Sunday, April 29, 2018

Welcome to Sugarville – J.J. Haas

28 thoughts on “Welcome to Sugarville – J.J. Haas

  1. God Helps Those Who Help Themselves
    “Crossing a bridge over the Chattahoochee, he looked down to see pine trees covered in a dark-green shroud of wilted kudzu alongside a bone-dry riverbed.”
    Even here in UK, reading this today, mention of ‘kudzu’ tells me exactly the nature of the place where this text with felicitous style takes me. I follow the compelling, increasingly desperate and bedroughted quest for water (away from his wife and gated community), the quest of Dr. Albert Cole (ironically, perhaps, a cataract specialist) as he reaches what I can only describe as an encounter with deeper reaches of this land than just water. A dire duel with another Doctor by dint of PhD (a native man with the name of Agaska and, incidentally, my first substantial work that I wrote in 1984 was called ‘Agra Aska’, later published in 1998).
    The ending is perfect. I also learnt a new word: giardia. I am already entranced. If I can, I intend to eke out this book’s stories towards its novel gestalt, and savour it slowly, as if it is a long-sought after watering in short supply. And I noted in the first story that even Lake Lanier was somewhat bedroughted.
  2. The Greenway
    “After all, she needed to keep her heart rate up in order to meet her cardiovascular goals.”
    Lucy Beaumont who lives on Sugarville Greenway is three years younger than I am. Out for her constitutional. Recognises some passers-by as younger versions of her own family past and present. Poignant ending, where I recognise the term ‘green way’ as almost a fairy story’s vanishment into the forest. (As a reader here about her walk, I deem it OK that I was following on behind, wondering who she really might be, hoping she might turn her head to face me.)
  3. Waiting for the Apocalypse
    “People are getting uglier every day, evil is everywhere you look, and Satan has established a stronghold in this world.”
    I am a mere Brit, but I think I can see the satire here of an American town in its heartland, and that end blast upon God’s Trump at the brink of apocalypse, but I may have got the wrong end of one of the Tentacles across the Atlantic. Whatever the case, he made me laugh, this man who attends Sugarville Baptist Church and thinks himself in cahoots with God and the survivalist kick and then leaving his tedious job to sell holes in the ground and call them bunkers against mayhem and other ways and means of manly gumption and so forth. But, as someone else said to him: “happy wife, happy life.” I think we all shall be mulching down for the night soon. “Net-net”, a story that sort of chews the final day’s fat with any sympathetic reader.
  4. The Waiting Room
    “The walls were unusually close together and contained amateurish paintings depicting the history of Sugarville—the Train Depot, the General Store, the First Baptist Church—“
    Jack is persuaded by his wife to seek a second opinion by a doctor on his cancer. The waiting room bears out all my nightmares about such places and my own hopefully erstwhile cancer. [And it seems, with its ‘getting even’ and ‘tie-breaking’, to somehow chime synchronously with a short short I happened to write two days ago here: ]
  5. The Black Parade
    “Your job is simple: make the kids laugh and keep them from getting crushed by a float.”
    Sugarville Corolla Fallstaff dollar-bills City Hall Mr Willis – but without this double L fulfilled was Bob’s cologne!
    Mimic and learner red-nosed clown at the town band parade, pubertal teenage Andrew is out for his early oats with Amy (she just shed her now previous boy friend), plus oldster Santa Claus with a secretly stowed bottle of what did him good, I really think I now know Sugarville’s gestalt thrust : a larger than life sinkhole aka Hell. And of course that umbrella at the end.
  6. The Disappearing Man
    “, sat directly opposite him but a foot and a half taller…”
    Disappearing – after a Friedrich Nietzsche quote – starting with his feet, the double L gone as it were, the calves and shins soon following. That made it one all, till all was gone. His young beautiful black personal trainer woman in attendance. But she didn’t notice. A sort of fading into one’s own background as it were, something that one and all of us face during departmental meetings at work. I knew it all so well. Thank goodness, with age, I am long gone from all that. Incredibly telling, this fell fable. That Sugarville sinkhole in another form?
  7. The Package
    A wonderful short short about a Sugarville man suffering from anxiety. Is he another nervous survivalist? It also helped cure my own anxiety about having enough ability to interpret books properly when gestalt real-time reviewing.
  8. Soulmates
    “I only have one rule: it’s easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission.”
    From a morning’s decaf vanilla latte, via Mozart and Monet, met or match, we follow a woman who once started VR liaisons work as a home office job for the money to help a redundant Husband, now, it turns out, for something more than she thought she wanted, as we delve into realms of sexual identity, erotic orientation and how WiFi turns a Wife into a real self beyond the masquerade. Give or take the odd helpful computer virus.
