Monday, May 20, 2019

On Dark Wings – Stephen Gregory

14 thoughts on “On Dark Wings – Stephen Gregory

  1. I note the contents list also contains stories called ‘The Late Mr Lewis’ and ‘Dreamcatcher’ as one word. I hope I am not too late to this author! And I must read the stories in order, starting with…
    “…the wildlife gallery and tea shop owned by my father.”
    A disarmingly eerie, charmingly light-fingered tale of the security problem in this tea shop gallery near Dartmoor. I first suspected something strange when the father cursed or accused a real heron in the garden looking like a finely painted heron in the gallery with making off with a fat goldfish. I knew it was not the waitresses, at least, who done it.
    “Her face was mottled and oddly misshapen, on her right cheek there was a wrinkled map of her sleep, the imprinted material of her armchair.”
    A compellingly page-turning, engagingly characterised, movingly poignant, refreshingly innocent, deceptively profound, puckishly humorous, eerily atmospheric, often suspensfully panicky, wholesomely nature-studying story of an informal boarding-school trip organised by an inexperienced young male teacher called Mr Drew, a trip for five boys in the woods at night to collect owl pellets… One boy goes missing. The repercussions for all concerned reminded me, inter alia, of a sort of port in the storm of an erstwhile hanging-rock’s picnic, where time was drawn as a long note by Drew upon a cello’s string. I was imprinted with its tension. The chocolate treats, notwithstanding.
    Of luff and marital yaw, samphire and two damaged thumbs, this is the story of as it were a rogue element – a cormorant – being instilled as a pet into a situation in a pub and its lord and lady of land and sea, to tease out the hidden cracks in a settled cast of characters, as I try hard to get my own nib to its nub of message beneath the plotted plaster.
    “Worse was to come.”
    This engagingly sad story of a man not dissimilar to the one in the story of a boarding-school teacher’s owl pellets; here it’s the short-eared owls themselves, but the teacher is now much older, having memories of unrequited and discarded loves with the distaff of our kind. Indeed, I get the sense I am granted views of such things in writing by someone who really wants me to see them as some raison d’être of life, but paradoxically they make me wonder about what I have been doing all these years; why have I not been letting such engaging works as these slide over my mind as a forgettable pleasure; why have I forced myself to retell them via my quaint viewpoints on literature; why have I found myself hawling, dreamcatching them, and finding cross-references, synchronicities, preternatural gestalts &c.? But here the owls are not what they seem. I even found myself somehow trying to work out an anagram for Ed Debba! (Bead bed?)
    A vicarious vignette of being tiger-like. A man who merges with one of our woodlands where we live, in his ironic camouflage of orange pullover. Not so ironic, perhaps. He IS the forest, sometimes inadvertently frightening visitors with his abrupt presence. His caravan’s fire was orange, too, I guess. His presence lingering on like a tricksy chameleon. This man still seems a good one. That other orange man whom I infer elsewhere, notwithstanding?
  6. 799F0959-B343-4FCA-A24F-E8D1BF893F63THE BOYS WHO WOULDN’T WAKE UP
    “At the overgrown ha-ha, Mr Hoddesdon told Ian to leap down into the dilapidated bandstand and find owl-pellets…”
    This is an excruciatingly poignant story in the boarding-school cycle, a story, inter alia, of sad cold sunlight on even sadder snow, a buried boy’s head or the headmaster’s own head when he was a boy, I extrapolate, any flames, notwithstanding. A story that is excruciating in an effective way, that is. The odd headmaster, odd by name and manner, old, too, 70, left alone at the small declining school, alone with a boy, 7, Ian, whose parents cannot take him home for Christmas hols. Excruciatingly awkward, I would guess, but the two of them manage together, with stilted conversations, and an outing with a picnic hamper (that hanging rock picnic again?) and Ian sleeps and brushes his teeth in the dormitory with the other empty beds. But the oddness later turns into a sort of madness – with memories about some fire tragedy, the other boys involved, when the headmaster was 7 himself and slept in the same dormitory, even in the same bed as Ian does today. Unforgettable as a story, a putative classic of its kind, I suggest.
