C82137CC60
    “The cards were evil.”
    Not playing cards so much as Tarot? Cards, wherein Siobhan sees God as a bear (cf Tem’s simultaneous bear in my world, a bear now here in the Bruce as a huge frightening apotheosis), cards that dictate her life, take her onto a ferry away from her boys (always a boy she bears, “another male to square off at the prison door”), along with her granny’s pearls that she later saves from dropping into the sea as if it is a cliffhanger reversed or cheated upon for future viewers of her serial of life. The bear’s teeth razor sharp. Or her own “teeth she remembered well, would never forget.” One of her boys’ bones: “Little skeleton.” Can she escape her former husband? Or do the parts of her life heretofore dog her to the ferry, including the boys she once did bear? Meanwhile, so many objective-correlatives in this story, and I haven’t even yet mentioned its moon. The pain of labour amid the flotsam and jetsam of self. And what does this work’s ‘rhododendron bush’ assonate with?
  16. The next story I reviewed in 2016 when it appeared in Black Static…
    “Every object has its animus, its story.”
    Rarely, but I DO sometimes read a special story and think
    like this story’s brilliant elliptic section breaks
    think that I am lucky to have managed to live long enough to read a particular story, THIS story, as something I really really needed to read and learn from, with its deep poignant poetic lesson.
    It is about an old man’s marital bereavement after many years, the premonition by crows, the reaction of daughters, the needle in a barely audible music and its recurrent vinyl scratch.
    A story about inadvertently not being present at the exact point of death of your wife in the house where you’ve both lived for countless years and the house takes over instead.
    Coupled with a mathematical love of routine. Like the author of Alice? Or this author herself?
    Quite horrific, but eventually stoical, eventually beautiful…. A wonderful story, brilliantly adumbrated, with no strident links, but a myriad subtle ones like that almost inaudible music. I’m so glad I caught it.
    That sort of says it all as a review of the book’s gestalt with my then words as its real-time finish.
    But I now wonder what I meant by “a mathematical love of routine.”
    This book is “For the lost, and the lonely.” A phrase that is the book’s printed dedication; it does not strictly have an Oxford comma, but why any comma at all? 9712CC7C-78E6-44C0-B8D4-C1892772C904
    A tin I owned as a boy. It contained dividers.

    Third Instar by David Gullen

    18 April 2019 1pm BST


    by David Gullen
    Pages 1 – 31
    “…the slow slide from seeker to drifter – whatever he had become.”
    “The whole world moved at three-quarter speed.”

    I’m entranced so far by the world of the Edge, Mazehew the protagonist seeker or drifter, meeting beautiful, Frayel, as frail or not as the sturdy, artfully and characterfully designed carrier-kites or the stone gods or the cauldron, the cosmopolitan area of storytellers, guardians, smoke dancers et al, and whither or whence the escape from his being pickpocket or conman or simply a genuine hero, do we trust him to be who we think he is, do we trust him as much as Frayel does or doesn’t — as they plan, or at least she does, a leap of faith… hardness and softness in a bottomless well of rigidities or shadows, I infer. And much more in these pages. And more yet to read and be entranced by, no doubt.
    “There had been no music, yet he had its memory.”
    To be continued below…
    1. Pages 31 – 52
      “When he fell, his body felt boneless, the floor of the iron cauldron soft.”
      I wonder if Gullen has created here his own version of Gulliver, as a paradoxical Swift fall from the edge in Lafferty-like slow time, riding within the cauldron with a stowed-away of the city’s fruit-for-sale, along a trend downwards or even back upwards, past water cascades that is in mutual synergy with the city, and slowly past a tantalising opening to a cavern? It felt — with the sense of pulley chains as well as free fall — akin to my personal vision of ‘hawling’ at last. Returned to another version of Edge the city, where Frayel fails to recognise him. Or does she recognise him, after all? But Mazehew even fails to recognise himself or, at least we fail to do so, by his later being referred to in the narration as Alain! I am somehow glad, against all the odds, that I was left without hope of clinching the escapability of this book beyond its covers, as if I am destined to return to it again and again. Glad, if with the mixed feelings of the ‘glide-wing riders’ that somehow continue to reside hereabouts. Give or take the odd fruitseller.