  9. A Model Citizen
    “He ate a lonely breakfast of cold cereal at the kitchen table in his Sugarville home and watched the news on TV. President Trumbull…”
    A blend of the identity morphing in the previous story with the earlier medical waiting room traumas, this is the story of a septuagenarian like me, who decides to buck the system by spending an old penny. When he does, bearing in mind his exact age, he leaves appropriately on a road called I-75. With poignant, telling, paradoxically cathartic results, even if we have already had our chips.
  10. The Last Book
    “, and looked like he had melted into the bed.”
    A telling brief vision of an old man dying and giving his grandson a book…
    I found this even more powerful having just finished a few minutes ago reviewing this work where the narrator IS a gestalt book….an ironic connection among many other connections perhaps about death, generations, leaving things — perhaps half-baked associations on my part?
  11. The Content Provider
    “He appeared supremely confident in spite of the fact that he was impersonating a pseudonym.”
    A darkly satirical caricature of publishing fiction these days as well as becoming a human dildo. A story that should become very popular and make its author a fortune as based on its own assessment of the potential audience for such as itself. Sugarville’s own.
  12. The Theory of Doors
    “In fact, not choosing is a choice in and of itself, a choice that’s not forced on you, the only choice you can really make on your own.”
    “In a sense, God is a collaborative art form.”
    “You have to have the courage to be an outsider.”
    With such contradictions embedded, the three internet-arranged ‘romantic’ dates after his widowhood in search of suitable suicide pact material, constitute the momentous story of an ageing professor, each date with situations and each situation’s props as objective-correlatives, such as a picture of the Great Wall of China, and we are led to what can be seen as an occasionally recurring pattern in the gestalt of Sugarville, a pattern that ends with a climax of utter overkill. Skirting between the coordinates of a desperate desire not to die alone and a Ligottian anti-natalism and a philosophical macho quality in order to transcend uncertainty’s certainty and a gestalt that is God, we have here perhaps an ineluctable pattern for our times — if one can use ‘perhaps’ and ‘ineluctable’ in the same breath? The same final breath! The overkill that is us today. Drinking another human’s blood for lack of water?
  13. Setting the World to Rights
    “Some whodunit. I just read for fun now that I’m retired and don’t have to prove anything to anyone anymore.”
    I keep thinking I can retire soon and give up working on literary or intellectual books like this one. Still, it has its moments, this story disguised as a whodunit while ironically pinpointing popular genre fiction as always ending righteously with their various worlds put to rights, ever with those comforting genre templates created. No more need for me to struggle with sinkholes or sudden gratuitous overkills. Hell, I’ll really be able to put the ‘l’ back in sugarvile.
  14. The Bag Man and the Bag Lady
    ‘Early is on time and on time is late’
    That has been my motto all my life. Good to see it here, expressed for the first time in my hearing or sight. But never too late.
    The story of the man escaping the Cosa Nostra by returning to his childhood home in Sugarville where he assumes he’d be forgotten but isn’t. Another wise saw of going back to base being better than running all your life. Even if death ever comes on time?
  15. A Frank Discussion
    “How could I ever explain what happened?”
    Two men named Frank in prison. One tells of the ultimate crime of passion.
    But then, I think, passion and prison have at least visual assonance as words, hmmm.
  16. Peccadilloes
    “The Piccadilly Cafeteria was always crowded on Sunday afternoons,…”
    A satire on the competing churches of Sugarville’s American heartland, the thirst for funding, and founding extensions, and this particular priest with wife and precocious daughter, involving fantasising to enable marital sex, coercion of worshipers’ estates, and trafficking for favours… An unlikely scenario, but what do I know?
  17. The Firing Squad
    “Our commanding officer explained that one of the rifles contained blanks to ease our consciences,…”
    A powerful short short that reminds me that I have been happenstantially in concurrent episodic watching of the nine hour film ‘Shoah’ while experiencimg a Welcome To Sugarville. And I dwell on the fact of the unknowable loophole in a killing force’s gestalt being the only way to get humans to do such things to other humans. The victim, though, is a gestalt.
  18. The Man Upstairs
    “, Harry held the unspoken belief that while New Testament forgiveness applied to him and his family, Old Testament justice applied to just about everyone else.”