    “, dreaming and steaming…”
    A ghost story, of a ghost embodied as a deformed, deaf and sightless pig, sleeping and no doubt dreaming under the other pigs as part of a pen’s gestalt-pig, I’d say. Or if not a gestalt ghost, it is a reincarnation of another schoolboy burnt to death or bacon? Soon to become the ghost, ignited by lightning, a ghost that I first assumed it to be. All witnessed by a different boy. We all take our turns upon this Gestalt Wheel? Or become just a final dream? Or buried by where we once lived?
    After the earlier pig, now a moth, one that sometimes sounds like a rodent, is exposed to a potential flame’s engulfment. A Humming Bird Hawk Moth, as Celia at the tender age of 20, having escaped early the silly student behaviour of others at university, writes and directs her own play in the village hall, both helped and hindered, both cowed and inspired by the moth in the Hall, with differing audience reactions to the results of her moth phobia, a phobia she’s had ever since encountering a Death’s Head one as a child… but why on Earth am I trying to retell this story leading to an ending I do not fully (as yet) understand? The story should stand or fall on its own perceived performance, bespoke or otherwise, to each individual reader as part of a gestalt audience of readers, waiting to applaud together… I’ll keep my powder dry, meanwhile.
    “There was a cormorant fishing. […] One bird jabbed its beak on into Henderson’s beard and flapped away screaming.”
    A movingly vicarious vignette of a man drowning, then dead, as if you still live through him, amid the elements of Gaia that enfold him and somehow keep him alive by suspended disbelief.
    “Mr Lewis taught me things.”
    A touching story from the owl pellets cycle of boys’ boarding school stories, where a teacher was never late, till he was! What did it all mean, as the boy, like I was also a boy from the 1950s, wonders? Well, my Gestalt real time reviews will continue after I have gone. Mark my words.
    Swifts and swallows, come one after the other, the latter first, swifts that sleep on the wing, but it is the I of swift not the all of swallow as we imagine the projected I or self of David the boy intent on rescuing a wounded swift, unlike the earlier year when one of his teachers stoned it to a peaceful kind death, so called.
    The boy precariously climbs a tall tree with it between shirt and chest, and then let it go. The ending is iconic and needs to be anthologised regularly in bird story anthologies. But had I read another story where the boy jumped with it? – if so, I must have dreamt it.
    “…a secret, a secret between herself and the blackbird.”
    There is somehow a musically erotic theme to this story, a secret well kept, perhaps, till now. Or it may be something I imagined. Whatever the case, a touching story of a woman flautist whose car accident, as well as causing a marital bereavement for her, also not allowing her to continue as a world famous concert performer. Until she reaches a synergy of assonance, with the blackbird and its song that had earlier haunted her. An assonance via her lips.
    A story of the eponymous boy who is born mentally abnormal, soon after his father had died, his words not words at all, but no doubt full of meaning. A story of healing, but who is healed? Anything more I say about it would spoil a chilling gem of a story. Chilling, but somehow uplifting.
    “One of the shapes, something dead and broken, stayed where it was. The other lifted off, with a sudden heaving struggle of dark wings.”
    I have long since called my book reviews Dreamcatcher ones as well as Hawler ones. And that quote above seems the perfect description of these two aspects, and indeed an emblem for this whole growingly perfect book, an emblem of fight and flight. This story of a man in the Dreamcatching film industry of California takes time off after a struggle with the aspirational Gestalt of creatives working on a certain film. Towards a hotel they booked for him, but he wilfully wanders off in his car into the desert. Whereby part of this book’s dual collusive, collisional conundrum somehow watermarks itself on the windscreen and another part becomes its own roadkill that had always been roadkill, looking for pellets rather than the bird itself? I hope I have managed to dreamcatch this book as equally well as it has watermarked me. Me and this book in constructive collision and collusion?


