Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Black Static #62 / Interzone #274


Black Static #62 / Interzone #274

TTA PRESS Mar – Apr 2018
My previous reviews of this publisher HERE.
Stories by E. Catherine Tobler, Jack Westlake, David Martin, Kay Chronister, Michael Wehunt, James Sallis, Antony Johnston, Julie C. Day, Michael Reid, T.R. Napper, Alexandra Renwick, Eliot Fintushel.
When I review these stories, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below….

15 thoughts on “Black Static #62 / Interzone #274


    EFD7607D-774C-47DD-8936-C51CDE0BE8D8SANGUINARY SCAR by E. Catherine Tobler
    “…how sometimes to save a thing you have to cut pieces of it away so that it may heal into something entirely new.”
    Who would guess that the cover depicts one of this story’s “veils”, but, in hindsight, that seems wholly appropriate. A sort of Handmaid’s Tale refocused with a deeply dripping ominousness and in powerful overdrive, where DUTY is paramount, where one man called Mantock needs to renew his dead son Lyric in some cross between a maze and labyrinth, a place half-drowned by its dystopic seas or chequered with old blood. Sky bridges and tunnels. Rowboats and rowers. And Arden, masturbatorily ardent till she meets her match at the end, is the daughter of Mantock and central to this story, long having been submitted to his relentless obsession to use all manner of others’ enforced sexual unions to recreate his Lyric, even close family incest, Arden included, and the attritional panning out of such repercussions is this plot. A Shakespearean ending to end all such endings. I feel as if I have been made to wear a welder’s helmet. I feel done in. Suffocated, not swaddled. And I mean that as a positive. Quenching a now perceived need to sacrifice myself, as if with a hindsight hairshirt, scar-branded with muck and blood. A man needs marking, too, I reckon.
    My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/e-catherine-tobler/
    by Jack Westlake
    “It’s like wearing a headguard in a boxing match.”
    Not ready for Lidl or Aldi, the narrator – of this mightily powerful literal nerve-tugging crunch as a short-short’s test of the reader’s own forbearance – uses the less cheap Sainsbury’s alcohol aisle to help lift his addiction.
    Effectively a telling study in various comparative theories of addiction, with the ultimate culmination of contamination between them and the people thus addicted. It is also a perfect follow up to the previous story and its ‘veil’ with welder’s helmet as headguard, plus the grinding attrition there, and now here the narrator’s tall near-albino mate Dwight “light enough to blow away” … indeed himself thus like a veil. And I won’t look at broken glass the same way again after this experience!
  3. THINGS BEHIND THE SUN by David Martin
    “Fear, whatever its root, can make you do anything. And that’s what a ghost is – an effect looking for a way to become a cause.”
    This is a horror story’s horror story, an honest, linear, emotionally plainspoken, if sometimes melodramatic, perhaps over-extended account of the power of music, here closely weaved with the narrator’s backstory and love life and intrinsic sense of doom and abyss, through hearing a record, by the eponymous rock group, a secret message of things personal and things cosmic. I can imagine many readers loving this work, simply for what it is, an epiphany. I feel attached to it by its embracing coincidences as part of its plot, a preternatural rock symphony of synchronicity and gestalt. And, indeed, in the last few days, I have myself real-time reviewed a novel with references to Kurt Cobain (https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/02/28/i-wish-i-was-like-you-s-p-miskowski/#comment-11900) and a separate story about seeking a rare insidious rock music LP (Goat Songs: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/03/02/the-uncertainty-of-all-unearthly-things-mark-valentine/#comment-11855). I also somehow sense a retrocausal track from vinyl to computer upload, from helmet to veil….
    by Kay Chronister
    “I shut my eyes and saw the veins snaking across your forehead, the veil slipping loose.”
    This is a story of veins (felt or seen as part of the unrequited young love exchange of near cousins, in Marseille and elsewhere): and veils (with a retrocausal birthline of vampiric death and a taking of the veil as a (sanguinary as bleeding?) nun that both resonate ironically with the earlier Tobler) and I counted several uses of ‘vein’ and ‘veil’ throughout the text, plus ‘half-veiled’ and ‘unveiled’. It is a lush Proustian work with tea and teacups and hyacinths instead of cattleyas, a work that I have relished as another epiphany. This work actually used the word “epiphany”, and I also feel my mouth sucking and probing words like “nascent” and “abject”. And it also made me want to pick up my copy of CLARISSA to reread it but I can only currently find PAMELA (volume two) and that sort of defeats my purpose. But who wrote which letters to whom, pretending to be who? I shall reread this story itself. It seems to be calling me. And is slightly shorter than CLARISSA.
    “a lifted vein”
    by Michael Wehunt
    “He thought this was another metaphor, one that held hands with the first.”
    All stories hold hands with others. And I am pleased to report that this substantive work in three parts is a worthy addition to the mighty Wehunt canon. Also, it deals with metaphors as veils (although that word is not used explicitly). And such have always been an essential ingredient of my gestalt real-time reviewing or hawling (a savouring of words and the odd change in a letter, here CORSE (corpse, course, coarse) as we were told to savour ‘nascent’ and ‘abject’ in the previous story, and somewhere here in the Wehunt I noted, for example, ‘treat’ used instead of ‘teat’) – metaphors to which I often refer with the TS Eliot version of metaphors as ‘objective-correlatives’, and here it is the Robert Frost version, defaulting towards us in the margins. The story has ‘gauze’ for wounds, ‘milky grey’, ‘milky gloom’, photos that first appear as ‘gray squares’, ‘a dim stripe of non-color, but a dark blurry bar’ defaulting to an antlered shape, ‘colorless gray sheets like lost ghosts’, ‘delicate symbolism’, ‘stripped of its textures and literal meanings’. So much to link this story to the others above, hand in hand, baptising, marking, an unrequited bereavement… it tells of a man whose five year old daughter was killed in a mass killing by a pastor of a Baptist church, and he is now haunted by or randomly, preternaturally drawn towards such churches, ones with the word CORSE in their names, and he is using a stray dog as objective-correlative in this quest, a dog perhaps aptly he calls Grace, while both he and his separated wife are texting each other about their own versions of conduit or exorcism. The visions seen through these word-savourings and metaphors engulf the reader, are frightening but strangely leading to some comfort. The ‘tending of pastures’ under the auspices of an antlered God as God or as the Devil. And, finally, as I said above about the first story, perhaps a man needs marking, too. And here in this story that we hunt together: “Would you be marked, something asked him, something far from a voice and more like a woolen texture in the air,…” Woolen, not wooden. See my own original photo above at the head of this review.
    “The story wrote itself on the shore with a great pause.”
    My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/michael-wehunt/

