Monday, July 31, 2017

Supernatural Tales 35

Supernatural Tales 35


Summer 2017

Editor: David Longhorn

Stories by Charles Wilkinson, Mark Valentine, Andrew Alford, Michael Chislett, Mat Joiner, John Howard, Helen Grant.

When I review these stories, my comments will appear in the thought stream below…

10 thoughts on “Supernatural Tales 35

  1. ABSOLUTE POSSESSION by Charles Wilkinson
    “It’s ground rent day.”
    Or ground hog day? A miniature hedgehog version of it, I say!
    I was going to say how CW’s work reminds me of so and so and this and that, but CW really reminds me more of CW himself, and this work is delightful, even caricatural, yes, optimal CW, based on my supertomal survey of his work so far as linked from the above by-line link. No way to describe this unique, haunting work other than as CW-like or Wilkinsonian. Meanwhile, Bernard Hutt (huts are abodes as much as cottages are abodes, subject to freehold, leasehold or this new concept of absolute possession while straddling the Welsh border.) Authors have authority, but I have often given them inferred freehold over their narratives, their narrator or protagonist’s POV being leasehold, and any review of an author’s work needs to pay at least a peppercorn rent to link the absolute possession of some arcane deity who resides ABOVE even the author in authority and what is told below such a deity and beyond any intentional fallacy. I could go on and on about such literary theories as inspired by this work, but suffice to say Bernard, who corks and then uncorks a bottle of vintage wine, becomes a cog in this narrative as he has always been in life while there exist large forces that conspire to divide spire and church from each other. And best to have gone to work in a garage than have aspired to become something better, better, yes, but impossible to attain, like absolute possession of knowledge or of a wife who later left you for an Uruguayan Air Force officer.
    A hedgehog as small as a peppercorn, by the way. Fee simple.
  2. THE SCARLET DOOR by Mark Valentine
    “…the graceful white crescent of late Victorian houses was said to have been visited by Delius, who had once played two violin sonatas by lamp-light in one of their sea-view rooms,”
    But, apocryphal to this story’s account, each sonata cancelled out the other one. And neither are now part of his known canon of sonatas, I am sure. Meanwhile, we read of the narrator who went to that town and described its off-the-wall nature to us so evocatively and wittily – and of the bookshop there he visited as part of his conspiracy to safeguard books that had small print runs and thus not likely to be known to the grasping net and thus saving at least some books from being converted to the electronic Babel of that net. I am, of course, sympathetic to that aim. And this is an account of one book that the narrator obtained in the shop safeguarding HIM, by dint of a strange retinal imprint of itself upon the wall (a scene as if created beyond the narrator’s own grasp, beautifully characterised by Valentine in his meticulously stylish, traditional, often slightly absurdist way), indeed safeguarding the narrator, perhaps in naïve confusion as to the nature of the electronic net, from another book he had obtained in the same shop. Or so I infer the narrator inferred. The otherwise gratuitous nature of the ending is sublime. I only hope this dreamcatcher review, using the net, avoids entrammelling the gaze of unwelcome eyes towards this wonderful story.
  3. Pingback: Supernatural Tales 35 – Telephone Engineers Warrington Edit
  4. A RUSSIAN NESTING DEMON by Andrew Alford
    “Its whispers were shreds of paper pulled through a spiralbound notebook.”
    The title alerted me to Trump. And indeed I can imagine Trump’s own phantom limb tweeting.
    I happen synchronously to be already real-time reviewing a new Rhys Hughes book here alongside this book. This story reminded me of Rhys Hughes fictionatronics but while his stories usually have an instinctively intrinsic core of sanity regarding the otherwise insane flow of his conceits, this Alford does not seem to have any sanity about it at all. A Story Identity Disorder apotheosised. But it’s growing on me.
  5. THE SUBLIMINALS (Part 1) by Michael Chislett
    “His words, like his shadow, were being shredded into fret.”
