Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Race - Nina Allan

The Race – Nina Allan

THE RACE by Nina Allan
NewCon Press 2014
I received this book today as purchased from Amazon UK and I intend to real-time review it in the comment stream below as and when I happen to read it…
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14 responses to “The Race – Nina Allan

  1. 1: Jenna
    Page 7 – 19
    “Del and I lived mostly out of tins, canned ravioli and baked beans and those nasty little frankfurter sausages swimming in brine. They always stank of fish, those sausages.”
    That pungent item of diet notwithstanding, I am artfully plunged straight into a believable ambiance of what at first appears to be a cross between sausages and fish – no, a cross between an SF alternate world and a real inalternate dystopic future history blooming ingloriously from a coastal area Kentway, I gather, but not a million miles from where I live on the North East Essex coast, with its creeks and shanty towns, full of London accents and dogfights, but now, in this book’s scenario, a place and people frackingly and genetically engineered. Told from the point of view of an already well-characterised girl about her brother Del and her gritty background, and how he starts getting ambitions about the ‘smartdog’ races, on which I am already gradually getting a handle, a third cross, a cross between dog and human runner? Spliced or remaining separate? I am still unsure. I shall try not to reveal too much anyway, for fear of spoilers. All this written in Allan’s trademark smooth but textured style, each word redolent with accretion.
  2. Pages 19 – 33
    “Then sometimes when she heard a new word, she’d grab towards the mouth of the person who had spoken it – as if she saw words as solid objects:”
    We learn of the beginnings of youthful sex – including the most striking description of a ‘dick’ I’ve ever read! – and, amid this growing up of the various characters, the accrual of our understanding of the remarkable ‘smartdogs’, and the special nature of a baby’s growth of understanding and talk, especially a special child like this narrator’s niece Lumey appears to be; the most remarkable phenomenon in natural history, human babies, I guess, and all of them living under the sun that we all know in or out of this book, a sun that one day will explode and likely make us toast, as some of those in the plot would have us believe. The plot races along quickly and compellingly, yet lastingly. ‘Run’, it says, and the author needs to have traction against running too fast, as she skilfully does. So far, this book has a Paul Meloy vein to it, merely that, just a comparative tinge of place and feel between two authors, both ‘runners’. I mean that as a compliment to the authors concerned. I will now try to take in longer breaths of text and hold each one in my reading lungs, before I race off with another bit of this review. And to continue giving what effect it has on me, rather than a spoiler-prone itemisation of its plot as I go along. See you later.
    My previous reviews of works by Nina Allan HERE.
    • As an aside – I coincidentally started another novel today (arrived in the same parcel as this book from Amazon) : ‘The Bone Clocks’ by David Mitchell. It also begins with a young female narrator, one who leaves home and then heads for the same Kent marshes from Nina Allan’s scenario!
      “…and that coincidences even of this size were happening to people all over the world, right now:” – The Bone Clocks: page 21
  3. Pages 33 – 58
    “…and at some point I realised the fiction had taken me over,…”
    Jenna’s junk, collection of. Magpies. Her brother Del’s dubious and often drug-dealing machinations impelling business aggrieved parties’ abduction of his daughter Lumey. A definite feel for this society’s ‘criminal’ ambiance, amid the evocative marshland of barge sledders etc. “It was as if my life had split into two separate halves: one mad, one sane.” Further realisation of the nature of the smartdogs and their runners, hand in glove, literally and metaphorically. There is a sense of race as racial as well as in racing dogs. Jenna’s meticulous, almost sensual, handiwork manufacture of gloves or gants or gauntlets or guards for smartdog business usage. Each fingerstall of the glove a condom for that symbolic ‘dick’? No, but there is something going on here, that I have not yet fully fathomed. Nor shall I later try to fathom it for you. That would prevent you from doing it for yourself. A pre-emptive spoiler. Spoiler-guards.
  4. Pages 58 – 90
    “It might seem like a waste, to spend so much time and effort on a glove’s lining when mostly only the wearer would know it was there.”
    …as if this book itself is a bespoke one, where each reader will be given their own lining, their own special ‘objects correlative’ to gather between or beneath the textual lining. Certainly I sense much obsessive interest in Jenna’s making of gloves or gants, with almost a bi-sexual gloss to their making and fabric of outcome. Also, the synergy (leading, racially, to a “a new race, almost” for a new synergy) between runner and dog seems like the growing relationship between author and narrator, or even between author or narrator and reader. And this ‘narrative according to Jenna’ has now ostensibly ended, and I think I know her well, know her (Jennafer) through the tipping-point of events regarding her brother Del (Derrick) and his wife Claudia, through the spectacular and eventually shocking dramatics of the smartdog heats, quarter finals etc, through where life and death actually hangs on one of those races competed by the sleek dog known as Lim or Limlasker, through the striking description of the shale gas detritus of a land, through her later evocative journey toward the South London no-man’s-land where I once lived for 22 years in the 70s and 80s, alternate world or not. And going for a coffee “at Goldfrapps, on the Bulvard,…”
  5. cropped-1262: Christy
    Pages 91 – 114