    “Carefully matching the speed and flow of other cars on their way upstream,…”
    A change of gear, a new road, to emulate adventures we had in jalopies in the old days, a potentially long journey’s short short, told from the POV of the driver and the nature of his music-driven customers past and present, the ultimate journey of adventure blending in and out of the pre-taught traffic rhythms and the random glitches of traffcom, an experience that the red Koyaanasqatsi lines above, as I sense they are, draw you into the lanes, but with constructively stalling words sticky with white print on black, a tantalising tactile brain reading, and so I now sense the face speed-unskimmed (or unveiled?) from beneath the face you once had, toward its optimum, as if one’s last excited or terrified face is a premonitory version of one’s heaven or beautiful quiet hell? Or perhaps there is no exit at all from the roaring freeway? Better Glass than Fado.
  7. 5CBEED45-8901-4FCB-87BE-46A0BD87C71B
    SOUL MUSIC by Antony Johnston
    “Only a few people knew how to zig and zag just right,…”
    No H in the fore-name nor E at the end of the sur-. But that may be the only link with the word-play in Black Static above. Though we do have Cordwainer Smith type masks here that are not masks at all. And a bridge to the previous Interzone story, even if the bridge (symbolised in Florida in the last few days) collapsed leaving this community of neologisms as souls or snorting souldust alive in a cut off alien world of music streams and printing 3D as nihilist 3Darks (sometimes a word that looks like Daleks to match the Whovian guitar and smashing it as The Who once did). If I say so myself, I did understand the whole of this story — its plots and man-woman type relationship hiding ploys and decoys of avant gardens and deployed gigs, and machinations in this bridgeless world, its hang-ups and theories, even its many to-your-eyes neologisms of meaning, and that is because I have learned how to zig and zag in tune with the driving in the previous story above, to fit into a literary work’s traffic flow — simply because I have spent ten years doing these gestalt real-time reviews! I have brained up my own guitar, as it were. But I cannot PROVE that I fully understood this story. But I did. The story itself has helped me along to zig and zag even better, I’d say and I can give it no greater compliment. A Faaro for Fado? “Mob backing, more likely.” A ‘Noise Music’ I have learnt in my own life from a daily Webern. “when the bridge collapsed” The Quiet and the Closure. “kudzu of lights” the previous story’s “buffering stream” the cat Face unveiled, “the role of art in a dead world”…
  8. SCHRÖDINGER’S by Julie C. Day
    “We were molecularly isolated, a peep show in quantum flux,…”
    This sheds a new light on ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking – that you need to be IN the box to do it! The title imputes the CAT at the tail-end of the previous story, while we ourselves as readers in the know, as it were, have our brains further niftily tickled with thoughts we would otherwise not have thought. A solving of the world’s problems, its future-encroaching smoke and physical ricochet of war including the then recent trouble at the Mexican border, all divertingly subsumed within a strip-club concept of quantum possibilities, and holding that possibility in your mind against all the odds. A sort of pole-dancing with all manner of unimaginable sexual baubles. All revolved and centred around some believable well-characterised women strip club ‘businesswomen’ who leapfrogged Dragon’s Den and went straight to the Science, and applied its findings for all our ultimate welfare, each of us potentially living in an optimum example of one of those possibilities created outside of the box from inside it. ‘Blue’ sky thinking at today’s bleak event-horizon of veils and piques. I feel it working already.
    My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/julie-c-day/
  9. NEVER THE TWAIN by Michael Reid
    “I won’t die in a box.”
    …which is at least ironic in view of the previous story!
    But, intrinsically, there is no irony within this story’s own box of shared timelines, unless it is an irony of fate and disease and some control between them that is left unsaid here, but perhaps an even deeper irony represented by this Muslim central character and his or her sister’s niqab veil, and the misguided racism of those who do not understand religion let alone irony. I say ‘his or her sister’ advisedly, because we also have trans-gender trans-timelines, and one of the most emotionally freighted moments in literature, I suggest, where a character half-dies because he or she does not want to contravene any protocol by lifting a cure for pancreatic cancer to his or her earlier timeline, from over 600 years beyond 2018. He or she is a ‘twain’ and this text is about a twain’s utter gestalt “twinge” (a word otherwise used innocently in the text). Not even Dr Zoo listens, and I cried. I laughed, too, at not mixing “eras” as a cryptic clue, in view of earlier ‘noise music’ in this now even more appropriate real-time review. A twinge of crying and laughing. “Like being awake with one brain, while having a nightmare with the other.”
    My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/michael-reid/
    [As an aside, here (http://weirdmonger.blogdrives.com/archive/203.html) is a blog post in 2006 which quotes something I wrote to be included in Brian Keene’s now legendary ‘Jobs In Hell’ column in 1999, including the pretentious passage below!
    “I even collaborate, in effect, onanistically-utilizing old unused pieces from the different think-world of an earlier, discrete self, mix-and-matching them with my current brain cycles. And talking about brains, mining a brand new story from fresh ore is also like collaborating if you’ve got two brains, as I have!”]
  10. B33024B2-3A50-4A94-8D9C-A0D7526D4D83OPIUM FOR EZRA by T.R. Napper
    “Just enough sedatives to stop the creeping claustrophobia, the paranoid fear that the world wasn’t real.”
    A constructively staccato with drugs, bots and people, one or all of them involved in a futurist oriental war, a real war or Lennon/Lenin IMAGINE, and somehow smoothly accretive realisation inside-the-box to create outside-the-box thinking (“Blue sky, forever.”) and this box is an Eromanga (tellingly in view of Julie C. Day story?) tank as a titan of war and its (or that of its inhabitants/driver/ squad) receiving red-streamed messages amid a “guitar lick intro” etc of an approaching unexpected meeting with what I assumed all the way will be this story’s plot twist or rationale, or even irrationale. It also has the front covers of this Black Static and Interzone at least adumbrated: “Troops nearby burst into flames. Little Roman candles running around,…” and the niqab veils ironically again something like “Sleek black armour, opaque oval helmet […] cracked visor”]. Whether stereotypes, caricatures, “obedient characters” or real people, the reader is not you but Ezra, and this story is its own drug transcending the 19th century opium of any steampunk travesty.
    “The fusion reactor wound up, making a noise akin to young girls screaming.”
    My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/t-r-napper/
  11. “When it came, he’d float in the womb, inside a whale, inside—“
    – from above T.R. Napper story.