      POSSIBLE SPOILERAn instar is a developmental stage of arthropods, such as insects, between each moult, until sexual maturity is reached. Arthropods must shed the exoskeleton in order to grow or assume a new form.
      There are three numbered parts to this Gullen work.

    Wednesday, April 17, 2019

    SOME PINK STAR by Sophie Essex



    by Sophie Essex

    “eight tetrahedral voids sounds dreamy when you
                                            linger over an idea of us”

    I appreciated this chapbook and agree with its back cover blurb shown below.
    I was also beguiled by breathing more easily in our world today with the spreading texts’ open airy spaces amid the disarming enjambments.


    The above quoted Essex lines are constructively out of keeping with the Ezra Pound line I quoted during my coincidental perception earlier today of Georgina Bruce’s rhombus in her story DOGS here:
    That Bruce book has turned out, for me, in mutual synergy with this Essex book.
    “my mass. cubic metered”

    2 responses to “*

    1. “the evolution of a bruise”
    2. Vanilla Sky as the optimum airy space to which I refer above.

    Dreams of a Dead Country – Douglas Thompson

    One thought on “Dreams of a Dead Country – Douglas Thompson

    1. 44E79CE5-BBEC-4B13-8C9F-F7D0591E86F4Pages 1 – 29
      “Maybe this is better than the reality, which was sordid, ultimately, on reflection. So let us not reflect, but invert, invent, interpolate, extrapolate, dream lucidly.”
      Lucidly as a word approximates Luckily? A synchronicity or serendipity, not an inevitability. The first four pages, I have to say, captivated me completely, as if this was the start of a great novel that would go down in literary history, should it be completed in the same simple vein of genius. This writer definitely has it in him to do so. And there are other passages in this text, as if in dress rehearsal, that would also fit perfectly such an envisaged novel that I have envisaged for his writing. Meanwhile, I enjoyed this dress rehearsal, as later morphed by dreams, enjoyed it enough to warrant my recommending it in its own discrete right. And if I recommend something, others may pay heed, I hope. I was swept away by the search of the narrator for their unrequited loved one through the various wild streams of lucid dreaming, from place to place, Scotland and Ireland, from were-beast to were-beast, like the fashion for rehearsing in torn trousers. I even tried its back door to make sure it was locked. Luckily it wasn’t.


      Tuesday, April 16, 2019

      THE MAN WHO MURDERED HIS MUSE by James Champagne


      16 April 2019
      After the Notre Dame extravaganza yesterday, be warned that there is a burning cathedral in this chapbook and a blazing steeple….
      17E5D4C2-5170-442C-BD82-B4050F0093AATHE MAN WHO MURDERED HIS MUSE
      by James Champagne
      “A writer is someone who gives away that which is most original to him, finally losing, in this manner, his whole substance. That is why writers are so uninteresting as a rule and I mean that quite seriously: writers are people who have exhausted themselves. Only the dregs of themselves still exist; they are pitiful marionettes.”
      … and, in that sense, highly appropriate and synchronous, as the last thing I read a few hours ago here was EUREMA’S DAM by R.A. Lafferty that I now deem a literary masterpiece, and I am hoping it rubs itself off on this chapbook that I have chosen to read next. And it sort of does, and vice versa. An engaging, page-turning story with many intriguing references to literary, art and music things, a story about a goth girl called Hamsa Cauldron, with an acromegalic dad, working in a bar to make things stretch as a student, meets Hector Teufel who is a once successful horror genre blockbuster of the 80s now with writer’s block, and if I told you what they talked about and what happened, as implied by this chapbook’s title, and the outcome in the Bungalow House, you would not thank me. chaletRest assured it is thought-provoking, disturbing and disarmingly inspiring. Tulpas and Blackstar. And I suspect Hamsa partook of the white blood purely to write this.
      Left is the drawing referenced in the text that is meant to look like Hector. It also looks like me when younger and my name assonates with Dis in Dante, and, oh yes, my own bungalow house where I have lived for the last twenty odd years is shown to the right, screaming without a door…
      My previous reviews of James Champagne:

