Saturday, May 30, 2009

'Weirdmonger' Review - Part 8


The Spigot and the Speechmark (1996)
We return to the world of an old couple as in ‘Season of Lost Will’ and the use of speechmarks as in ‘Rosewolf’. This story has a ‘snorting monster’ – if sat on a motorbike or on a lavatory.
I remember it getting good reviews when it first appeared in ‘Deathrealm’. But it gains even more power here in the context of this book, I find. Yet some have told me that many of my stories lose power by being in this book's sheer textual overpowering. Who is right?
Meanwhile, I find myself wishing to go back and edit all these stories. Even destroy them. Can’t do that with a book as easily as I can with all my other stories that I've spent some years posting on the Internet. Who knows what I may do when ‘I’ become like this story's two characters in real life. Not long to go, I guess. (30 May 09 - 7 hours later)

Sponge and China Tea (1989)
This was one of the eight stories by DFL that ended up either in ‘Best New Horror’ or ‘Year’s Best Horror Stories’ in the Nineties. DFL was, however, never really a Horror Story writer as such, but, as someone once said, he is a writer who writes in a genre of one. The big question is – does his work have an audience of one, too?
This story was first published in 1989 in the ‘Dagon’ DFL Special. It is about a daughter and mother, as the latter dies. A horrific, yes horrific, account of this relationship – and the arrival of an old school friend as a travelling salesman whose products bring ... hmmm, what shall we call it? ... scar tissue (cf. that in ‘The Scar Museum’). He also brings a variety of ‘small talk’ that borders on ‘pub talk’...!
A borderline Ghost Story, too. With marked DFLisms of style.
“The body wherein she lived toward the end had been little better than a wrinkled sack of rattling bones, which sometimes spoke up for itself with a voice I no longer recognised.” (31 May 09)

The Stories of Murkales: Twelve Zodiacal Tales (1987, 1988 – in separate issues of ‘Dagon’)
Re-reading this substantial mini-collection-within-a-collection reminds me that ‘Egnis’ was not the only story in ‘Weirdmonger’ representative of my much earlier writing times when I did not expect ever to be published.
These tales stem, I guess, from the late seventies or early eighties. The twelve tales – highly wrought, containing many astrological references, conveying a Biblical feel of (to coin a phrase) Baffles and Fables – are each representative of a Sign of the Zodiac. There is a strangely Arabic air, inter alia. And a scatological / eschatological feel that is emblematic of later work represented in this book. There seem to be astrological harmonics to which any chance reader of these tales should – the then ‘author-self’ surely hoped – slowly grow attuned. My present-self has severe doubts.
“Each. Sentence. Is. A. Word. In. Itself.” (31 May 09 - 4 hours later)

Stricken With Glee (1992)
A companion story to ‘The Christmas Angel’, with pathos and absurdity in symbiosis. There are back-stokers who live behind all the roaring fires in the large many-chimneyed house – living in tunnels and intermittently opening the backs of fires to throw on more coal. One of the protagonists (protagonists who sit desultorily in front of these many roaring fires to dissipate the aching cold) will need to dress up as Santa Claus on Christmas Eve and climb up on the roof to choose which chimney he will use...
Pity he has upset the back-stokers throughout the year!
That’s a story spoiler, by the way. But I love spoiling things –
These stories often work better if the readers fear the author they imagine behind them.
One consolation: the back-stokers are here brilliantly described and I will not quote anything for fear of spoiling your enjoyment even further.... (31 May 09 - another 3 hours later)

The Swing (1997)
This is, I’ve now decided, the perfect DFLism! It works on many levels – the ambition of a swing’s upswing – young love that matures (symbolically and sexually) into a ghostly future – the religionisation of life’s characters such as parents – the full blooming of the story’s swing-emblem into something or someone other...
This whole book is now firmly back on the upswing – having been on the downswing for a while...
There is also a subtly implied re-visit from ‘The Christmas Angel’.
“As they say, whilst human beings reach out for Heaven, angels die the other way". (1 June 09)

The Tallest King (1988)
This, I’m now reminded, is another pre-DFL DFL-story like ‘Egnis’ and ‘The Stories of Murkales’ written a number of years before the late eighties. This is in a simple style -- a fable or fantasy story of islanded communities that reach beyond themselves by the power of individuality.
It stirred the then much younger Mark Samuels to write in the next issue of the magazine where it was first published as follows: “The highlight of the issue was undeniably Des Lewis' beautiful little story, 'The Tallest King'. A wonderful faerie-tale told in perfectly child-like manner, and singing with the glory of descriptive prose. Really delightful. What a talent this fellow is.” :)
“There came a time when the tallest king in the city was a man of strong mind. When he first went up the stairs to the tallest room in the tallest palace in the whole city, he stood with amazement on his tallest chair, peering through the tallest window near the tallest roof, and gazed for the first time on...”
(1 June 09 - 2 hours later)