    baleen, baleen

    by Alexandra Renwick
    “…drawing aside the shimmering velvety curtain.”
    This is a very impressive work for me, especially also as a culmination of this double-review’s ‘veil’ gestalt. I was utterly captivated by it and I would also highly recommend it as a stand-alone rhapsody or rapture of drowning as a creative force (not so much having one’s life events flashing before the mind, but more slightly or significantly changing the ingredients and humans of the world that you left behind for good or ill, when you link back to it as a retrocausal or quantum force as also adumbrated by the previous Reid and Day stories above) – but there is far more that only reading it will tease or worry out from the threads, that wool in my original photo above, an itchy wool now explicitly made into a blanket to dry off on when you re-emerge, and “ratty gym gear”, a trawling, a hawling, with weights and pulleys, a gestalt review of one’s life with, as I say, a retrocausal force, a force that is welcome or not? It also has the “sexual eagerness” of the Day. And Napper’s own baleen whale, “all pinged and jounced away”.
    My previous review of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/alexandra-renwick/
  12. My gestalt real-time review of the cabinet or box in THE MADNESS OF DR. CALIGARI anthology: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2016/11/24/the-madness-of-dr-caligari/ and what’s in or out.
    “; seeing his empty body dangle limp as a puppet on cut strings with its lifeless limbs weighted toward the darkness below wasn’t at all the same as looking in a mirror;” — from the above story by Alexandra Renwick.

    ZEN by Eliot Fintushel
    “What’s ‘in’ or ‘out’ to such as you, zen man?”
    Here we arrive at the ZenCore. if not Cone Zero or Dr. (Cern) Zoo, and this, for me, is also the coda to my double-review’s hoped-for symphony of meaning and extrapolation. Not Ezra’s opium but “the raptures and crapulence of zoot.” Delilah, whose position on the multi-crewed spacecraft is felt by her (and her alone) to be infiltrated by alien Xesans, whom she decides to kill by killing her own self that, she believes, effectively crafts them as a mutuality — thus to save Earth from these aliens, amid much other mind-tickling of the reader about their alien nature, notwithstanding Lord Buddha, the Butterfly Effect and the Stockholm Syndrome. It could be the ultimate Renwick-type sacrifice along with Day-Napper-Reid causality. But which is the puppet dreaming or controlling which other puppets, the reader and author included as well as Delilah and the Xesans themselves.
    My previous reviews of Eliot Fintushel: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/eliot-fintushel/
    Thus ends my review of the fiction in both these magazines that also teem with other things.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Death Makes Strangers Of Us All – R.B. Russell

11 thoughts on “Death Makes Strangers Of Us All – R.B. Russell”

    “Marianne found it impossible to get back to her Henning Mankell book. It suddenly grated on her that the novel was set in Sweden during a heat-wave, while in Britain it was snowing. She was also annoyed to discover that she had previously been reading the Mankell books ‘out of sequence’. But the cause of her discontentment wasn’t really the book.”
    This is Marianne’s attempt at finding a job, and finds one as night porter in a hotel whereby she can also read her books, being a big reader, but things happen in the night that keep her busy and away from her books. (She also declines into drinking at night clubs when not on duty.) There is a well-dressed woman who turns up recurrently in the small hours needing a room each time for a different young worse-for-wear male escort to sleep it off in. If I tell you more, I would be telling you this plainspoken yet genuinely cloying story myself! In fact I might even be in it! Not sure I have read it tidily enough, though, in order to say that. But, it is worth reading, to see for yourself. The more the merrier for whom to clear things up.