    “…and staring at the books in the bookcase as if the words on their spines contained a coded message.”
    Croydon is mentioned again, a place in which area I spent 22 years of my life. And Hastings, where I spent several happy summer holidays staying with my grandmother in the 1960s. I know the place well. And now it seeps out at me from this book, its West and East Hills, Old and New Town. Including an astonishing specific mention in this text of St Mary’s Terrace where my grandmother actually lived when I stayed with her! And I absorb the connections, too, between, this Christy narrative and the Jenna one, such as the Delawarr Pavilion that I know happens to be in the Bexhill that is mentioned in this Christy section and the earlier ‘Delawarr’ smartdog race trophy… This is indeed a fascinating experience, an alternate to an alternate (but which is more real?), a filter working both ways, connections striving to reach connections via word or reflection. This section is about Christy and her brother Derek. And there is also a woman who wore gloves winter and summer just like my grandmother used to do. And later there is a shocking scene where you might need to wear prophylactic gloves as you turn the pages describing it…. Also, Doris Lessing, the Bakelite wireless, the ancient camcorder… “He handled objects carefully and with precision,…”
  6. Pages 114 – 123
    Christy’s life in Hastings is beautifully told by herself till she leaves for London, a text hasting yet meandering, lessening the more and vice versa. That shocking event in her recent past that seems to permeate and separate. The close people who leave and lessen her life suddenly, leasehold as well as freehold, the palimpsest of two Hastings, one real and one slightly unreal, one more one less, one Old one New, one East one West. My thoughts, not necessarily the book’s. I think this book may be a special form of palimpsest I’ve not encountered before?
  7. Pages 123 – 147
    “A strange little shiver went through me as I wondered if she was dumb, a real life version of Hans Andersen’s Little Mermaid,…”
    Judging by the high quality of writing — in this meaningfully poignant section of text which is Christy’s now completed narrative (starting near Peckham and ending near Peckham with some new contacts of different racial colour and visits back to Hastings in between) — I can quite believe that she is what she tells us she is: a budding writer of fiction, indeed an accomplished one as she proves to be by the end of this sophisticated section of almost Chick Lit (relationships, friendships, romantic twists and turns, plus her brother Derek and her father, both sick in their different ways), sometimes with speculation upon a slightly off-key Alternate Reality perceived around her, or a possibly stronger Alternate Reality about which her narrative tells of herself creatively writing as part of the ambition to be a writer. Absolutely absorbing.
    “Instead of reaching out to one another we had dived inward, into worlds that lay in close orbit but never touched.”
  8. 3: Alex
    Pages 149 – 176

    The next narrative section (completed in one sitting) has no ostensible narrator, as if it’s your duty as the reader to take up the running. Reader and author as a miscegenate partnership, in racial synergy, subject like Tash to what happened to Limlasker. This narration is a sort of catharsis of truth, sorting the heretofore reality wheat from the fiction chaff… absolving guilts by the balance of probabilities, picking books off the shelf that characters within them actually wrote for themselves like lexic gloves, I guess, all mixed with knowledge of the racial bloods running through the veins of some of those characters, the African connections, the pre-Ebola Freetown of the spirit. Prejudice and roots. The mix of authors, Samuel Delany and John Cheever… The return to the battle in Hastings via a future when people started using snail mail again because of the unreliability of the Internet. The miscegenations or mis-connections coming home to roost, even if some become successful hybrids, genuine connections, when or if each page fully loads. A clever still evolving multi-palimpsest…
  9. 4: Maree
    Pages 177 – 201