      Friday, April 12, 2019

      Everything Is Fine Now – Steve Rasnic Tem

      31 thoughts on “Everything Is Fine Now – Steve Rasnic Tem

      1. The Woman in the Attic
        “There was a large wraparound porch attached to the front of the house with a roof of its own.”
        The old house opposite. And the seeming rainwater that came off it like a waterfall, was it rainwater at all or was it water used to put out a recurring fire in the attic? A short haunting tale of the old house opposite whereby no one who left it seemed to leave it happy. Or left it at all? The woman in black in its blacked-out attic echoed or kept in existence by the passing generations of women who saw it from opposite? Jane Eyre, fire and water.
        (NB Mr. Rochester wore a pearl necklace under his cravat as a reminder of Jane’s love.)
      2. The Hideaway Man
        “They just have to know. He guessed we’re all just tomatoheads that way.”
        Tem often seems to get to the root of things, using fiction as an entertainingly imaginative or darkly worrying game of leapfrog where we use our touch upon the story to perhaps reach even further than it has reached, even if that further leap or reach stops with us alone who have just thus leapt. We cannot return that favour, as we do not have the similar skill to become the spiritual vaulting-horse that is Tem. Here, I had a leap of epiphany about the nature of what I shall call, hidden away in my memory, a boyhood friendship as from an early age, often despite the boys’ many differences from each other. And about the nature of things that boys often keep dark within each of theirselves without realising the common factors of those things; here, in this story one of the things being the nature of their missing fathers. And the haunting sleepover spare ‘hideaway bed’ and what it hides. Sprung from beneath another bed or sprung from it like a squashed spare now a trampoline manqué? Tomatoheads, all of them. And everything is fine now.
      3. Mechanic
        “‘Some people shouldn’t be trusted with an automobile…’ He gently strokes the scarred hood ornament.”
        I never thought I would ever be inspired by a story about a mechanic’s love for the cars he mends, as they gather growling and headlit, intent on having this purposeful loner’s back. But who is Polly in the eyes of this confirmed bachelor? The polishing, the Plymouth, the potholes, or someone he tweezers as roadkill from the broken windscreen?
      4. Little One
        “And I certainly don’t have all the answers. None of the changers do—we’re all different.”
        You know, over the years when I have read Tem, I have thought that his work has insights that other work often doesn’t; it deploys revelations and truths — sometimes powerfully oblique ones inspired or facilitated by the very nature of the literary genres and traditions within which he works — about ourselves and the unseen powers around us. But since reading the HARVEST GIRL collection of stories (wherein ‘Punishment’ has an interesting mutual synergy with ‘Little One’) and now this EVERYTHING IS FINE NOW collection, I realise I have hardly scratched the surface of Tem till very recently, although I had already, before now, considered myself to be an experienced reader of his work! Here, with the changers, overviewed from rooftops, and the play on words with changing babies, while advising mothers, and being almost sexless, or, rather, more deeply gendered by dint of having the ability to change sexes and experience the whole spectrum between two poles? A lesson for parents, yet with the counterproductive susceptibility to be subsumed or even eaten by one of those poles, something, I infer, that one needs to fight against so as to allow one’s spectrum of wisdom to work? Meanwhile, Babies smell real bad sometimes, yet…
        “People talk about how sweet a baby’s head smells. Like everything new, I guess, and the heat in their little heads makes them smell all the better, like you’re actually breathing in the light that carries their new souls.”
      5. Jake’s Body
        “So he was smelly, and he ate too much junk and he had a billion zits all over him and his parents were mad at him and now his friends were mad at him and he didn’t like taking care of those gross-looking cats and dogs anymore, but…”
        From the little one’s smells to a bigger one’s. A telling fable about a boy’s bodily self-consciousness as he grows into puberty. And Arcimboldo is not even in it, vulpine or not!
      6. Voices in the Dark
        “In the cartoons, all kinds of things talked: trees, flowers, dogs, cats, birds, even toasters. In the dark, all kinds of things talked, too.”
        A creepy flash fiction where the eponymous voices by rhythmic rote ask Brian questions, all the questions having the words ‘is’ and ‘it’ in common, the other words always beginning with ‘w’. Strange, I thought, how a single pronoun can mislead me as to whom, why, what and where, but never when.
      7. The Man Under the Bridge
        “I think I see a man, or a boy, or somebody I used to know, or other times somebody I just haven’t met yet.”