    This is such a telling piece about a holy heartland evangelist finding an intruder snoring in the attic of his new house. And about such blind righteousness embodied in the previous story staining humanity’s book of concocted devotions with the blood of the Masterbuilder or His Carpenter son. The evil is in those below not in those above.
  19. Watching the River Flow
    “There’s no such thing as a metareality. You might as well claim there’s a bearded man in the sky.”
    And that is me with my emerging gestalt! So, there.
    Less seriously, or perhaps more so, this is a very thoughtful, if eventually important, cathartic argument between an atheist and another who considers God as a metareality beyond the grasp of science and its meteorreality. (That last word is mine, not the story’s.)
    Important, because it is within the developing evolution of movements of this book’s Sugarville or Storyville symphony, movements as divided by emblematic pictures. And I can imagine, as that bearded man in the sky, the Storyville river flowing like an audit trail through eternity, while those who have arguments about it are cathartically, if not catholically, drowned within it.
  20. The Last Known Believer
    “You threw the Baby Jesus out with the bathwater.”
    A hilariously absurdist teaser of a teleological or ontological loop as a conundrum telling of a request for advertising the Second Rapture of an archetype of God, an archetype depending on one’s own particular otherwise irrelevant sect or faith, a request from something claiming to be the Angel Gabriel who has appeared before a publicity-potential TV host in his pajamas who is currently an atheist, a lapsed past believer, in fact. Why the need for an advert? Well, because nobody had turned up at a previous attempted Rapture. But that’s when the whole story shrunk to a dot like an old TV just switched off. An instructive fable about self-serving that only this book could have managed to pull off by dint of its own foregoing context.
  21. Things Not Seen
    Compared to a “skinny latte”, a cross-stitched fabric is far more textured and substantial. Particularly if the words stitched upon it mean something substantial to at least someone. Very telling fable of a pragmatic jobbing actress, who meets a man in a café whose wife was lost in the recent substantial aircrash. The cross-stitch means nothing to her but it may mean everything to him. God included. A blind faith towards happiness or healing that she passed on to someone even if she did not have that blind faith herself, is an ACT that will take you to Heaven, too? Altruism, by withholding your own scepticism, as a blind faith in the emptiness of reality? An Act of Creative Fiction? This fable.
  22. The Holy Terror
    “…the family’s very own Tower of Babel, rising from the red Georgia clay in a hubristic attempt to touch the face of God.”
    A substantive work to end the book. And here that drought in Georgia is mentioned again, the previous mention being the cathartic or ironically gratuitous ‘overkill’ with which this book started, and it’s very telling seeing that this book ends with a drowning.
    “…his preternaturally white smile shining down from the pulpit like a beacon.”
    The Reverend Blackwell appears again here at the end of this book’s own preternatural gestalt, and his actions take on a new aspect here in view of his backstory-ville we have learnt already, before reading about him again now. His recommendation for Bobby, the ten year old eponymous adoptee boy, to be submitted to the Christian based “attachment-therapy” to see if he can be cured of his exponentially worsening behaviour. His uncle who has been forced to adopt him by some Will, God’s Will, Free Will, Legal Will, and the extended family involved and the family business all take on a susceptible backdrop to this holy terror at its core. With the further backdrop of this book’s earlier adumbration of Christian sentiments and the absurdist nature of God and His philosophical existence, factored into Old Testament versus New Testament sentiments. A frightening mixture from a religion that propounds the virtues of a fiction called Christ? This book itself as fiction, too, is here to face that mixture out with its own still fermenting literary mixture of fable and overkill. The only way to meet overkill is with another overkill, one with better ends to its means. My own attachment-therapy is an attempt to force things into a gestalt, a fight where I look every book in the eye, making it submit to my will. This worthy book thankfully fought back. And it has finally shuffled into its shape of a novel metaphysical thrust by dint of its symphonically-movemented pattern of stories, despite whatever I have still to discover from it. A gestalt review of certain books can never be complete. Virtual stories that master-build a new Babel Tower upon the side of a river, one of arguable riparian ownership. Virtual and virtuous reality in synergy. I could go on. About the plane that crashed earlier into the sugar beet?
    “All I can say is you have to let God be the tiebreaker.”