    “Words written down on paper stay alive.”
    It is almost a relief to be back in the hands of a direct first person narrator. Now, it is Maree whom tellingly is linked to her earlier name Luz from the ‘smartdog’ reality that re-emerges with research connections in an ongoing conspiracy, a topical way to defeat a growing beachhead of enemies, fighting terrorism with terrorism…? Just inferences.
    Here, upon a redolent voyage toward such work, Maree (disowning her parentage, like Holly’s beginning ‘voyage’ in ‘The Bone Clocks’) conveys to me a uniquely more Sapphic world where the Warriors-of-Love ‘By the Goddess!’ expletive may one day become paramount again. There is also a woman steeped in the essence of sea, who may reflect that earlier mermaid, a Chief Steward on board named Djibril, a paucity of electricity, paper words unfracking the electronic…
    Meanwhile, we continue provokingly to harvest reality and truth from all manner of overlapping fictions.
    All read by my mind here inside its own Dream of Essex, a Dream from or upon the coastal edge of Essex where I am islanded enough to read this promontory of a book, a book of various worlds, alternate or not, parallel or not, still continuing — “Most of what I know about the world comes from books.”
  10. Pages 201 – 223
    “The faded women in the drawings all wore bright smiles, yet still they seemed sad.”
    Thankfully, there are no easy correlations from this end narration, no set-book theories for a snobbish literary critic to forge, no formulae or templates for connecting with the past, the future, the present or the adjacent. The Pynchon release of the trapped young girl hare for us to chase into womanhood. You as reader need to work at the text and equally be worked by the same text, a ‘smartdog’, someone to be sacrificed to the dynamited words, words that mean more than just words, as you delve deeper into Maree’s journey, with its barely graspable conceits of place and time, the whales seeming like Todash gateways or an archipelago of small islands, the retrocausally puckish steampunk, the indecorous dicks or cocks, the chick lit relationships, the warriors now squaring up from St Leonards: those faded women: those same would-be warriors who once made cheap dresses rather than sleek gloves, we readers with our own race still to run or become.
  11. Pages 223 – 249
    “Or that memories you carry are false, that you’ve been in a coma since you were ten.”
    Can you tell that I have been truly inspired by a personal journey I have experienced with this remarkable novel? And that is despite what I consider to be a little too much explication or denouement imparted by one party to another at the end, but then I realised that explication is only one party’s view among many other feasible such attempted ‘triangulations’ through the real-time reviewing by characters, narrators, author and readers in an ever shuttling palimpsest of fictions.
    The actual crucial dramatic attack of the voyage’s craft by a gravitationally impossible baer-whale is a great read, but the nature or outcome of this would be a spoiler to divulge. For me, this phenomenon was either the reincarnation of my grandmother come to punish her beloved grandson for the life she’s watched me live or it is something potentially impending in my personal life that makes this passage seem significant: “And doctors can be wrong, everyone knows that. I told him he should carry on with his life as usual…” A timely affirmation. As is Maree’s own affirmation in the very last sentence of this wonderful book.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

This Thing Called Literature

This Thing Called Literature – Andrew Bennett & Nicholas Royle

This Thing Called Literature – Reading, Thinking, Writing
Andrew Bennett & Nicholas Royle (Routledge 2015)
I received this book today as purchased from Amazon UK.
My earlier real-time review of QUILT a novel by Nicholas Royle HERE
***My notes on this book are in real-time below as part of this post’s comment stream.***
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13 responses to “This Thing Called Literature – Andrew Bennett & Nicholas Royle

  1. P4 “One of the strange things about a literary work is its very uncertainty. And literature can always be read otherwise.”
  2. From here: –>