    “I remember that Pagham was the dullest, most boring place in the whole world. Miserable beaches, artificial ‘Mr. Whippy’ ice cream and faded deck-chairs…”
    A bit like some of the places in the area where I was born in 1948 and where I have now lived again for the last twenty odd years. I call it, personally, the Last Balcony… one due to collapse when the shadow at last reaches its goal, the goal that is me. This story is about someone’s brother, who has had an adventurous life, a chequered, worldwide, semi-criminal, somewhat blighted life, and he has resorted to a converted railway carriage on one such beach. The narrator is his brother who happens to be staying with him when the shadow, in the shape of a storm, finally claims him. I loved the atmosphere. But I would, wouldn’t I? Hated it, too.
    (My own End of the World: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com where the photos scroll down forever, if you dare.)

  3. I read and reviewed the next story in January 2014 (now fitting into the comments I made about the previous story) and below is what I wrote about it in the context of the ‘Terror Tales of the Seaside’…
    “…and I felt that some kind of milestone had been passed.”
    A story of a seaside boarding house, a young boy with his recently widowed mother. The boy’s emotions are believably and poignantly painted as he plays amusements on the pier while his mother plays bingo. [I, too, when I was 5 to 7 years old in the 1950s, was often in this situation, my mother, father and myself living at that time in the seaside resort of Walton-on-the-Naze: imageand my Mum met me from school each afternoon and we quite regularly went on the pier and I played the now old-fashioned amusements whilst she played bottle-top bingo and won the odd trashy prize from the bingo-caller. Incredible that this story should evoke such memories.]
    However, this story turns its own milestone, with a vivid ‘Brighton Rock’ scenario of criminality upon the boy and effectively upon his mother and her set of lotions and unguents back in the boarding-house. The ending is a perfect ‘dying fall’, in its musical sense as well as its literal one.
    “Under the pier it stank of rotting stuff, but on the pier it was more enjoyable.”

    “They were like ghosts who refused to fulfil their duty to haunt.”
    Now, this is one of those stories. You know what I mean. One where you are aware almost straightaway that it is a landmark read. One of those stories that in about twenty years’ time would have been reviewed by me for my list of reviews on this site of Older or Classic Books. It is about a woman who seems to find herself living in an inscrutable European town, akin to Ishiguro’s scenario in The Unconsoled (possibly my favourite novel) but not so akin as to make me feel comfortable within the scenario here. It is yet somehow comfortable to be as uncomfortable as this novel makes me feel. The sense of building a gestalt from dreams and memories to establish one’s unknown identity and backstory, coupled with a precarious threat of subsidence, deceptive streets, poignant yearning for a particular scene in a recurrent dream, transgression of the city’s rules by yourself with impending authorities about to bring you to book. Brought to book in more ways than one, with an attenuated population of other characters, but believable ones when they do appear. Dust and greyness. And if I told you the ending that would be the ultimate spoiler. And perhaps it is.

    “From a distance he didn’t appear to be seventy,”
    Another story bordering on potential landmark memories of reading it. Here, a bird’s eye view of the sixties and that decade’s beautiful people, at parties across Europe, amid nuclear threats of the Cold War and illicit sex or drugs, or both. This septuagenarian takes a new such view away from his dreary existence in a bookstore, and the big opportunity he missed, that party to end all parties in the Austrian mountains, that extremely weird or deadpan real event, a ‘dying fall’ towards a trepanning for the brain or the open arms of the optimum erstwhile self. But who is that bearded catalyst? Well, that was possibly me again, when I had a darker beard, still tidying up behind stories.

  6. IT’S OVER
    “Unlucky at cards…”
    A telling story in Toledo of a man’s abandonment by a loved one for another man and then getting on with his life, including playing cards with other men, including that other man. A tenuous link of misreading from one to the other, clouded by drinking and dubious smoking, or in dreams. Not only the lonely are running scared of others but also they are of themselves and what they might do to others…or have already done, without knowing? How long must I dream, for death makes strangers of us all?

  7. I read and reviewed the next story in September 2016, and below is what I wrote about it in that context…
    An impulsive journey by Tonya on a train to the half-hour seaside. While Michael goes to see someone in Warrigg about buying a stamp collection, collecting stamps on a one-in one-out basis (for budget housekeeping purposes).
    It’s not a long story, but it is a delightfully full plot. But to cut a full plot thin, she gets mixed up on a special private journey – a slow motion last train journey, even as slow as Zeno’s Paradox, by the well-respected, now deceased Mr Godbolt, owner of the railway with its railway smuts and stamps, not a bolt for God but more like a dawdle to death!image
    A trackside landscape impermanent as a forsaken caravan, with a blockish, vaguely industrial building on the horizon; she needs to abort her trip by jumping and then walk back along the track to Warrigg to find Michael where, apparently, Godbolt’s journey was so slow it had not even started!
    All sounds daft when told back to you. But when actually reading it, it makes more and more delightful sense.
    (As an irrelevant aside, Cyprus was noted for its railway stamps and the above otherwise plot-assonant image is from PF Jeffery.)