    Saturday, April 28, 2018

    Best British Short Stories 2014

    Best British Short Stories 2014

    Series editor NICHOLAS ROYLE
    (My previous reviews of this writer are linked from HERE)
    (My previous reviews of this publisher are HERE)
    Featuring stories by: Featuring: Elizabeth Baines, David Constantine, Ailsa Cox, Claire Dean, Stuart Evers, Jonathan Gibbs, Jay Griffiths, David Grubb, M John Harrison, Vicki Jarrett, Richard Knight, Philip Langeskov, Siân Melangell Dafydd, Anna Metcalfe, Louise Palfreyman, Christopher Priest, Joanne Rush, Mick Scully, Joanna Walsh and Adam Wilmington.
    I hope to gestalt real-time review this book over the next few months in the comment stream below…

    27 thoughts on “Best British Short Stories 2014

    1. The Faber Book of Adultery

      “When it came free, almost with a pop, the books alongside seemed to sigh into the space it left, their pages filling with air.”
      And something comes or pops free at the end, too. A disappointment or a fulfilment. As it says on the tin, refab or breaf or brafe, near misses for words to describe what happens here, and at the end near the “mantel shelf”, or just the birth of a comma? And towards the next time when they may do it better. This is a highly literary, brilliantly observed, humorous view of one of the cloned middle-class dinner parties and their aftermaths. A story written by an author in real-time about what is actually happening in it. The gestalt underlying the word ‘adultery’, its derivation and enactment, and its brief brave ejaculation, now made impossible with smartphones,
    2. The Spiral Stairwell

      ‘Does the sky ever fall in real life?’ she had asked.
      ‘ Never, my little princess, never.’
      Nothing could be more different than the previous story. Of course, though, It shares a highly literary observation, here of a man who rescues people from houses in Bristol bombed during the Blitz of that city. I nearly cried when he obsessed about a piece of paper with a certain address on it that he is given to go and help rescue its inhabitants. The fact that he needed to keep the paper safe, or felt he needed to so, so that he would not forget the address…
      Oh, yes, I forgot, both stories end with an ejaculation. But here it is a cosmic, poetically rhapsodic spurt of humanity’s miracle as a Damned Neat Aim.
    3. The Incalculable Weight of Water

      “From: Ann
      just rang its ok hurry up want to go morisons”
      young love now past its use by date
      man fighting against nature of time on dam’s edge
      sees death in a black coat
      keeps it to himself
      back to ann without the e still waiting for him down the hill
      a hill now too steep to have climbed
      death a sudden spurt not process of slow weighty flow
      a thinking text
    4. Ladies’ Day

      “, the jockeys hunched on their backs in bright colours like parasitic beetles.”
      Synchronously, today in real-time is Grand National day and a couple of days ago it was Ladies’ Day at Aintree, one that also suffered bad weather! This is a battle, not a beetle, of the sexes and of steeds, where alcohol is smuggled under their clothes (like gunslinging floppy silver bags of wine from inside boxes?) into the paddock to save buying it expensively, I guess. Also scaring the horses so they shit out weight before they bet on them. Including those with having-had-a-baby figures, allowed THEIR day while men smugly hold the forts at home. Those hunched-over jockeys finding a way through for them, a division of air as if through time shifts…but then I guess some jockeys are women, anyway, these days. Never going backwards. A stable fable won by a nose or even a short head. A last minute spirt.
    5. Getting Out Of There