    Nicholas Royle

    Nicholas is Professor of English at the University of Sussex. He was born is Cheshire and has written for TIME OUT, GUARDIAN, INDEPENDENT, OBSERVER and others. He lives in West London with his wife and son.
  3. But that is NOT the photograph of the Nicholas Royle who co-wrote this book. Meanwhile, the hybrid bio of two Nicholas Royles on the page* linked above only helps illuminate my next quote below from my current reading of ‘This Thing Called Literature’, a wonderful book which so far seems now in 2015 gratifyingly to bolster the thinking behind my gestalt real-time reviewing and dreamcatching of books since 2008.
    [*a page that has been this hybrid one for many years, but please do give it a look now in case someone changes it as result of this reference to it!]
    P10: “No text exists in splendid isolation, however: everything is connected,…”
  4. P19: “‘One must be an inventor to read well’ (Emerson, 1996, 59).”
  5. Sky thinking…
    P37: ” There is a wonderful moment in Elizabeth Bowen’s 1963 novel The Little Girls that evokes the sense of being lost in a book,…”
  6. P44: “Mind-reading, for humans, is a means of survival. / Novels are the great art form of mind-reading.”
  7. P44: “…’leap over the walls of self’ (Wallace 1998, 51). Only in novels do people inhabit our thoughts in this way, prompting us to reflect on the idea that they read our minds as we are reading theirs.”
    This is an eye-opening book, breaking new ground even for someone like myself who has gone on interminably about filters being two-way…
    My own notes on ‘dreamcatching’ that hopefully can be factored into this wonderful book by Bennettt and Royle:
  8. There follows much interesting material on the nature of the short story…
    P53: The short story “relies on ‘poetic tautness and clarity’, according to Elizabeth Bowen, another great exponent of the form,…”
    My website dedicated to Elizabeth Bowen:
  9. P94: “…Elizabeth Bowen: ‘To write is to be captured. – captured by some experience to which one may have hardly given a thought’…”
    Cf my dreamcaptchas, dreamcatchers – and my review of ‘Finnegans Wake’ :
  10. Now – something where I disagree with this book. They encourage brainstorming when reviewing a fiction book. But then they say one should tidy it up and make it appear less haphazard, more argued as if you know what you are talking about. Well, I think there can be something valuable and revelatory in leaving your real-time thoughts written as you first write them. Those thoughts must be expressed carefully, I agree, and they must be based on the ‘truth’ of what you read and of what you feel about that reading. By revising it later you may be inadvertently destroying germs of that ‘truth’.
    I think this book is advice to students and how to present considered academic essays as a result of previous brainstorming. My dreamcatchers and gestalt real-time reviews stand or fall in the cut and thrust of social media and blogs. If many of us do this dreamcatching about a specific fiction book we can increasingly ‘triangulate’ that book’s ‘truth’…

Friday, January 23, 2015

Interzone #256

Interzone #256

I received INTERZONE #256 as part of a subscription. I shall real-time review its fiction in the comment stream below as and when I read it.
Stories by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, T.R. Napper, Pandora Hope, Christien Gholson, Neil Williamson.
My previous reviews of TTA Press publications linked from HERE.
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6 responses to “Interzone #256