Tentacles Across The Atlantic (The Story) (1996)

Presumably labelled ‘the story’ to differentiate it from the regular non-fiction column of the same name that DFL wrote in ‘Deathrealm’ during the Nineties.
This is another very long monologue like ‘Shades of Emptiness’ – with some amazing separate images but, ultimately, non-synchromeshing. Or at least my present self so judges. The opening seaside scenario is, however, worth reading the whole book for alone ... perhaps.
This is one of the half-a-dozen similar unreviewable stories in this book under ‘S’ and ‘T’ in the alphabetical contents that make the whole book ultimately flawed, and predominantly why I have assumed it to have foundered since it was first published – despite the excellent production qualities of Prime Books and the stunning cover and internal design by Garry Nurrish. Or it is simply wishful thinking to believe that, given a different contents list, it wouldn’t have foundered in any event. A tentacle-tangled wreck on the ocean-bed of misbegotten literature.
“I will have shown Max my old marbles – the ones I played with at his age. I will have taught him their names: Big Red, Split Dark Blue, Blur Green, Spot Yellow, Thin Red, Big Green, Large Light Blue, Thick Red, Bubble Red...”
(1 June 09 - another 3 hours later)



Tuesday, May 26, 2009

'Weirdmonger' review - part 5


The Merest Tilt (1994)
Well, a real gem of showgirls and froths and frills and creamy realities that the narrator fashions from a selective use of his own diary written during the events of the story. This pencilled diary needed a merest tilt sometimes for him to be able to read parts he had earlier rubbed out. This seems to fit in with the way I’ve been looking at this whole review! Truths and fictions?
A story with its darker moments, too.
“My companions were surly souls with curt courtesies in the taxi. Humourless asides intended to be funny made me cringe. One was my uncle I think (the diary is unclear). Someone else was there whom I’d once loved but did no longer, somehow. Yet another was silent and shadowy who made me afraid to talk out loud in case I revealed something of myself he wanted to catch. There was also a dwarfish creature, pressed up close to me on the back seat, who kept broaching unwanted topics and expecting us to comment.” (26 May 09 - another 2 hours later)

Migrations of the Heart (1993)
Coincidentally, following alphabetically straight on from the previous story, this one says: “I can only convey things by things I leave out.”
A very brief piece of poignancy about a childless couple haunted by the ghost of childlessness and of their own encroaching old age when decisions (like where to sleep) become arbitrary. Alphabetical by way of its own plot, too, incredibly, in the above light! (26 May 09 - another hour later)

A Mind’s Kidney (1993)
Another quick-change act by what turns out to be (from the point of view of the author) a fast-and-loose I-Narrator as in ‘Angel of the Agony’. Also ‘bed-switch’ repercussions almost in tune with those in the immediately previous alphabetical story! All taking place mid bladder-change during a night in strange lodgings, the room having oversized door-hooks and old-fashioned chintzy decoration. A real ghost that is generated by confused thought. The story of my life!
“Filters can work both ways, I thought, in the tired way my thoughts sometimes made me think.” (26 May 09 - another 2 hours later)

Padgett Weggs (1986)
Archetypal early DFL tale of pub talk, St Paul’s Cathedral, Great Old Ones roosting on London’s roofs, walking heads, brain surgery conducted in a pub lavatory, smuggling ambergris...
Also a clumsy wooden arch constructed over the bed as a second ‘roof’ to keep God out ... or in! [The latter bit was inspired by the novella ‘Agra Aska’ written in 1983.]
This is one helluva crazy author's first published story. It cannot be reviewed. It just is. It needed to exist. Ironically iconic. Cone Zero. A zoo of words that escaped their cages.
Ever since coming to this strange city, he felt that his mind was channelled between two blind alleys – so, although he could indeed think straight, the thoughts themselves were in the dark and ambivalently cobbled together.” (26 May 09 - another 3 hours later)