    Wednesday, May 15, 2019

    Trying To Be So Quiet – James Everington

    6 thoughts on “Trying To Be So Quiet – James Everington

      I first read and reviewed this work in May 2016, and below is what I wrote about it then…
      Trying To Be So Quiet
      This being today’s note, it is addressed to everyone except the book’s author. The Dreamcatcher review below is, as ever, in fusion or symbiosis with a hyper-imaginative fiction. A NO SPOILER POLICY OPERATED THROUGHOUT. But on rare occasions such reviews can accidentally reveal too much…
      Pages 1 – 26
      “They were just building their dreary little spires up into the sky.”
      There is Marie in TS Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’, but no Lizzie….
      This is the bereaved aftermath of the accountant’s loss of his wife Lizzie, one where the text itself and this aftermath’s environment that it describes are linked, page by page, by an accreting craquelure on the walls of the house where the couple lived, a device like Gahan Wilson’s wall-stain in Again, Dangerous Visions. There, explained, but here, just there. Rotting up. Totting up like a balance sheet, where the numbers always add up to zero.
      I am highly disturbed as well as enchanted by the accretion not only of the design but of the nature of this bereavement, its assumption of pointlessness, the building of spires in a daily office akin to the work on ancient cathedrals, work that often spanned more than the lifetime of those working on them. But Lizzie was always right when she was alive, leaving just a pause to prove that her forthcoming answer was wiser than he could ever be. All this elusiveness blended with an artful construction of the two main characters as backstory, together with his office life that he quickly resumes to help heal the bereavement, yes, all this adds, like a column of effects, to the sheer power of what I feel when reading this. And I thought I would stop here, halfway, briefly, then hurry back to work on it as soon as I post this first of two impressions, just glimpses of what the dead might leave behind, say, in bathroom mirrors, or shadows on the wall, or in remembered discussions they once held on eschatological matters during their backstory.
      Pages 26 – 53
      “He longs to go and hold her, the effect is so lifelike. He wonders which would be worse if he did — touching nothing or touching warm skin.”
      I wondered, too, as I reached into the text, having flipped ahead cursorily, without yet reading the words, seen for whatever reason that the craquelure turned from black to grey towards the end. I wonder, too, how this might work in a vacuum as with digital text, rather than, as here, on paper. The text here holds any ghost true like a memory of the place where you first met the person whose ghost it is, and I reread the backstory’s beginnings in the first half of the text. The text’s backstory complete with craquelure is indeed the ghost, and, in hindsight, I may perhaps have given the wrongly shallow impression when just referring to Lizzie’s widower (the story’s protagonist) as an accountant, especially when we revisit with him where they first met in Oxford as university students. Amid all those dreaming spires that Matthew Arnold first identified.
      There are many other moments you will encounter in this text that I cannot cover here, but one of them strikes me as possibly the most powerful for my own recent circumstances of bereavement (not a wife, but a mother), something I hope is not a spoiler, and that is the concept of the latent Death Scream, one that is owing for release to any dead person who was muted by palliation whilst dying.
      And as I began with ‘The Waste Land’, I now sense, with the universe’s forward rush slowing, near the end of this book, a shade of Byron’s poem, ‘Darkness’.
      This work felt both devastating and uplifting to me. But how can that possibly be?
      And a great ghost story, to boot. Trying to be so quiet.
      “—he had forgotten how noisy the gulls could sound when they landed on the roof directly above his head.”
      When I judge a story, I should surely not judge it, even partially, by its supposed chance synchronicities with my own life. But I am only human. As is the character here, a middle-aged man trying out his childhood bed for size in the attic bedroom, in a house where his parents had recently died, after he had been abroad on the idyllic Mediterranean coast, somehow with a successful, real or fabricated, life, just as fabricated as these gull sounds on the old roof he remembers from the past, after having met with the Lawyer and the Doctor about the demise of his parents, or was it both the Lawyer and Doctor amorphously, at once, as the same person? I was entranced by this Aickman-like and Tem-Like and Everington-eventing ambiance of shifting doubt in time and shifting place or face. Enhanced PERSONALLY by my knowledge over the last twenty odd years of the sound of sea-birds on an attic-bedroom roof, the death of my own parents over the years, reading this while, by chance, listening to Lee Patterson’s birdsong music with shifting and shimmying gulls, and having read, by equal chance, too, Tem’s Housewarming story with shifting settlement here earlier today.
    3. The woman who doesn’t feel pain (Recent article.)
      Pages 83 – 104
      “Her girlfriend had sat and watched the Doctor Who Christmas Special with the same affectionate bafflement Alex had felt when Alyssa had called her to see a bird in the garden.”
      Birds now inside the house, or head? Instead of on the roof. Words and their lines, spread out, relaxed, with white spaces between, some words even gratuitously lengthened by vestigial hyphens. Here a sense of bereavement and pain of the surviving partner after the mindlessness involved in the accidental death of the other one – two women lovers, one into birds and the twelve days of Christmas, like turtle doves, the other into extinction beyond our world’s warming pain, even scalding pain, and a scarf but Who’s? There was no stress, no anxiety, I could allow myself to take time, spoilt for choice between interpretations. So why make any choice at all? Just kill others without culpability for their culpability. Dead sure that whatever will be whatever. The previous story’s Lawyer or Doctor, no one ever knows which you need most or which you are nearest becoming? Killer and healer, both. Christ’s Christmas or the Doctor’s, in her scarf.