  1. Nostalgia by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
    “…once shu had already grown into the new skin, the smooth Barbie V between shur legs.”
    Nostalgia portrayed as a tangible thing that can be charred or smoked or collected – represented, say, in a fiction about truth, where gender with new pronouns are closed smooth systems as well as memories of people who penetrated you or whom you penetrated, all whisked away into a substance called nostalgia? On the surface, this is a story of communal studentish young people from, say, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro or fiction by Ursula Pflug, where death is a belief that the person is still alive upstairs. A clean slate. Something that tantalised me nicely, as good fiction should.
  2. An Advanced Guide To Successful Price-Fixing In Extraterrestrial Betting Markets by T.R. Napper
    “They are currency, but they are also the fuel we use to fold space…”
    As I read this story, I felt I had been destined to read it forever; it has the sort of clinging importance to my life, as I, in my own ‘borderline Aspergers’, have felt aliens betting on the way I do things, not just big things, but meticulous details I do either intentionally (for them) or synchronously (like these real-time reviews) or quite unconsciously as accidents. But there is a devastatingly conscious accident by the self in this story that took me by surprise, but it shouldn’t have surprised me. This read was an exciting experience for me, not only for what I have already described, but also for aspects more detached from me like its convincing futuristic world, living on a spire with a mars-scape, the deadened, smoothed-over feel sometimes of the mock or real Irreality of loved ones and of enemies, of humans and of aliens alike (a bit like the ‘slates’ in the Stufflebeam), plus the fascinating details of real gambling, the obsessive self-deception when aspiring to the profitability of making bets on things, with that spire as ‘objective correlative’, a dead monument to once ancient hope.
  3. imageThe Ferry Man by Pandora Hope
    “I’d said to Barry, ‘It’s like I’m in an alien world,’ but he never watched science fiction and didn’t know what I meant,…”
    On one level, a poignant tale of a newly widowed man who now needs a reason not to die, despising his son and daughter-in-law. He seems to be a Norwegian fjord ferryman manqué, one who takes to buying ‘hugs’ from a local woman. But there are other layers of not only penetrability (scratches) but also impenetrability with the easy word ‘hugs’ being, for me, things people often offer to others on the Internet as a palliative for sorrow, in tune with Stufflebeam’s ‘slates’ — in telling contrast to a ferryman linking a physical connection from shore to shore. All this amid a painterly, mythic undercurrent that relates Fuseli as well as Hansel and Gretel. There is a madness about this story. A madness that tells you more about human and animal connections than sanity or science fiction ever can.
  4. Tribute by Christien Gholson
    “: spiral towers of cartilage, hard as stone;”
    This has an entrancing feel of reading some unknown holocaust religion’s holy book, laced with Blake’s mystical poems. It is a bespoke prose poem with SF visionary tropes, and the haunting mystery is to discover to whom it is bespoke. It conveys the insulation of the earlier stories in this gestalt of stories, an insulation here by mobile spiral shells between the beings, like ‘the space between the stars’, the sun shining between the dust particles… a tribute band playing the songs of a dead band?
    “We are these beings and we are not these beings.”
    And, tellingly, in the light of earlier comments, this is all seen from the point of view of another explicit Ferry Man! It as if it was meant to be: an uncoordinated synergy. And there are more ‘hugs’, eventually empty ones: “Was it a comfort to have someone there to hold in the final moments?” At one moment, I even visualised, as if bespoke for me, those children in Hitler’s bunker put to sleep with their mouths forcibly clamped shut on poison capsules? Bespoke for me, bespoke for you? “…I feel it’s important to simply let the story sink into the mind and leave it at that.”
  5. Fish on Friday by Neil Williamson
    “We’re not Nazis.”
    Coda and chips? This seems to be an alternate world letter from a supermarket to one of its lady customers (to tell you how old she is would be a spoiler) following the recent Scottish independence to become a Nanny State. Swiftian and swift. Hugged to death by health?

  6. There is much else in ‘INTERZONE’ to interest the SF enthusiast in addition to its fiction.

Black Static #44

Black Static #44

I received BLACK STATIC #44 as part of a subscription. I shall real-time review its fiction in the comment stream below as and when I read it.
Stories by Simon Avery, Priya Sharma, Jackson Kuhl, E. Catherine Tobler, Tyler Keevil.
My previous reviews of TTA Press publications linked from HERE.
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9 responses to “Black Static #44