        A magnificent weird tale – about two boys together biking under a bridge and initially seeing, in their eyes, a seeming derelict old man there – a tale that I hadn’t met till now. An encounter, that, for the boys, morphs in different recognisable directions. But, for me, perhaps solipsistically, it was more a tale meeting its intended reader at last. Everything is fine now.
      8. Daddy’s an Actor
        “Sometimes I even wonder if it really matters whether I have a name or not.”
        This is a remarkable story narrated ostensibly by the daughter of an actor father, a father who was once a child actor in movies and now a touring adult actor in theatres. This is one of the most effective stories of role-playing you will go far to find, with a gradually evolving backstory of flighted angels and inner demons galore. A story that variously role-plays itself. And I continue to sense that here we have a fiction writer with work of many parts himself: inter alios, an O. Henry, a Flannery O’Connor, indeed, foremost, finely, finally, a Rasnic Tem.
      9. Domestic Magic
        Co-written with Melanie Tem
        “Mom would explain why she shouldn’t do whatever she’d just done, and Margaret listened and then did the same thing again or worse because now she had more information.”
        ~~ a message for our current political history, as well as a sequel to the previous story: Child as Parent of the Grown-Up, where a boy, with a crazy mother, as he deems her, looks after his little sister against the tribulations of their mother. Full of things spreading across the page, more than just the words themselves and the dolls they describe, and compensatory luck and bad luck, and belief in fragile beliefs of superstition. Themselves, as the lives of brother and sister into the past and future, tattooed on their mother’s skin. Yet, yet, I follow words myself in strange beliefs, too. And this story evidently means more than it means. Fiction rarely does that, but here it does. Genuinely so. A test for me, as well as for the boy in it, re our scrying powers, “looking up weirdness like the fourteenth word on the sixty-seventh page in twenty-one different books.”
        My review of Melanie Tem’s Singularity and Other Stories:
      10. THE HUNT
        “In the hunt the relationship between hunter and prey was charged and intimate.”
        An unforgettable rendition of a hunt by a paedophile, with the children seen by him as animal
        prey, and of his hunt’s outcome. So unforgettable, I seriously wonder how this 1993 work has been thus forgotten. Till now?
      11. SIRENS
        “Watching someone else die, someone else break down. Just as long as you and yours were safe. Getting as close as possible to death without actually involving yourself.”
        The title has both senses of the word. A tale of a mother abandoning her daughters, because she thinks herself to be a bad mother. Arrives at a seaside town, like mine? An epiphany?
        “, all the dark men to make love to,”
        Yet, this is a Tem story with a happy ending? Or are all his endings happy?
        As an aside on Daughters, I bought recently the novel with this title by Tem and Melanie.
      12. Show Night
        “, retiring to her own large room with a window that bulged out over the porch like a traumatized eye—to do whatever it was she needed to do.”
        A mother and her son Henry. With a porch and view perhaps from this book’s first story’s spy-perch upon others as well as ourselves, a porch and perch that eventually entail self-destruction and death-as-homelessness, ranging from this overall review’s Gestalt so far I am beginning to feel of children and how they are moulded by grown-ups, all of us fallible and fragile, but building patterns of envy and smells and role-plays and personal stage-sets, the child as actor as well as acted upon, patterns that in turn weigh upon the children that come after us, where we leave them to discover the patterns outside that are then thus internalised, everybody as the many as well as a single everybody, a hoarded, pungent ‘Mr Everyman’. As the structures around us inevitably let us down, even our models of them, by sheer entropy and/or deliberate communal human intervention. A singular force we are made to feel by following Henry in his path through life, following his mother’s death. Yet, is there only one show that is ours and only one night on which to show it?
      13. Does It Scare You?
        “But maybe being a zombie was just an excuse.”
        An extremely powerful portrait from 1989 of college boys’ addiction to horror films in the cinema, where stereo was growing up, as well as gore. Also a perceptive study of one boy’s anxious existentialism and sought catharsis among the necessary fragile bonhomie of these outings. And when I say this story is extremely powerful, I mean that as a horror story in itself as well as one about horror as raison d’être. Unmissable for horror genre specialists, as well as for those into Swiftian modest proposals. The answer to the title, is yes.
        “Human beings could be some pretty violent, ugly animals, all right. But they had some pretty ugly things to face. Death, for one. Each other, for another.”
      14. Skullbees
        A Tale from the Deadfall

