Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Where The Heart Is

Review of WHERE THE HEART IS (Gray Friar Press) continued from here:


The City in the Rain by Mark West
"...he felt as though he was being plugged into a being that was greater than he could ever be..."
I don't think I've read any fiction by Mark West before and, judging by this story, I most certainly should have done! Without putting too fine a point on it, it is in many ways the perfect horror story. It has the horror feel, its tropes, a sense of pulp and popularity, yet with an underlying sophistication and poignancy that bowled me over, a completeness, a satisfying whole, and a language perfectly pitched for what it is. Quite confident in trying to be what it is, without frills. And hauntingly believable with Leicester's 'sagging' and crucifying brick buildings, the urban underclass, the alleys and the implications for the protagonist's wife's death in the past from cancer...
It also fits well into this book so far ... echoing the form of resurrection in 'A Killing in the Market'. In fact these two stories work in synergy.
There is a sense of gratuitous despair and a nihilist brick in the wall that I have been building towards a gestalt.
I see that an 'earlier version' of this story was published in 2003. I hope this does not prevent it winning awards in 2010, as it should, for being a great horror story. (16 June 10 - another 2 hours later)

Last Summer by Stephen Bacon
"Bricks bounce off the side."
This is an effective evocation of the Miner's Strike in Sheffield in the mid-Eighties (the bitterness and personal wars between strikers and scabs and their families) in parallel with the present day protagonist's return to his childhood at that time and in that place, and an unforeseen redemption now seen-to-be-done by exposing its gory results in this story-as-memorial.
Meanwhile, I, as reader of it, can imagine the mine structures - resonating, at least for me, with the structure in 'Easter' above. That seems a right comparison to make, bearing in mind the passions and emotions of that time, of that place, with which I, as someone who only watched all this on the news at the time, can now more fully empathise .... paradoxically via the truth and immediacy of fiction when compared to the disputatious facts of history.
"...we are standing on the grassy incline of the pit tip, looking down into the colliery." (16 June 10 - another 2 hours later).

Also please compare the return into the past of 'Summerhouse' with that of 'Last Summer' - amazing I missed till now that glaring connection synergising both stories. (16 June 10 - another hour later)

Winter's End by Simon Bestwick
" 'So?' he asked."
Paul links up with singer Helen after first meeting her at a Manchester gig where she's performing with some 'sullen moshers'. One believes in both members of this couple, and gradually we realise she has a past that pervades her present - eventually in a truly monstrous form. There is an alchemy here (similar to that mentioned before in this review) between forces of amorphousness as well as particularity. Insidiousness breathes wetly in our ears and reminds us, as it were, that there may be no escape clause from a retrocausal future that feeds on the past. Be very very worried that any distillation of the flesh does not prevent it being smeared all over our living-room as a spoiler. Rest assured, that tells you nothing about this story, this more disturbing story by subtle implication (as well as gross-out) even than itself. (17 June 10)

The Daftie by Paul Finch
An obstacle course across the Wigan Wastelands - a well-written, location-rich, vividly felt story that seems to be an 'adventure playground' within many of the book's previous stories (without being glib) - e.g. a colliery with a "ghostly totem of the declining wealth" - an effigy of a man literally crucified in a pit cottage garden (!) (cf 'Easter' etc) - "you can't bury stuff forever, can you?" (cf the previous story) - a 'Summerhouse' type sketch (on a deflated football) ..... the obstacle course being the rite of passage of an unsporty narrator who takes a short-cut to avoid punishment for flunking a school cross-country race. He fears meeting the local 'daftie' who is said to stalk the area. The ending was a surprise that set me thinking...
Good literature is about narration: reliable, unreliable, collusive, uncollusive, a pecking-order from head-lease or freehold author to those creations to whom is handed the story's baton in a relay marathon of the soul... (17 June 10 - another two hours later)

A Victim of Natural Selection by John Travis
"Ahead was a solitary streetlight he couldn't remember seeing before at the foot of those great steps, illuminating ash-grey soil piled up on either side of the old structure."
A striking nightmare vision of urban desolation as Crocus (with meaningful name) is presented with some hope. But sometimes Hope is the greatest Horror of all, when even memories and people we once knew conspire to corrupt even the ground beneath our feet. Breaking glass, a telegraph pole like a totem, black alleys ... this is a brilliant mood piece that fits this book hand in riven glove. [I don't normally draw attention to typos but there was one here that particularly irritated this reader: 'alluding' when it should have been 'eluding'.]
(18 June 10)

This real-time review is now continued here:

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