  1. Going Back To The World by Simon Avery
    “Muscle memories: how these little things wait forever in your limbs, waiting to be put back into action.”
    This is a simply told novelette, with easy-to-swallow words and syntax; it flows compellingly, like some inevitability, something you need to follow to the end as soon as possible, whatever happens around you while you read it. So allow a space in time for that. Meanwhile, the text surprises as it unturns; it feels more complex than it actually is, as is the curse of a life that took wrong-headed decisions about itself with the help of those living it, in retrospect, a marital break up, a loss, easy highs, as, now, the ex-wife returns to the house where they spent their married life and he is now dead, the haunting not of him but something else he called back into being, the marks on the walls, the arrival of the ‘other woman’, the enduring presence of another. And the slowly realised stoicism of outcome for all three parties, each a simple surprise, as is the yearning to mend what is broken by one’s own breaking out of the ground of the past along with that very past. Perfectly creepy, yet perfectly something to hang on to. The screaming roots.
  2. The Absent Shade by Priya Sharma
    “…no idea just how important, how long a shadow those days would cast.”
    You will need to read this original and charming Charwoman’s Shadow tale of tea and Proustian cakes, in order to see quite how clever the words in that quote from it actually are. This is a sinuous, sometimes sexual text interweaving a boy and the boy as man, within the striking ambiance of Hong Kong, with jealousies of women as mistresses and servants, as well the boy’s with mother and father and the one who taught him to cast independent silhouette shapes upon the walls of time. A telling tug upon the fast-vanishing tail of one’s otherwise slowly fleeting life, or a tug upon that of others. As in the previous story, we believe there is always something to hang on to.
  3. Des, can I just say thank you for this review, and also for the kind words you’ve had for other stories I’ve written. It’s very much appreciated.
  4. The Fishers of Men by Jackson Kuhl
    “; for him there was no anticipation as intense as watching his line bob in the water like a plucked guitar string, no tension as suspenseful as winding the reel, no release as powerful as landing his prey on the planks of his boat.”…as Kuhl has certainly allowed me to do, with some challenge, by landing this his story, deeply and satisfyingly block-paragraph textured, and I haven’t yet fully clinched its ending, something to do with consumptives and vampires, but part of me at least sure knows that this story is some original casting of a Steve Rasnic Tem ambiance of ageing and achievement amid life’s losses. I even started to yearn to go fishing which is no mean feat as I have never been interested in going fishing before! And the turns of phrase, the home truths about the pecking order of supply and demand as the creation of reservoirs fills land with water, even to the extent of creating by-products of old sheds as desirable lakeside fishing cabins! This whole close-ordered text is steeped in pragmatic old age, and that’s where I am at. Loved it. Beautifully expressed. And, as an added bonus, the fishing-line tugs that I felt within Kuhl’s words serendipitously echoed the tugs with which I finished my review of the previous story above!
    (Cf my simultaneous review of the current Interzone and its story entitled ‘The Ferry Man’ that I read and reviewed here an hour or so ago.)
    • A ‘pragmatic old age’ by temperament, although the central character has not yet reached that age in terms of years lived so far!
      • It is as if to become the fisher of men entails inundation and premature aging, undeadness, with water on the consumptive lungs, here vampires, and now sweet water after inundation and zombies in the next story which I have just finished reading…
        • Sweet Water by E. Catherine Tobler
          A tale of St Louis which a quick google shows had severe flooding in 2013, but reference to Hurricane Zoe and New Orleans has me confused, as this story drowns my ability to review the end of the previous story and the beginning of this one. Yet, I am entranced by a hurricane transforming into Zoe then to Zombie, and by the curse with Avery’s breaking out of the ground let loose by red lipstick here on a tomb, the stick-like mobility in the boneful waters, this day of the dead, and the seeping skeletal consumptiveness, as we almost accept as normal these visions. Needs to be re-addressed. I need people commenting here to help me. But you can’t help me before you’ve read this pair of stories yourself.
  5. Samhain by Tyler Keevil
    “As if she was going under, her mouth filling with water.”
    Quoting that is cheating, though. Trick and Treating. This novelette is not about inundation, but what it does is tug out probably the most detailed, the most deeply felt meaning of modern Halloween for parents and children … And for others that tap into it. Modern, but steeped in its past. Glen Hirshberg plus. Like the Avery novelette, it is deceptively simple, convincingly compelling, laying traps at the start of the Keevil with a depiction of three youths … Who do later turn up. A suspenseful tugging between start and end. It is really frightening, and even more frightening because the outcome is still working itself out beyond where the text ends. Two novelettes in BS44 about childless couples, or at least couples who end up childless, other than the still developing outcome of a dead child’s return or its impending first arrival. This one is a hypnotic tale of a man with good intentions, transcending the candy, hoping to substantiate his familial roots in an American Halloween now transported to England, where things seem flatter, and tricks and treats need teasing out by him, encouraged, even by inviting strangers to enter one’s own house…
    It is only in this Keevil that you will realise for the first time that it is particularly the young ones among us who are encouraged to ‘guise’ as the dead for this trumped up commercial festival. ‘A moment of clarity’. Nothing is fixed, all is fluid, even the imprint of Halloween films, with wrong endings, different twists. And there is one point where I felt very very sad upon reading something perhaps unintended in: “His wife, noticing this, turned to him and said that she was sorry more children hadn’t come by trick or treating.” Tugging out the shadows. A fine finale, still resonating, even as I write this.

  6. There is much else of interest in each edition of ‘Black Static’ to the Horror Arts enthusiast in addition to the fiction.