    A literally chilling visit, in the mean time of January, to the pleasaunce in Greenwich. Two men previously known to each other, sharers in esoterica and rituals, one infers, each a feisty combatant as well as colluder in shadows. Almost friends In rivalry. And there is an atmospheric dark Socratic discussion on the hoof about their own shadows as well as the smears and stains of trees etc, around them. Existential angsts, notwithstanding. I was listening to very strange Scott Walker Bish Bosch music as I read it. A synergy of word and sound I recommend. And real-time reviewing takes on a new meaning when a story is divided into two by issues of a magazine, as this seems to be, leaving me pent and strung up. A story and its shadow? (Good job I have already taken a subscription starting with this issue.) There is even an inferred tweet of negation from Trump’s leg in the previous story… “Nibbled at me, like mice on cheese. There’s a metaphor for you!”
  6. TO UTTER DUST by Mat Joiner
    “A scrap of Eliot came back to him: I can connect nothing with nothing.
    JB Priestley, too, who loved Dunne, if not Donne. And a mention of Harry Lime as literally came through the door at the same time just now (an Amazon Prime Sunday delivery) a book by Graham Greene, my next real-time review. Peake, Jocelyn Brooke, an end dedication to John Howard (who also follows this story) and no wonder there are writers textured into this text, as this story is about a city library, the old one that is here being exhumed (even while it is being demolished), rebuilt by wilful-dream construction amid the uttering of dust, and limbs growing heavy like brutalist concrete…
    A non-phantom limb like Alford’s as part of this chapbook’s pattern? A mouse in the old wainscoting.
    I recently visited Birmingham’s NEW library and I killed my own time in there. The old library, though, is the one that preceded it and is tied up with others who were part of its gestalt, people as well as living books, and Stephen and his work, loves and life are tied up with it, a hope and an insouciantly desperate power, symbolised by meeting some ancientecture-constructing pilgrims (disguised as old workmates in and outside the library), one of them a haunting woman with a black bookmark. There are some wonderful expressions here, gist and genius loci, and dust as grist to this sometimes nightmarish mill of mind over matter. A matt joiner.
    A major work, still working.
  7. THE HOUSE AT TWILIGHT by John Howard
    “…throwing their shadows in front of them.”
    A visit from a ghost or a sense of finality that someone has gone to whatever happiness living or dead, still alive, but still a ghost, one’s lover returned just to taunt or haunt the fulsome possibilities of twilight – and thus tainting it? Or a genuine return in felt spirit to bolster and reunite, I wondered, the narrator thus wrong in the interpretation of the visitation? You see anything is possible at twilight.
    A wonderful relatively short work that has the atmosphere of an ownership’s well-worn house after a spring walk at twilight. The house where the two lovers had lived, till one of them departed, for whatever reason. It has an aching unrequitedness and a sense of the rest of this book, its shadows, its “limb sliced away”, leaving a ‘phantom pain’. The house being continuously rebuilt to house hope, the tending of electronic connections etc and now the silent groans of an old structure. Perhaps the only possibility that twilight has, after all, is the night it becomes? But I question the narrator’s inductive reasoning.
    A fine addition to the John Howard canon that I have grown to love as you can see from the above by-line link. His literary, if not literal, house of work. A once empty shell at birth now full, a legacy of words with many visitors. Ghosts or not.
    Like those two books, two sonatas, two shadows, two possessions absolute or leasehold, body and limbs, and those two libraries.
    “We had wounded each other — grievously.”
  8. GOLD by Helen Grant
    There are holes all over this story, he thought.”
    An entertaining well-written yarn of two rogues in a cave, a place where the locals would dare not enter, one rogue slightly more cultural than the other one, in an exchange of greed stemming from the King Midas legend.
    It is also the perfect coda to this symphony of stories. A disembodied hand, the ‘exhuming’ of a limb, the solidifying of a limb as in Joiner, the Chislett duo Quixotically tilting at shadows, connection cancelling out connection as in Eliot and other dual negative synergies I have listed above, and the climactic gold of Howard’s twilight.
    A blinder.