      I happen to have real-time reviewed this story here: last December – alongside three short shorts – as shown below in newly bold print:
      “You can’t be rulers if you have no country to rule.”
      0EAEE0C8-7F7C-46E0-ABD1-055F380DE671Braving this book in the warm of my chalet bungalow (the Soft Tread of my wife upstairs) on a cold frosty seaside morning outside (photograph taken about an hour ago.) In the second, I see a man with a tarpaulin bag with his items for self-storage or for the tarpaulin loft in Cicisbeo. The third is substantive, and with clues such as a funicular railway up to West Hill I knew it was some consuming version of Hastings (a very important place in my youth.) This work is the whole book’s eponymous apotheosis as well as its haunting themes, I guess, but who is following whom, who is being enticed to come NOW? Also, a possible woman’s drowning at the end significantly links with my already ever-concurrent review or co-voyeuring of THE DROWNING GIRL here, together with a vision of the spate of paintings on show, “They were all called ‘Woman from the Sea’, with a hashmark and a number.” Focus as a would-be religion, at an age when focus tends to fade? “…a midnight passeo“ also a midnight Pessoa?
      The short fourth allowing us to stay and dwell upon this inspiring book’s voice that lingers on.
    6. Hospital Field

      “It’s where the canals merge, large maples and damp benches, and street sweepers hosing the roads down between passengers and cyclists.”
      A meticulously picked-out, exquisite vision of you and your bonsai as raison d’être, and your girl friend who eventually apotheosises your Last Balcony. A classic, that perhaps only I ‘get’. Oh, and you, too. And it’ll still be here by dint of everlasting words when you look.
      (My earlier mention above: ‘a division of air as if through time shifts’?)
    7. Roof Space

      “. Filthy language.”
      Boy-man awaiting his dad to join him in the place beneath the eponymous space above, where real trains work on real tracks to conscientious timetables between real places, becoming various catharses of his broken life. Breaking sometimes those who broke him. The model to which fiction often aspires.
    8. Number Three

      “…her head is filled with images of ants raining from ceiling to floor. They are flooding the room like the sand of an egg timer.”
      A story in China of a Chinese teacher of English called Miss Coral, replaced by a real Englishman to teach English in the school, and she becomes the school’s international hostess, and thus that man’s official mentor. Silkily written, her special pupil Moon (special needs girl), the crassness of that Englishman, the strictures of the school’s director, are all finely felt by the reader, including wincing at things happening as well as being charmed by them. I know this is not a spoiler, being too far fetched in more ways than one, but it is one of my special bespoke theories about a story … Moon was one of Elizabeth Bowen’s many ‘Shadowy Thirds’. The slums flattened, too. City ever quick-changing, skyscraper by skyscraper. Moon and Miss Coral interchangeable. Made it seem even more beautiful and sad.
    9. Ashton and Elaine

      “….the child in question, or perhaps a whole series of them, all hurt, all harmed, all distinct in how they suffered, but as the register of that, almost as the accumulating sum of it,…”
      A gestalt of something intrinsic that has only emerged incredibly in recent days in 2018, a tale of the 1963 snow and thaw (that I myself remember very well in a different part of England), here brilliantly described and felt, with a withering, wuthering wind ‘cut to the marrow’, echoing the Windrush generation of that same era, here perfectly symbolised, in hindsight and ‘out of nowhere’, by the mute black foundling Ashton, a boy who is adopted by the family of Elaine who is a girl of the same age as him, a synergy of souls, where he starts writing and (privy to the girl’s grandmother) even talking. It is her grandmother that she tapes talking about Queen Victoria. (I, too, taped my own grandmother about that.) And I can hear her talking on that tape of visiting the same market trader who first discovered Ashton, and she thanked him almost in magically retrocaused compensation for our own times of ‘flightpaths and satellites’ and callousness.
    10. The Jewel Of The Orient

      “The curtains were ivory and almost completely transparent. I didn’t know why she bothered.”
      A Palfrey was a sort of horse to ride in the Middle Ages, but I see it now as Palfreud, a Cat with its eye on the Man who is its voyeur through its own see-through window curtains, a distant rider as it were. The scar between the curtains now sealed or healed, but still pointlessly see-through. The Man has moved into a claustrophobic Pennine (penine?) village. His zipped fish punished by its own fighting femininity. On a less Freudian level, this work has eminently “fuckable” ideas and prose style.
    11. What’s Going On Outside?