      Thursday, May 09, 2019

      The Rhymer: an Heredyssey – Douglas Thompson

      4 thoughts on “The Rhymer: an Heredyssey – Douglas Thompson

        Pages 19 – 24
        Just skimmed into the start by only a few pages, but read each page as closely as they deserve, and I’m already on board for the whole ride with the narrator, after his meeting with someone called Weasel. At first this work so far has reminded me of J.W. Böhm’s slow ride (reviewed by me here) around my own Wounded Island during Brexit times, but I note this Thompson work was written well in advance of the dreaded Referendum. But then I noticed a pub that could have come straight from Rhys Hughes’ Deep Absurdism, and I noticed other mythic layers and a turn of mind or tone that could be somehow reviewing the Gestalt Real-Time Reviewer as an entity itself! To show what I mean, I shall make some sizeable quotes from these initial pages, if I may be forgiven. I won’t continue this practice so heavily as I conduct my rhyde proper through this obviously potential seminal book. The dead bleeding deer upon my pilgrim back, notwithstanding.
        “Because this is how it always is at the end, the selfishness made manifest, the isolation devices, the rash of rush and bluster.”
        “…the notion that we are all dead, us humans, and all this that we think life now is but an afterlife. How else to account for the ridiculous preponderance of coincidence, the déjà vu, the way what books we read constantly prefigure our everyday concerns,…”
        “…the lives of the Titans as it were, the huge heroic people we were each before we were woken by death and birth into this becalmed shore of suburban banality, a domain one might say of air-freshener and furniture polish, of broken dreams and haemorrhoid creams,…”
        “So why shouldn’t Buddhist reincarnation and Christian damnation and all the other tosh be rated as equal tosh with all other tosh, fragments of a jigsaw of tosh…”
        Yes, I do have “a blog one can follow…”
      2. —> Page 32
        “I say we are all asleep, and only art can wake us up for a few mad moments each day.”
        I must have been asleep when I read those words yesterday in this book, but now I am awake to the fact that this book should indeed wake me up with its art upon each day that I pick it up to read it in the future. Slow, savoured, textured, eked-out, my reading of this rich prose, with many internal rhymes by the Rhymer and many internal assonances by the Assonancer…
        So that I do not issue any plot spoilers, the only reference to the plot I shall make is this photocopy of these words from the book’s cover:-
        Oh, I would add that Nadith in Suburbia seems to have a brother called Zenir currently in Industria, or so I infer. Nadir and Zenith?
      3. I intend to read the rest of this book’s 200 pages outside the scope of my public real-time reviewing. I fully expect them to maintain — and constructively extrapolate upon — the promise of tenor I have already observed above.