    Saturday, July 29, 2017

    The Dream Operator – Mike O’Driscoll


    13 thoughts on “The Dream Operator – Mike O’Driscoll

      Don’t let my personal observations below put you off this intensely ungraspable story, but one that will resonate with you forever, once read. I am glad I only discovered it today at my optimum moment of its being read.
      This seems a neat, relatively short opener, with endless möbius answers and questions, as I Iearn the word ‘reify’, one I should have known and used already, and another word I do know already, but should have used several times: ‘synthesis’, but don’t think I often do so, and certainly not in connection with my Gestalt real-time reviews’ dreamcatching and hawling. And now here this protagonist prophetically called Mr Cloud (in a story first published in 2008) seems to follow the pattern of anonymity (or nemonymity as I called it in 2001) whereby I first published in 2001 this author’s possibly connected ‘Double Zero for Emptiness‘ as an anonymous story – and as a natural precursor to his own pattern-making and to my own version in 2008 of reification and pattern-making similar, I now realise, to Mr Cloud’s Reification Bureau work of investigation in this rarefied story, making patterns from abstractions to create realities, because I then started Gestalt real-time reviews whereby in 2009 I reified this author’s collection tellingly entitled ‘The Unbecoming‘ (published in 2006 two years before this story from 2008 that I have read today.) Don’t get me wrong, I should have read this story before, unless something was stopping me doing so until now. But if I had, it wouldn’t have had the effect it now has in the light of my life since 2008, a life heavily involved in such dreamcatching and hawling as reification, 2008 being when this work was first published – and later in the light of Brexit and Trump and how this story’s Bureau has been working, as factored into a world’s unbecoming, even if this particular poignant character called Cloud still has his daughter’s paintings to remind him.
      Not forgetting Banjo the dog.
      “He had no idea where he was headed, or what he was still searching for.”
      The beauty of such “drifting, ungraspable” book reviewing, names for names, like Snow (telling with Cloud in the precious story), Firstnighter, Thingstable, and many others, a city ironically called Provenance, under the gaze of CCTV (and of visiting angels and crows?) sort of like the Quarantined City in ‘Under The Volcano’ (Lowry’s stick people and “the bar, caught up in the madness and noise of some fucking street carnival”) and whores and here with hitmen, but too many to know who has hired whom to hit whom, but it all seems to centre on a room 311 and a CD with a man with a burning head holding a spray of orange flowers, full of Twin Peaks type catch phrases and homilies or wise saws to die for, plus insouciant, languid Chandleresque situations. I loved it and it all seemed to make sense out of my gestalt in the end, the entire city and the words between. And the shapes of words in the mouth. But “It’s a wonderful life”, was that the James Stewart film or the song I forgot who sang? And if the former, who came back to see what life would have been like without him, and the opposite of déjà vu. And talking of unbecoming snow…
      “…like the city is melting those things that make you who you are?”
      “Substance was an illusion, he believed. It weighed you down.”
      “Make it so the tale is open to some other interpretations.”
    3. I reviewed the next story in 2010 and this is what I wrote about it in that original context –
      Summerhouse by Mike O’Driscoll
      “…he could just make out the humpbacked silhouettes of the oak and the ash trees scattered on the curve of the great mound…”
      The previous story radiated to and from urban South Wales, here it is idyllic / rural South Wales – and this makes a significant contrast, to the benefit of both stories. Retrocausal in the former case. When I started this one, I thought immediately: this has the quality of Katherine Mansfield … and later a real Katherine by name indeed emerged to my surprise. This is a ghost story – with Lawrencian touches – that flows like wondrous honey, but sporadically spiked. Poignanat interface between past and present. Between two separately balanced responsibilities. An unrequited redemption. Lightly sketched incrementally. The opposite of unbecoming. And an ending to die for. (16 June 10 – another 2 hours later)
      “My head was full of smoke and whispers that made patterns.”
      This is a monumentally compelling novella, of children and early teenagers in an area of Wales, I guess, or Cornwall, or a place that is neither but both, and if I looked up the names I might be certain. Two of the kids, brother 13 and younger sister, are from a dysfunctional family living in the area, their dada having gone (but how?) and mama is a nut or drunk, and they get involved with visiting kids, and they play Smee (cf AM Burrage?), one of the older kids making the rules of all their games stick, particularly Smee. For me, it is played like the hitmen in The Entire City, a form of Tontine, with the timing for this novella’s episodes not as strict as the game’s rules, and akin to the Entire City’s ‘opposite of déjà vu.’