    “‘Why don’t you suggest he turns it off?’ he suggested to Henry from across the room.”
    Now, this is one of those stories. You know what I mean. One where you are aware almost straightaway that it is a landmark read. One of those stories that in about twenty years’ time would have been reviewed by me for my list of reviews on this site of Older or Classic Books. Sorry about that déjà vu, but I genuinely have such a similar sentiment about ‘One Man’s Wisdom’ as I did above about this book’s earlier title story, and perhaps even more so! The story itself also has a sense of déjà vu for me, and I somehow feel that, as a much younger person, I used to have dozing or waking dreams inspired by this story. I simply know that is impossible, but it is what I truly feel about it. And it is utterly haunting, beyond measure. It tells of Henry returned to the place where he lived as a boy, and where his father still runs an ironmonger’s shop, and surly old Kingsley the only employee left. The engineering works which Henry’s old bedroom once overlooked has now been demolished. They are awaiting planning permission to also knock down a mysterious building that Henry knew as the Green Store, and to cut a longer story short, he now enters it for the first time. There are many pent up repercussions of this between the characters and much skilful readerly suspense that I will not spoil here. I beg all other reviewers to respect this story’s latter unfolding. All I will say that, inexplicably, I was reminded of the recent film ‘The Shape of Water’ and wondered if this Kingsley represents the one who created the Water Babies? And, rest assured, that gives you no clue as to the real circumstances, folly or not, and, what is more, these are wild speculations of mine.

    “Toby’s dreams were also full of people, but he said that he had forgotten who they might once have been.”
    A quiet, almost pointless post-holocaust story in north east England, a population near emptied by an inscrutable virus, it seems. One man in his high castle survives and a few others come and go with dubious intent. A world of sparse survival. He meets a fifteen year old called Toby. They share company in the castle for a while till Toby leaves. I sense the real story takes place afterwards, a story that can be spun out in one’s mind. Yet, I sensed more. As in Edith Wharton’s story with a similar title, there were views from a high building of distant comings and goings. But who was the ghost? Toby, to be or not to be. To remember or not to remember the people themselves if not their names. Death makes strangers of us all, or just the few that are left?

    “No spoilers!”
    This is an intriguing ghost story, I will say at least that. Another building , now a hotel, with views outside from on high. But the ghosts, if they are ghosts, are mainly inside. A woman travels to this area near the Norfolk Broads. She has youthful backstory concerned with this building and she notes the changes from when she was last there. Possibly herself as a teenage girl an influence on its poltergeists? There is a sense of undependability of some of that backstory, the implication of her father’s interests, leading to a book about the supposed ghosts. And her male school friend who lived there at the time. Were they more than just friends? What was the exact timeline? And what do we learn about the possible root cause of those ghostly phenomena? Well. She is here today to address the Ghost Hunters Society about her father and the hauntings of the old building that is now a hotel. Of course, I do not believe her, but what is it that I do not believe about her? Is it her ground of memory as a granularising undertow or the steady certainty she holds? Everything shifting, even when it isn’t. What is definite, meanwhile, is that her mother used to work as a laboratory assistant at ICI.

  11. I do not hesitate to call this an important book, itself shifting beneath you like an invisible fairground ride through ghosts, dreams and uncertain human situations that tutor you obliquely of hidden significances. All plainly and deceptively spoken. You have definitely not heard the last of some of these stories.


Best British Short Stories 2011

Best British Short Stories 2011


Series editor NICHOLAS ROYLE
(My previous reviews of this writer are linked from HERE)

(My previous reviews of this publisher are HERE)

Featuring stories by: David Rose, Hilary Mantel, Lee Rourke, Leone Ross, Claire Massey, Christopher Burns, Adam Marek, SJ Butler, Heather Leach, Alan Beard, Kirsty Logan, Philip Langeskov, Bernie McGill, John Burnside, Robert Edric, Michèle Roberts, Dai Vaughan, Alison Moore and Salley Vickers.

I hope to gestalt real-time review this book over the next few months in the comment stream below…

26 thoughts on “Best British Short Stories 2011

  1. Continued reviewing this whole series of anthologies from here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/02/17/best-british-short-stories-2017/
    Tantalisingly, the first story below (just read) resonates with the last story in the 2017 edition: Language by Daisy Johnson, with letters marked on edges and appendages added when stretched out for reading, and even more tantalising things like a sharp lozenge shape pressed into the ground … and so utterly tantalising, other connections keep escaping my nailing them down.
  2. Flora