        “The funny thing about him was you could spend hours with him and still not quite remember if he had ever talked. But for some reason that never bothered her.”
        This, apparently, was the extra story in the limited edition of DEADFALL HOTEL (my review of its unlimited version here: and I don’t want to be accused of over-praising some of these stories, but this one strikes me as a discrete weird classic for children and adults alike, a bit reminiscent of Blackwood’s novels such as The Fruit Stoners, Jimbo, Prisoner in Fairyland, etc., and I can give it no greater compliment. Follow Serena, her Dad, the sight of skullbees, as they are all described with a rhythmic poetic hallucination of prose style.
      15. SNOWMEN
        “There was nothing right about it.”
        Another floaty, perhaps grown-up, but simplistically child-like, Blackwoodian novel-extrapolation, here of a boy faced by an unusual substance of a snow storm and the ensuing eponyms more frightening than the words know, men… how unusual in substance and frightfulness, you will need to read it so as to uncover what shapes reside within it.
      16. THE FARMER
        “He could hear the murmuring from beneath the ground again, as if bodies were rolling over and over.”
        If you had only read this story by Rasnic Tem, I wonder if it would stand out alone, would he stand out alone, too, a discrete, literary, non-genre figure, possibly as great as some well known American authors beyond genre? The story of a boy inheriting the farm, the Gestalt of the past (family people) in that land, the sacrifice he needs to make, of his own bodily gestalt, so as to inherit the land’s kindness? Accident or deliberate act.
        Also this 1983 story possibly predicts a new ‘farmland’, its dangers as well as its gifts, its good inheritances as well as its curses, a sub-optimal to be optimised… “‘This is mine, too?’ the boy asked. ‘No… no,’ the old man said, ‘this is the hub of our land, boy, where the borders of all the family lands meet.’” Where our lands overlap and hyperlink, chopping bits or ourselves off as well as compensating? Everything will be fine soon?
      17. ALAN’S MOTHER
        “Mothers know everything.”
        Even after they pass, or you pass, first? This is the thoughtful simple story of Alan who passes towards puberty, after a childhood’s lifetime of believing in his mother’s magic and her instinct to know what he wants and what he sees in the garden’s scryable pond. Until one of her gifts allows him to become the Goliath to his own David? Or vice versa?
      18. Bad Dogs Come Out of The Rain
        “Kelly yawned, a tall yawn, not a wide one.”
        A moving story of Kelly’s granddad and his taking her on a journey home after staying with him, a journey by aeroplane and rental car to his daughter, Kelly’s mother: with all the precariousness of travel, good intentions gone bad in backstory as well as present moment, a child’s far-seeing wisdom, and her mother’s bad dog moments now and then. Moving and utterly frightening. Sorry, but this is yet another Tem classic.
        “He smiled at the way the color went right to edge of the lines then stopped. Kelly liked her margin of error, preferring to leave an empty place rather than cross the lines.”
      19. BE MINE
        “She found herself ripping the wrapper off another cupcake with something akin to ferocity. Her own neediness enraged her.”
        A girl stalked ubiquitously by jokily feral Valentine cards on Valentine’s Day. Not sure about this one.
        “He didn’t know how to talk to somebody in their seventies or eighties. You knew they’d probably be dead in half a dozen years. With that in mind everything you tried to talk about seemed less than important.”
        Sorry, this is yet another Tem classic. Honest to goodness. From Otherworldly Maine. Two grandsons ‘kidnap’ their Granddad, the Old Indian (possibly a misnomer) from his long-term nursing home and returns him to the Forest whence he says he originally emerged. His story, your story, yore story. Full of images of bark, loose skin and blur, and misgivings as to what they the young brothers were doing, with debate upon who depopulated whom in the old days, the new white or the indigenous blur of colours and vegetation. Full of evocative tactility and soulfulness of creation. Kidnapping, Glooskapping.