      I could not put this down, as the awakening sexuality and games got rougher, a cumulative dual-gendered sort of Lord of Flies mixed with, in this land of Waterfalls, a Hanging Rock feel instead of Water, and a rock that hangs suspenseful afore murder. I cannot do justice to all its turns of accretive dread and horror. Well-characterised and unforgettable. Disarmingly plainly told, too, compared to the unbecomingness and subtlety of previous stories, and despite its own complex Tontine. And the pervasive fairy folk tantalisingly in the background, that some of you may believe in, some not.
      “‘Catch me,’ she shouted. ‘If you can’t I’ll be gone forever.'”
      Another compelling, plain-spoken tale of school children, here a triangle, Freddie as the viewpoint, the older one and more sensible, TOO sensiblle, Mouse, younger, an imaginative loner, and Jenna, another dreamer and who awakens Freddie to girls! The characterisation works perfectly, also reminding me how the world has changed in nature and size since 1994 which only seems like yesterday to me. There is a yearning glow to this work, a conjuring of earlier Apollo missions and some more disrupted déjà vu, some Tontine of the stars, leaving one of these three the winner or loser? I believed every word, as if defying the notion that things were ever fake news, such as NASA and Apollo. Or the difference between seals and mermaids, and how a story’s ending makes the aforementioned glow look as if your eyes have genuinely shone – or have left tears shining? (This time we were definitely in Wales looking across a bay to North Devon, so no need to tease as I did with the previous story’s genius loci.)
      “What would it mean if that connection were no longer there?”
      “It’s not just people who die,…”
      A workmanlike story about the male narrator returning from Australia to old South Wales for a funeral (a sense of South Wales I remember my own father yearning to return to, where his antecedents were miners and hawlers earlier in the 20th century when he was born in Llanelly, as I always remember it being spelt.)
      Here, the narrator’s brother has died and there is a sense of history regarding the woman his brother married and the narrator himself. A sense of inevitability and encroaching ghosts hawled from the snow itself….
      Appreciated it, but nothing special. A feel of coldness and desperate love — and survival through pubs, something that rings true to me. Nothing changes, not even death.
      “It is terrible what actions the fear of loss can provoke, but our desire to hold on to those dear to us, oft times forces us to do that which we know full well to be misguided.”
      On one level, a consuming stylish narrative of a participant at the real events that to led to its fictionalised account by Poe under the title ‘The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.’ It is fascinating, telling and a preternatural feat of literature’s literature, worthy of the attention of everyone interested in Poe’s life and what drove him. Including a glimpse of hell at the point of prolonged death. Or hopefully heaven?
      On another level, it seemed scarily opportune that I read it for the first time today, the very day when the heart-breaking, world-famous Case of Charlie Gard may reach fruition. I use the word fruition unadvisedly. Read alongside this modern case, there are continuous parallels and nagging thoughts. I shall never forget this experience, as a consequence of such a synchronicity, and who knows, I may never have forgotten it in any event. I shall now never know.
      And so to the rediscovery of death…
      “Not the least of those questions which had puzzled me, was the diagnosis put forward by Doctors D– and F– as to Valdemar’s condition.”
    8. I reviewed the next story here in 2011 and this is what I wrote about it in its original context:
      The Rediscovery of Death – by Mike O’Driscoll
      “The sense of urgency he had felt earlier had been replaced by an exquisite pleasure, as though, rather than simple words on a page, the tales were made out of rare intoxicants.”