    “I confessed to a slight hurt that she hadn’t said goodbye.”
    I don’t know how this miracle works, the miracle being that it works without being a miracle. A sharp ended word, that. A page-turning tale, in more ways than one, about a botanist coincidentally continuing to find the same younger woman also studying botany in various places. She ends up using his library at home, at his invitation. A few times she is accompanied by a man she knows, one with a pony tail and an anklet. We can only infer the male botanist’s motives in allowing these strangers loose with his valuable collection of illustrated botany books, the titles of some of which we are allowed, as onlookers, to know. We can’t see the pictures inside each book, though, in the way that the characters can. Nor can we fully understand all the emotions and thoughts of those concerned (the reader’s included?) although one or two of them seem clear. Even inference may not be enough for some of the emotions and thoughts at the outer edge. We need the miracle of vestigial branches on our brains to do that?
    My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/david-rose/
  3. Winter Break

    “We dress for the weather we want, as if to bully it, even though we’ve seen the forecast.”
    A shortish Mantel-piece (but to know it’s relatively short before getting to the end may in itself be a spoiler) about an English couple arriving at the airport for a foreign holiday, then met by a local taxi-driver with a placard bearing versions of their names…
    Not a shortish journey by taxi, though, to the hotel – even when halved by an incident. I shall resist doodling thoughts further upon it.
  4. Emergency Exit

    “Like he’s smoking an imaginary cigarette, you think.”
    Perhaps the thought of spending the rest of my lifetime doing Gestalt Real-Time Reviews is like going to work every day in a regimented office job and then trying to create meaning from all the bits and pieces, directions of walk, colleagues, screens, routes out, floors counted, deadpan motives doodled-with and then inferring things by its smoke and two mirrors.
  5. Love Silk Food

    “The dumplings lack squelch and bite — they come out doughy and stupid, like grey belches floating in her carefully salted water.”
    This story flows disarmingly like that all the way through, in my mind, with a pervading poignancy of life lived for its own stoical sake and for the various geometrical shapes of the kids you produce. And more of this book’s deadpan motives,
    We also find out what silk food really is. Pap for a sharp-edged kid. Or at least a GrandPap fresh off the plane at Heathrow,
    This is the story of a middle-aged black woman in London, came here long ago, often travels to and from Heathrow on the train just to watch other people. Unconsciously tries to be one of the Excitement Girls that leave their smells from underneath her husband. Given a Christmas cake, by strangers, or is it a Christening cake because they thought she doesn’t have a name? But that’s not the point. You need to read this gem for that. It may not even be in it at all.
  6. Dumplings as the new crisps…not excitement girls but…

    Feather Girls

    “He opened the crisps, split the foil of the packet and pulled it apart so they could share.”
    This is surely a classic short short and how have I not read it before? The accretive ‘I’ll get my coat’ in both directions of travel, as it were…
    Can’t do it justice here.
    My review of this author’s BIRD DOLL: https://nemonymousnight.wordpress.com/452-2/
  7. Foreigner

    “All that was a long time ago and it doesn’t always happen that way. Sometimes it’s different.”
    A second classic in a row, I gauge. This one about those who return (or do not) to their loved ones, from the various wars we unbrutish British have fought for whatever causes in the last fifty years or more. This one is a man to his wife, although I sense something far more poignant and telling than what lies on the surfaces of photos or memories. Each soldier a representative of another, across the generations, even across enemy lines. Here he has his hair cut by his wife before being sent back beyond the scope of present concerns… the ironic inverse of this book’s earlier deadpan adding of things to things in valuable books.
    “‘He looks just like you used to look,’ she says.”
  8. Dinner of the Dead Alumni

    “Preston falls all the way down her and leaves his breath at the top.”
    Now, this is both potentially hilarious and breath-taking, the latter literal not figurative. I say ‘potentially’ advisedly. A scenario of Cambridge amid the student punters and college porters, plus the ghosts of past students, some as themselves, famous and legendary scholars who populate our philosophy and other text books and annals of literature. Threaded through by ordinary people of today, including excitable identical twin girls, their mother, and their tall lumbering father with his blood-excited divining-rod ready for instantaneous orgasmic dowsing, a sexual release by the one he sees as his legendary perfect match, a woman whose name badge says Kelly, suddenly spotted across an Apple store (the electronics, not the fruit), a woman whom he avidly pursues through the streets. 31A9BC64-64DE-4367-86AD-1CD5DBF50D97The result is messy. I feel sorry for his wife.
    Meanwhile, the authorial provision of a reviewer’s decoy, in the shape of a wooden mallard, diverts any doubts.
  9. The Swimmer

    “She is so hot.”
    Which is an interesting contrast to my own real-time as I read it, with rare red weather snow warnings besetting the country. Also an extreme contrast likewise with the previous story’s excitable events as well as its floating student punters and its wooden mallard. Meanwhile, I feel this is an exquisite portrait of a girl leaving her desk to devote, almost sacrifice, herself to the river’s countryside currents, strong or gentle as they may be. I can actually feel that I am her, absorbing the same tactility of her swimming experience. And her eventual recurrent relationship with a stylishly moving swan, so much larger than as portended by being on the bank watching it instead of in the water with it, and so potentially feisty, dare she involve herself deeper with it, daring the old tales of its strength. I felt this creature was a symbol of my Winter today seen through the window… as if I need to rescue it from itself rather than from the tangled nets of global warming that caused such extraordinary currents of weather…
    “Her thoughts pull to and fro like overworked dough, a sticky grey mess of deadlines and undefined anxiety.”
    • “The writer, like a swimmer caught by an undertow, is borne in an unexpected direction. He is carried to a subject which has awaited him – a subject sometimes no part of his conscious plan. Reality, the reality of sensation, has accumulated where it was least sought. To write is to be captured – captured by some experience to which one may have hardly given a thought.” — Elizabeth Bowen
  10. So Much Time in a Life