      ‘What’s wrong with eating oranges?’ Karel said.
      ‘It’s the way you eat them,’ Eugene said. ‘Your father would be ashamed at the way you eat them, the way you peel them, with your long nail.’
      Oranges ARE the only fruit, after all. Peeling them like an incantatory refrain of prose living, under the skin, double agents in Russia or just ordinary local folk looking at life from the sash window. Computer and phone as modern as us. And things move on, where stoicism prevails and habits are catching, romances form, father dies, his mother’s on a screen, GoogleEarth now homing in on the smallest balcony in the world (but perhaps better than a sash window or even a screen), perhaps the last ever balcony. The last surrogate father, too. What’s going on inside? A perfect round, pithless, pitiless.
      My other review of this author where he happened to share space in an anthology with Jeanette Winterson:
    12. Tides

      Or How Stories Do Or Don’t Get Told
      “Or maybe — more like — there’s just no end to the story.”
      …as something said in the middle of this one.
      Light comes from the sea upon a river but equally the sea threatens the land. Like life. But which story do you tell? The best or the worst of things? Here, a woman with the pure or mixed account of a relationship and its choice of memories or unchooseable futures. I think this one tells me there is no real choice past or future as we live a gestalt of stories. And pure and mixed races between, perhaps cynically air- or tar-brushed.
    13. The Sea In Birmingham

      “But the three armchairs in front of the aquarium are all filled by sleeping residents. ‘It’s so peaceful watching those fish,’ Matron Judy always says. ‘Makes me want to drop off myself.’”
      I once knew a group of oldsters in a home just as soporific. This whole story is a perfect rendition of the archetypal home, believe me. And the whodunnit quality is often better expressed as who didn’t, who couldn’t, and any circumstantial evidence, whether staff or inmate as the culprit, accumulated without hope of reconciling. So many people with their minds crushed by life as well as their bodies, the staff included. Many threats and recriminations harboured. And what any of them say that they might do is not necessarily any indication of motive. But if you need a culprit, a motive comes in handy. Here the brutal death of the old incontinent sailor now an inland man with incredibly blue eyes and who sees a woman out to get him in every reflective surface. A mermaid or a siren? The story itself implies a lot of mis-angled surfaces just like a piece of modern art. The in-house artist must have done it, I guess. Or the author himself, more like. I wrote realistic extrapolations about such places when my mother once stayed in one…
    14. Hope Fades For The Hostages

      “The only thing that keeps me sane, cooped up in this vacuum, is the thought of sealing the envelope, and somehow finding a stamp and a postbox in a wasteland of snow and barbed wire.”
      Three separate but textually interweaving stories, taking place in that no man’s land of time at 3 a.m. Two about reaching somewhere, one an SF journey by terrestrial algorithm, the other about a man messing up a trip with his dying wife in a camper van, the third at home amid a home’s entropy. The gestalt is a misdirected posting towards an esCHAIRtology whence to spectate death. An Arctic fridge humming with an emotionally cold daughter your only legacy…
    15. “I cast the forgotten to the night.”
      Seems a suitable emblem for the previous story?
      I happen to already have read the next story and reviewed it here in January 2014: and below is what I wrote about it in that context:
      Unfinished Business by CHRISTOPHER PRIEST
      “I cast the forgotten to the night.”
      Another story with a ‘maximum deniability’, a huge tankful of denial indeed. Here, Janine, a mature woman with a chequered (to say the least!) backstory, someone who has now made good in international business but suddenly stalked by her past in some striking form of static adjacency of inverse stalking by a retributive inhabitant of that past. A compelling build-up of mystery. And an unexpected ending that neatly transcends the reader’s sense of earlier disbelief at the nature of such stalking and of Janine’s success in fathoming it. Ingenious.
      My previous reviews of this author:
    16. Femme Maison