      Wounds – Nathan Ballingrud

      7 thoughts on “Wounds – Nathan Ballingrud

      1. The initial story in the book I reviewed when it was first published in 2014, as follows….
        The Atlas of Hell
        “…the language of deep earth that curdles something inside me, springs tears to my eyes, brings me hard to my knees.”
        There’s something I don’t get about this story but I know enough about this story, having just read it, to be pleased at least that I don’t get it! It has the aura of a brutal, conniving city gangster ethos that migrates to the swamps outside the city, where books and skulls are not distinct from each other and where Whovian metal boxes allow insulated migration from Hell itself, ending with a boy dangling these boxes like huge lanterns … or gas masks? It seems a perfect follow-on from the previous story but, as yet, I know not whither all this is taking me… A reading journey is only complete when every bit of that journey, that is still unread, has later been taken further into eventually complete hindsight.
        The Ballingrud language here is like bone containing blood and vengeful vistas, apertures, double dealing, all sweetly searing inward. My previous review of one of his books here.
        siobhan shearman kiernan kaaron warren mcmahon barron ellen langan nathan cadigan caitlín
        “It’s hard to know a miracle for what it is until it blots out the sun with its beauty.”
        A tantalising encounter with a you and I that struggle to become a we, you the daughter of the eponymous monster who as a man lives among people like us — us the readers not the putative we of you and I, i.e. that I who is the adoptee he summoned from Hell, an adoptee who was mistaken by him as his wife, your mother. The murder of one of earth’s children, an offspring of people like the readers of this story, an offspring who is a male youth who fancies you, wants to grab your pussy, no doubt, at last such a murder bringing the lake to the sea of you and me as we. But not the we as the us who read this… Except to feel the coldness of Melania, perhaps. Amid the pointless, dangerous industries. “I don’t care.” A single said sentence in this story. Cold crisp tones, said without feeling, I sense. Sensed by a single reader, the only me. A story first published in 2014.
        “I’m told that everyone experiences the dream of the Maggot differently.”
        The calling game. And I do and I did. Be I a child at heart called to the eponymous fair (carnival with freaks and flies as the meat in carni-) or to the Cold Water fair or the Extinction one, bringing the young among us together to demonstrate aGainst Gaia’s destruction, as happened in London, for example, a week or two ago as I write this. Did they kick skulls around as part of a game to see who could pop the brains out of the pockets first? Pok! Pok! The most frightening thing was, as with the Diabolist earlier in this book, that there is a deadpan acceptance of the force or forces that live among us. The Maggot or Wormcake or Uncle Digby or whoever tells this story. Bringing us into communion with some process having rules and rituals that we should dread, but we find ourselves daring to relish, summoned each of us as children by our personal dreams, when these ceremonies were due to take place. And when I say dreams I mean nightmares. The most frightening thing, though, was not the man in a cage with two faces, not the Orchid Girl, but the mermaid. Read the description of her in the freak show and you will never forget her. I won’t. But who was Christine Laudener?
        “Skullpocket is, of course, a culling game. It’s not about singling out and celebrating a winner. It’s about thinning the herd.”
      4. THE MAW
        “He reminded her of her parents in their last days, staring in befuddlement as the world changed around them, becoming this new and terrible thing.”
        An old man that Mix a 17 year girl escorts through the other human residues of a city to find his loved one, an old man just like me, except I don’t like dogs. Well-characterised characters and a truly brilliant conjuration of a genius loci, city a Hellhole, with Wagoneers, over-tall Surgeons stitching together the human residues, a process that reminds me of what I call ‘hawling’, a passage of unmissable description, where an awl is involved and hauling, a Hell and a hole, a Hollow city, towards a maw, a wagging dog, towards a gestalt, too, a beauteous musical trope, from Wagoneer to Wagnerian. The sound mix from the hole grew in volume…hawling like a trumpet.
        I was absolutely taken by it, even if befuddled by it, too!
        “She felt it like a density in the air, a gravity in the heart.”
      5. image I read the next work, a novella, four years ago, and below is my episodic real-time review with its original page numbers:
        Pages 5 – 11
        Such a short space of turning pages acutely to convey this drinking bar in New Orleans, and the living characters of its barman, his woman Carrie, specific customers like Alicia and Jeffrey, the types of regular it draws, then, the brawlers and the outcome of their brawl, even the living characters of the cockroaches that you would need to burn down to ‘their mother nests in Hell’ to fix. A wordfest with one click of the pen, is the impression.