    I hope the author, editor and publisher will forgive me quoting more than normal from this incredible, if relatively brief, work. Not only to give a flavour of it that I cannot otherwise give you, of its fiction nature as mother itself of the children in it, but also to demonstrate the amazingly preternatural connections with another book and with the fact that I HAPPEN to be simultaneously reviewing that other book here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/02/20/the-ammonite-violin-others-caitlin-r-kiernan/
    This Leach work in itself is a poignant, ground-breaking take (take, literally) on the nature of motherhood, and of human interactions waiting for your kids at the school gates.
    “Fiction is an evasion, a way of stepping out of your own life and into another’s, of making things work out, connect, make sense.”
    “, we’ll have webbed feet next,” (cf also the previous story in BBSS2011)
    “Fashionably cross-gender without being in your face butch.”
    “…while the other, my seal-girl leans against me, my arm safely around her.”
    “When is the moment when she becomes I? Is this it?”
    “I gave her back to the sea inside me, folded her in, like a seed, a pearl.”
    No similarity in story between this work and those in the other book, but there is, I feel, a wonderful kinship. A connection that bolsters me yet again in my confidence about the worth and unknown powers of gestalt real-time reviewing, whether I do it or someone else does. (See also: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/06/08/synchronicity-rampant/)
  11. Pingback: Synchronicity rampant… | DES LEWIS’ GESTALT REAL-TIME REVIEWS Edit
  12. Staff Development

    “His keyboard makes him spell the simplest words wrong. Worsd. Apicrot. Grils.”
    This is like this book’s earlier Emergency Exit but now in pathetic baroque overdrive, as we follow Jack, old enough to have danced at parties to the Beatles when they first started singing, now in the ‘dying fall’ – and sneaky, messy masturbations in a room of the office nobody else visited – of his tedious office career (latterly learning new computer programmes) – and surveying his life, his wife, his daughter’s hopeless hapless husband and Jack’s own attempted visionary dream or life-size projected actuality or minia(furni)ture meticulousness of a dolls house he has been making for his daughter and now his granddaughter as if forever – all of it writ in a relentless flow of hilarious sorrow and knowing turns of phrase that shift about in the reading head observational-engagingly…insidious-empathetically, too, most of the time, sad to say, though saying it’s sad to say is another high compliment that I am giving to its having summoned such emotions in you in the first place, even though you didn’t really want them summoned at your time of life anyway. Sob.
    “— he has a stoop now from somewhere, the age of him, the curl of death coming up from his toes already —“
  13. The Rental Heart

    “Will taught me about Boudicea, the golden section, musical intervals, Middle English.”
    And this story taught you much else. Including how to choose a heart to match your latest lover. Strangely and ironically complementary to this book’s earlier instantaneous orgasms by the merest touching of each other. Or the dolls about to inhabit the previous story.
    An engaging real-time fitting of your own latest imagined new heart to a compliant, word-beating text.
  14. Notes on a Love Story1

    “WG Sebald is good on how things can come to us when we least expect them:”
    This one has several geese as its single swan or wooden mallard – geese in an area where I was born and live now, the Essex of Colchester, and its natural environs, the bits that God doodled, I always think, in an idle moment without thinking, like Him adding bits to things like in this book’s first story and now there are numbered footnotes whence the arch Gestalter can serve his purpose in garnering the actual story of fate and chance in two things: the creation by this narrator of love with Sarah and his writing career, deftly conveying the evolving characteristics of each towards the final paradoxically hopeful diminuendo. A footnote is always just a tad above the level line of the words, looking down.
  15. No Angel

    “, ‘Do you remember,’ he said, ‘the night you swallowed the two-p bit?’”
    This is serendipitously like Foreigner filtered through fiction’s paying back now what it once took in So Much Time In A Life towards a Rental Heart. It is a poignant, nicely detailed, affectionately scolding or teasing way to look at your life through the prism of close family revenants and the way they not only give much to your own still living life as well as the past they shared with you but also give at least a tuppence bit to their own lives once lived and to what they might have missed or done wrong (or did right when you thought they did wrong!) Like someone who missed going to a theatre during their life but now going to one while a revenant.
    All of us no angels. Forever.
  16. Slut’s Hair

    “‘But, Rob,’ she said, after a moment. She always felt strange when she said his name. It was like repeating a lie.”
    Oh, what a story! It is poignant, cruel, and wryly affirming. I do not remember what gender mores were like at the beginning of the Tensies when this story must have been first published, but it takes on a new light today, no doubt, with this wife and the coercive, abusive husband. You have to grit your teeth, in more ways than one, when reading about it. And the powder-blue mouse and pasta shapes as objective-correlatives like this book’s earlier swan and wooden mallard and removable or renewable hearts. I decline to divulge to you the nub of his particular abuse that he deals out to her in this particular story’s incident. A terrible abuse that could be turned on its head and deemed thoughtful and kind, thus probably the ultimate cruelty imaginable. My secret, yes, notwithstanding any coagulated fluff left uncleaned under my bed.
    “, she got scared whenever Gary Oldman was on the telly. It didn’t matter what film he was in. She got so scared, she could feel it in her chest and throat, like a scream she couldn’t get out.”
    (I had the pleasure of meeting this author during the 1990s at the launch of Nicholas Royle’s anthology THE EX FILES, in which I was proud to have a story.)
  17. Comma