      “No sooner is there something to do than it requires something else to do it with.”
      A sense of the earlier tri-partite Ailsa Cox story now with its deserved gestalt. The Arctic and the Entropy of the House. The spaced out travel in the mind of a widow or estranged wife, expecting Him to return. With a capital H, I reckon it’s God. Not an ashes or dust exchange.
      Hope fades for the hostages, as inadvertent co-assonance.
      “The fridge must occasionally be defrosted. Something knocks in the icebox.”
    17. It

      “Out of the kitchen window, she could see the camera lenses scattered amongst the privets like so many shining marbles—“
      This story is an utter gem. It may even become my favourite story of all time in its own strange way (seriously). So pleased my pursuance of this series of anthologies has led me to it. Nothing I say here can convey its intrinsic nature that causes me to feel this way about it. I might just mention Theodore Sturgeon’s story with the same title as a possible cross-reference at least where swamp material might be obliquely equivalent to the knotted multi-layers of cloth in the Wilmington. However, nothing in the Wilmington could be further from the huge sprawling thing by Stephen King!
    18. Glass, Bricks, Dust

      “For a moment, the lamppost looked like a tall thin man wearing a large black hat. When the man turned towards him, he looked like a lamppost.”
      From one potential classic to another. A derelict building on a mound left half-derelict by derelict workmen, and a boy, as boys do, or as boys did in my day, builds an inchoate model, a model of his own home town that he can see from the mound with the materials supplied by the title.
      But which came first, I ask, the lilli or the put? Or are you stuck between them, forever? The townspeople, too, between droguli and real things. And what of the birds in the sky? (My thoughts derived from this story, not necessarily the story’s own thoughts per se.)
      “There were an impossible number of birds gathered on top of the lamppost watching him.”
      My previous reviews of this author:
    19. Guests

      “On these walks I allowed myself to picture Jon. I did this cautiously, small bits at a time. His hands. The blurred edge of his jaw. Never whole.”
      A process that needs to be used cautiously on this consuming, confusing bespokenness, not template, of the Bosnian war in the1990s. Mladić et al. Genocide and other events that seem to me to trawl some intrinsic human evil that I happen to have been synchronously watching in episodes while reading this book: a nine hour film entitled ‘Shoah.’
      It is the tangential story of a woman setting up a website to portray that era, while, her husband is actually involved on the spot where it happens. And as if by WiFi of the Wife she is visited by Guests as Ghosts of that war. (The previous story’s visions also somehow seem to cohere with the general ambiance of this one.)
      “‘You did that.’ But their voices were tired: it was hard for them to remember which flag to kiss and which to burn.”
    20. Barcelona

      “He wanted a quick fix, a hit, something that he could get into and out of in the least time possible; something that he could race through and get to the end.”
      And we get that in the end story of Luis (a version of this reader?) conjoined to the otherwise separate long story of Daniel and his surprise eponymous trip for him and his wife to celebrate their wedding anniversary. I won’t go into their existing connection with the city, and with the man there who vacates his apartment for their stay. Suffice to say this is a story of compelling deadpan suspense with not only a separate story ulcer conjoined but a further story as canker or worse in the shape of the discrete Graham Greene story chosen by Daniel to read on the aeroplane as retold in summary (and referenced in the bit I quoted above). It seems as if I, too, was in slow motion step with this whole narrative. And taken there in the shape of the baby that Daniel and his wife never chose to have. I nearly managed to reclaim it from the airport carousel. A quiet “catastrophising” of events in progression of cause-and-effect and/or synchronicity, a progression impossible to divert, a literary audit trail that I somehow feel still continues with my pre-set journey towards happening to read this work today.
      “: the great sense of life that they hauled in their wake seemed to verge on the miraculous.”
      My previous review of this author is about the place where I was brought up:
      Another obliquely strange but much longer Graham Greene work I reviewed here: “curiosity growing inside him like cancer.”
      Thus ends another significant pilgrimage for me through a BBSS anthology, this one full of Shadowy Thirds and Droguli.