Queuing Behind Crazy People (1997)
A tale of a film that becomes a tale of its queue outside the cinema, with Ligottian buskers entertaining its length. Some queue-members even have to leave the queue because they spend their entrance money on the buskers. Conversations and friendships underpin the queue. A story of craziness even crazier than the story that tells about such craziness. (This book is a meta-book only crazy because it was ever published in the first place.) Coincidentally, following on alphabetically – in a presumably neat queue of stories – from ‘Padgett Weggs’ which tells of a living human head in separate existence, here a queue-member tells of a head being found in a lobster-pot when fished from the sea by the fishermen. A character called Ken King tries to befriend the we-Narrator after the film simply because he recognised ‘us’ from having sat in the same row in the auditorium. The film itself (which fails to feature in the story because too much time was spent describing its audience’s preliminary queue) was, apparently, banned after its first showing – because of one fleetingly brief scene which most of the audience missed as they were snogging. I won’t mention the toy gun. This story is not iconic like ‘Padgett Weggs’, but it is certainly a memorable busker for you queue of readers who want to read the book as long as you can manage to get into it. Some memorable images, but fundamentally firing blanks.
“That night, we believed Ken King would have an itch in his brain. / A terrible itch. / Such an itch, if it were at a point on one's back which could not be reached without a degree of bodily contortion, was bad enough. But an itch in the brain--well, Ken King pawed at his ear, trying to dig in as far as he could go. The itch became so unbearable, he prodded his eye, until it wept blood. Then thrust fingers up his nostrils. If he had been able to do so, he would have peeled back his face with a rip-roaring wrench, simply to uncover a route to the bone basin of the lobster brain. And scratch it to his own delight. His last resort, of course, was to detach the head in its entirety, with the neck-flashings removed. / Thoughts themselves were itches he could not remove, whatever method adopted.” (26 May 09 - another 3 hours later)

Rosewolf (1992)
“You obviously know I have been keeping these pages for, it seems, centuries now, and I do have the misfortune (sometimes) of dipping into purple prose and, at another point of the literary compass, near-illiteracy.”
I think this is the one story in ‘Weirdmonger’ that more people have told me is their favourite story in it. A ghost story that Elizabeth Bowen might have written – and situated in Innsmouth! A family of oblique children and retainers and many aunts and uncles – excitedly taking a cliff walk (in queue form!) to Innsmouth at which destination one of the Uncles has a miscegenate relationship (with a Deep One?). There is also a renowned description of a specialist fork collection in the family house. Here, in this story, resides the hub of a wheel that is ‘Weirdmonger’ - of dimmer-switch controlled character identities and a Narrator that needs tuning in like an ancient wireless, with the signal coming and going. Sometimes static. DFL was probably the first horror writer to use ‘static’ as a pervading symbol or signal.
“‘Ghosts never use speech marks,’ said Aunt Guide, thus proving she wasn’t one.”
(27 May 09)


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

'The Weirdmonger' Real-Time Review


A Brief Visit To Bonnyville (1995)
“‘Which way in?’ asked the guide.”
You can ask that again! This is an ostensibly substantial story about a visit to the seaside, written, I recall, immediately after my move in 1994 to the seaside of North East Essex (where I was originally brought up in the Nineteen Fifties) - after living in a South London / Croydon no man’s land for 22 years as a Company Pensions expert. It turned out to be longer than a brief visit to the seaside, as I am still here!
The story is now too salacious for my taste and imponderable. But I am now just another reader. Not a very sympathetic one. It does have its enticing moments of conundrum and inscrutable vision, however. ‘Claura and the Gulls’ would have been a better title. In a strange way, it now strikes me as very Restoration Comedy with disguises and inferred asides and set-piece tableaux.
“At a point where two prayers cross.” (20 May 09)

Caretaker (1993)
Upon re-reading this recently (for reading aloud purposes on-line), I decided this was my favourite prose poem of all time and of all writers. But I have a very narrow definition of prose poem.
It tells of a communal gas oven where its caretaker operates inside it arranging for wool to be pulled over our eyes that it is a beauty parlour. And then wheeling my readers in. Haw Haw.
Treat both triumph and disaster as impostors – Kipling (20 May 09 - 2 hours later)

The Chaise Longue (1998)
I suddenly thought - I’ve been second-guessing an earlier self of mine above – and I should be reviewing each story in the cold light of today... as it appears on the page uncluttered by any memory of creating it.
This story then has a strange mixture of Pinteresque / Ivy Compton-Burnettesque dialogue as a misguided sticking-plaster for a relationship under ancient duress. Fustian to the nth degree. An experiment in re-coupling the de-coupled. With a sting in its tail. It does strike me as being a powerful scenario, splatting the fiction-reading-head with a de-boxed but still fully ripe wine-bag.
“...decked out in a floral print frock that hugged her bosom tightly enough for the nipples to show through even a heavy-duty brassiere.” (21 May 09)