    “He says, Mary, you don’t know arsesholes from Tuesday.”
    …or from any other mark on the paper, I guess, punctuation or not. This is a story I would not have missed for a month of Sundays being added on to the end of my life. It is that special. Perhaps I was meant to pick up these earlier anthologies just for a second Mantel-piece, this one, and its scuffling chickens, and the comma itself, a cocoon out of Lynch’s Eraserhead, perhaps, or another version of Burnside’s powder-blue slut’s hair mouse or fox. The Le Grand Meaulnes feeling tinged with Aickman, but here the feeling is that of a couple of eight or nine year old girls, with sun blisters, allowed to roam the countryside, one of them at least expecting slaps in the later school of life, told the nearest drink is an iced lolly down the road, picking at the skin then through to the past and arriving at the future or now the house,
  18. Moving Day

    “…and the insulated near-double images of his window with its blistering, shrinking view of everything beyond.”
    This somehow reminds me of the second Mantel-piece just read. But there is no reason why a captivating, possibly a bit Ballardian, adumbration-as-story would make me think that, but it’s just a feeling I, too, have faulty fly-filters through the windows of my reading. The morphing distance to the nearest mountains as viewed from my apartment, the haze or strata of embedded flies or possible global warming or cloud-eraserheads that form a new clogging fluffball as if born from the previous two stories, the moving feast of loved ones with whom I once lived in this apartment, vanished as if bird-like angels flown from this very tall block of apartments, where the top and bottom ones are inhabitable. And the now untouching (apartment, literally?) relationship with an old friend, a man accompanied by his smug apprentice. I am indeed captivated to the extent I can’ t leave this story without leaving a little bit of me behind in it. The little bit that might understand it. Leaving perhaps just bracketing commas…
    “, these lazy and uncaring erasers drawn over those clear blue skies,”
  19. Tristram and Isolde

    “Deeper and deeper into the wood we went. Sometimes a jay started up, or a magpie flapped past, or a lime-green parrot turned over in a tree like a leaf. Doves and pigeons cooed out of sight.”
    A lushly musical and natural Gaia of a story with Wagnerian leitmotifs, but here they are fleeting and tend to lead you astray, where Wagner meant to identify characters with leitmotifs in his music, in a helpful way. Wagner, though, did not know his own strength, a strength also to lead others astray in a different way. Here the loving couple are not what they seem. The narrative viewpoint wants a new dance between cooker and sink, if I recall correctly, or between branch and antler, between human hair and animal fur. A work where the child has the power to abuse the adult, not vice versa. I was suffocated by it, not gently swaddled. Cooked, not cooed. Pungent, tactile and ultimately conniving with forces the author had not recognised herself before allowing herself to be connived. A little birdie told me this, I sense, out the side of its beak. And taught me that lushness and love are not necessarily what they seem. Or another child eraserhead?
  20. Looted

    92B01E12-909F-4AFE-B64E-DB11E8FCE067”On the stone mantelpiece sits a cracked glass dome which, he supposes, would once have protected an ormolu clock from the gentle perils of domesticity.”
    And a painting he salvages from one of the war-torn houses abroad and takes back across the waters to Blighty. A painting as a poignant ‘lost Meaulnes’ objective-correlative for his post-soldierly life towards retirement and beyond. The language is like shredded lace sometimes and is always perfect for itself. We, as readers, like the lawyer wanted to do, finally take the painting, whatever its deemed value as keepsake or considered Art, as our own from this story for each life we live. But do we salvage or loot it?
  21. When the Door Closed, It Was Dark

    “Tina, scrubbing at the pig blood and rinsing away the pink foam, with the taste of lard on her tongue and the sting of the cleaning fluid at the back of her throat, felt queasy and light-headed.”
    An English au pair girl in an inscrutable foreign country, deals with not only the baby but the family of quick natural instincts close to their own flesh and livestock, and she is gradually subsumed by their ways and suspicions. A spiritual claustrophobia of immanent imminence and teetering shatter, but of what? The only way to escape claustrophobia is even more claustrophobia? You may not even escape this cloying story’s grasp. Or just another version of inviting someone into your house, trusting them as in FLORA, from the point of view of Tina’s employers? Or more slut’s hair to erase, comma. The aniseed balls,
    My previous reviews of this author’s work: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/alison-moore/
  22. Epiphany

    “The road was as familiar to his feet as to his mind. Maybe more so; the body has its own memory.”
    A very touching coda to this book. A man in a fishing-seaside-bordering countryside with bus stops and passing pissers. He is a budding actor caught hereabouts, and we gradually learn of his mother, stepfather, grandmother and now newly discovered blood father. An obsessive almost bodily homing-yen for self, whether eventual disappointment or fulfilment of his image of that father, here met at the end of a bus route. I will not tell you of the revelation as to all the circumstances, as that would spoil it, but it somehow resonates with the nuclear family in that foreign country of the previous story, resulting in either that story’s representative of a finally dropped dour destiny or this story’s potentially caught box of chocolates from a daredevil hero parachuting back into your life? Either way, death never changes, only the body’s road towards it.