      I couldn’t believe my luck in being given the chance to publish this story.  Even so, I wondered whether it would only appeal to Horror genre enthusiasts. But I knew deep down it is a story that would appeal to everyone, whatever their background. It really makes you believe in the building up of an anthology of rare un(re?)discovered works by writers such as Aickman, Lovecraft, Hodgson, Willard Grant &c &c.  The thumbnail descriptions of some of the stories make you ache to read them. So original, so redolent with potential genius. You simply know they exist. “…one narrative seemed to blur into another. And yet, somehow, it all made sense to him. Clearly, these stories were meant to go together.” They cannot not exist.  The protagonist editor himself – e.g. his relationship with Allyson his girl friend (premonitory of the Stealback story later and that author’s girl friend, Alice) – gives even more provenance to an already proven provenance. The mechanics of the Horror genre press (small and big) utterly rings true and is compelling reading. [It is also, for me, an oblique companion piece to Christopher Barker’s lead story in his ‘Tenebrous Tales’ collection, each of the two stories, without the necessity of the stories having read each other, seeming to create a subtle synergy.]  And the conclusive ‘subsuming’ I’ve mentioned once or twice above in connection with other Ha of Ha stories’ ‘anthologies’, takes on here, for me, a startling inversion…  Well, what can I say? Nothing more specifically. Please just read it. [O’Driscoll once wrote a story entitled ‘Double Zero for Emptiness‘ about a real writer as a character  just as Stephen King put himself in as a major character in ‘The Dark Tower’ series, and his real sons and wife (all by name). I’m not sure if that is relevant.  But the authors’ names here are characters fictionalised into truth (& vice versa), including the fictional protagonist’s own inferred third-person monologue that gives provenance to himself with his own mere (mock non-fictional) mentions of some people in the world where he mixes professionally and socially.  An author’s tribute to them all, I personally feel if only by inferring intentions that I cannot know.  Just as those very names have honoured and empowered our genre, in turn]. (23/8/11)
      A substantial independent review of this story was also posted here:
      “A look or word that you had thought meant one thing, meant something else entirely.”
      A moody story that seemed a crime-literary blend of this book’s sense of ‘unbecoming’ as well as Truman Capote graced with Guitars, but what do I know? I can only compare a snatch of a song with another snatch of a different song and draw connections and then conclusions. It is not even Leland’s guitar, nor were they his cigarettes even if there were no cigarettes left in the pack at all. Lost through snow on the highway near Knoxville he is given a lift by a sick songwriter who happened to write similar words for a song as the friend who had taken Leland’s girl. A mere coincidence, because an authorially deliberate coincidence in the plot can never be a revelatory preternatural synchronicity in any gestalt review of it. I am no musician but I love music even more than words. And this played a song of Smee for me, waiting for the others to come…
      The waltzing snowmen, notwithstanding,
    10. 13 O’CLOCK
      “What kind of game was it that necessitated prayer?”
      Fiction is a sort of game, in which we are meant to believe. This story of a family of Caleb, Polly, their 8 year old son Jack, and dog Cyril, on the South Wales coast, whence my own paternal ancestors derive. An evocative sense of place, a sense of nightmare, too, as Jack’s sleep has worsening interruptions encroach upon it, of a stranger coming for him at the eponymous hour. Caleb has read him Wind in the Willows, himself surprised today at the strength of the Piper chapter…as we all are. Jack playing hide and seek with a friend on the seashore, Caleb seeks them both, echoing the earlier Smee in this book, but who was seeking whom, who was coming for whom. A straightforward, expertly plain-spoken, involving story of family life with a core of worry, and I guiltily wonder when I once read scary stories to my own son forty years ago, ones I gauged him old enough to hear, often with my pretending I was the giant coming down the beanstalk to get Jack, I wonder whether I ever felt the retrocausality of this telling story from the future of today, at the precise eponymous moment? At least that moment does not sound as if it is anywhere near the gates of dawn.
      “It’s like we’re heading backwards in time, erasing the past and preparing the ground for some new future.”
      Back to the Entire City’s city of Provenance, a languid, if gangster-embattled and damsel-rescuing amorphousness of the Dream Consul in the Quarantined City or Quauhnahuac of Under the Volcano, except here the Volcano and its lava are insouciant, sometimes horrific dream manipulations with the help not so much of alcohol in endless bars but of a drug called Reverie. It feels that this story has a prequel somewhere but that may also be a dream within a dream instilled by italics. I felt flabby after reading this last work. Despern.
      “They said it was the Koreans who’d first synthesised it.”

    12. The remarkability about this whole book is the disparate styles and themes. A major unbecoming by various means. An impossible gestalt. Solid stories about dreams, loves, deathvenns and crimes, mostly insouciant and waltzy. Some definite gems included that I hope become more than Garrett Moon just chasing impossible dreams. They deserve to do so.