The Christmas Angel (1995)
This, for me, is a DF Lewis classic. Quite perfect within his own then perceived terms. With the most pathos in any story’s ending that can be squeezed into Christmas Day’s start. Didactic about a then future credit crunch as well as free-wheelingly ‘l’art pour l’art’.
“Unfurling its sugar-glass wings, like silver spider-webs, it peered down with pearl-bead eyes at the piles of presents at the foot of the Tree.” (21 May 09 - 3 hours later)

Dark They Were And Empty-Eyed (1995)
An incantatory monologue of dungeon-dark buffet and pain, whereby the I plops from its socket, just as, indeed, many of this book’s story narrators nil out (pre-figuring the concept of Nemonymity in 2001?)
“... my own mind’s bony meat haven...” (22 May 09)

The Dead (1995)
A Joycean (I guess) dinner party, where items of furniture have finger-holes like ten-pin bowls – and prandial conversation has bizarre innuendo. There are skeleton girls and/or servants haunting the backdrop. It means far more than one would ever expect from that summary! Now after 14 years can I scratch more than just its surface. Also, this story’s Ligotti-like ending is the loosest ending, I feel, that has appeared at the end of any story – ever.
“There was silence, save for the wireless’s residual fidgets of warming down.” (22 May 09 - after 4 hours)

Dear Mum (1990)
A SF story in the form of a letter from a man on an exploratory spaceship to his Mum back on Earth. In hindsight, a sort of email. A bit like Dr Wormius opening the sash-window with his back?
It is potentially very good with a highly poignant ending but it’s not quite carried off, I feel.
Apparently, immortality’s only half of it.” (23 May 09)

Digory Smalls (1989)
If it is possible at all for there to be an externally favourite or most well-known story by DFL, this possibly one of them. A master and his ‘disabled’ servant explore the interlocking attic-systems of a large house, with horrific and absurdic results. A family’s generations ooze back and forth over time...? An amorality tale. Fiction for fiction’s sake. It certainly remains startling, even to me!
“‘Come, Mister Smalls, no time for larks. We only have a few more attics to negotiate.’ He looked askance at me.” (23 May 09 - 2 hours later)

I am trying to summarise the stories real-time-reviewed so far ... in an ambition to match my own apparent success at identifying leit-motifs and gestalts when conducting such reviews on other writers’ books. So far I seem to have drawn a blank with ‘Weirdmonger’. Possibly, then, as an interim measure, we all have attic-systems to traverse towards our eventual heaven – heaven being, for me, an optimum thought that is one’s last thought before expiring. One needs to face the genuine monsters as well as the absurdities of existence: facing them out by absorbing them (but are you the parasite or them?), eventually becoming ‘the old man of the sea’ who perhaps takes on board one’s own internals like the experiences, illnesses, sadnesses, joys etc. of your previous selves (as well as taking on board, altruistically, externals like loved ones and you readers and, by so doing, their internals) along with oneself in the journey or quest for that optimum thought. (23 May 09 - another hour later)



Friday, May 15, 2009

A Handbag

I often wonder what is in various handbags as they pass by on ladies’ arms. It’s not that I’m a potential thief sizing up the opportunities of seizing them and legging it off down the road. No, I assure you it is a genuine curiosity about their contents.

You can see straight through men’s pockets quite easily – a piece of string, a penknife and a shilling. Never anything else. But ladies’ handbags are often full of the unlikeliest things. So unlikely, I do not even dare to guess.

One day, I spotted a particular handbag floating down the road. I turned a blind eye to the lady who must have carried it, because the handbag looked far more interesting than any lady, an object that was really expensive and at the height of fashion. Large, without being unwieldy. Chunky, yet strangely delicate. With fastenings and straps ... and clips glinting like gold in the sunlight. A multitude of tassels, too, and obtrusive stitching following scar-like tracks along the seams of the various fabrics and cured leathers that constituted the bulk of the handbag. Indeed, its exterior even made me forget my curiosity as to its contents, as if its contents were on the outside and the handbag itself on the inside.

I was startled from my revery when, suddenly, I focussed on the lady herself – or what I had supposed would be a lady, given the femininity of the handbag she carried. But she had slipped by me so quickly I could only see her diminishing backward view as she headed towards turning beyond the corner shop within the blind spot of my following gaze. I started to follow. There was no sight of her. Just a few kids traipsing home from school.

The girls had tiny make-shift handbags with string handles to make them look older than they were. Little bigger than dolls’ handbags. There was one boy among them and he took a rather large penknife from his pocket. And I took a shilling from mine. A fair exchange.
We both smiled and continued on our opposite ways. The girls just giggled.

(written today and first published here)