        “The first time Morgan saw a bear not twenty yards away he knew he was in over his head.”
        “Don’t you see—the story goes on forever—it includes everything.”
      21. Lesser Fires
        Co-written with Melanie Tem
        “Clara.” “That’s my name, don’t wear it out.”
        Scrumptiously haunting, highly prose-poetic with veils and lesser fires, fires hovering with self near the surface where you fall on the pavement, as ghosts become possibly more real than the people of whom they are ghosts. An extended family reunion party, with costumes, Clara’s costume fit for her own gawkiness I guess…so utterly well-characterised; this is Lispector to the nth power of collaborative authors in similar synergy, in hindsight of some unknown future of their selves? Surely not another masterpiece. I can’t stand the pace! No irony intended.
      22. DADDY
        “I don’t understand why Daddy and Mother don’t like each other anymore. But they haven’t liked each other for a long time. I must have been very small when they liked each other, because they haven’t been friends for as long as I can remember.”
        Can ever a Dad dy? A haunting prose piece by the child about an indelibly dyed Daddy.
      23. “And did the Countenance Divine
        Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
        And was Jerusalem builded here
        Among these dark Satanic mills? “
        —- from JERusalem by William Blake
        “That cat was just for him, and always had been. It was like Danny’d swallowed it when he was a baby and then his body had grown up around it.”
        A story, related to the previous Daddy story, is now one of a boy whose father’s going absent in the past had made that cat develop into a tiger. A prowly tiger like the bear in EXCAVATION? An excavation of self, picking rocks from their watery berths. And we watch this boy’s inner demon and/ or angel develop in growing boyishness and/or more lethal Orc-ish play with others, one boy being Jer with an insect inside, and I sense I understand this negative/ positive synergy in my heart if not my brain. As I do with much of literature. My previous reference above — to David and Goliath, amid a granular earth — included.
      24. There’s No Such Thing as Monsters
        A beautifully precarious prose-poem of a story where a Daddy’s need to help frighten his child is countervailed by the equal need to cure such frights, in the ordering of closed covers of books and one’s magic passes. But like the battles elsewhere in this book between forces, sometimes one side wins, sometimes the other, as I once knew, with my own then young children. Now become Goliaths to my David – or, rather, vice versa. And which of us does now create a prayer for whom? Is everything fine now?
        “‘It’s a harsh, harsh place, and you have to be ready for it!’ Sometimes when you were a kid you forgot that—you expected everything to turn out okay like it did in the storybooks.”
        “…and boys especially could like things and be scared of them at the same time. It was exciting for them. They were mixed up like that. But you tried to help them get un-mixed up.”
        A truly disturbing extrapolation from the previous story, except here the Daddy figure is a boyfriend of the now pregnant-again mother, a boyfriend who is a man who dresses up as a clown and dresses up her small son (not his son) Joey as a clown, too. All watched by the older sister of Joey called Aria. If you are susceptible to clown horror, this work is your essential food for thought. A dark absurdism of a coda to this book’s symphony, an aria of tragedy and hopelessness, in the adventure playground of foolhardy hope. A mockery of the book’s title? No strangely, it’s somehow a confirmatory vote for not prematurely playing your happy-ever-after carillon but for making continued efforts at fine-tuning it.
        Some sheer literary classics in this book; a chiaroscuro synergy of memorable objective-correlatives.