Pages 11 – 15
        I’m getting scared by this book. Sometimes I thinks its text is texting me. Or is it a cockroach?

        Page 15 – 19
        My breakfast this morning, reading this. Will the barman’s breakfast, in last night’s bar brawl aftermath. TS Eliot’s Hollow Men stirred to be reread just now, at least by me. From hollow men, stuffed men, to Will’s day of empty spaces, and the sex and text that texts him. Ballingrud’s text about these texts is spot on, a bit like a cross of Eliot himself and Hemingway.
        ‘Headpiece filled with straw’ with the teeth now gone?

Pages 20 – 24
        “If there was something hollow underneath it all, a well of fear that sometimes seemed to pull everything else into it and leave him clutching the stone rim for fear of falling into himself, well, that was just part of being human, he supposed.”
        We remain with Will’s first waking hours, noir-immaculised artfully by Ballingrud, journeying into the morning after – and those left licking their wounds after the night before, including Will. Some wounds physical, some mental. Or both. Cheap shots and skirting the edges of infidelity. And even the reader fears he is being sucked into falling into something…. No spoilers here.

        Pages 24 – 31
        “It felt like a conduit of some dark energy, and he felt uncomfortable holding onto it.”
        …much as I feel about this chapbook, thin and neat as it is like a tablet.
        Maybe the rumours I’ve heard about this work is making me eke it out as I am doing, either to savour and extend what I sense is about to happen or in the hope that something may prevent me reading any more? It is like an OCD experience of an accretive version of Antonioni’s ‘Blow Up’ upon a modern implement.
        Impelled by Schopenhauer’s Will?

        Pages 31 – 36
        I’m still here. Can’t put it down. But can hardly pick it up, too. This is a stoical, human intermission. Beautifully expressed. And the word ‘beautiful’ means a lot to me. I don’t use it lightly.

Pages 36 – 41
        Guilt, rejection, Googling, toggling… The white noise of anxiety I have about this text I fear will turn eventually to terror.

        Pages 41 – 49
        “Something fundamental was about to tip…”
        And this text make it seem potentially even more fundamental from simply being within the text itself. Feeding on itself. I want to be one of Will’s now ‘sweetly dreaming’ roaches, oblivious of its ‘slow engine algorithm of fate’…
        But the text has left a pressing present for me. Not a past.
        I fear I cannot – eventually – not read this text, despite the ohm resistor of my review’s real-time. And my own fallible character, like Will’s, so neatly conveyed.


Page 49 – end
        This is a bigger bite of text than to those I have been accustomed; couldn’t swallow it, but couldn’t not swallow it, either.
        I felt like one of the roaches, who I’ve decided are us readers; makes sense, ‘incurious and unafraid’, ‘antennae waving in bored appraisal’, until we come into our own at the end, knowing that our real-time eking out of this text was, like Will’s love life, not so much the act of a ‘listless child’ but more the not being able to do good for doing wrong. Reaching Erictus.
      6. I am reading ‘THE BUTCHER’S TABLE’ novella outside the scope of my public real-time reviewing.
        Meanwhile, I consider THE MAW — in Gestalt with THE DIABOLIST and SKULLPOCKET — to be a genuine imaginative masterpiece for our times. Unmissable.