Tuesday, August 28, 2018

6 Shorts 2016

6 Shorts 2016

The Dacha by Alix Christie The News of Her Death by Petina Gappah What Time Is It Now, Where You Are? by Colum McCann Unbeschert by Edith Pearlman The Phosphorescence by Nicholas Ruddock The Human Phonograph by Jonathan Tel
The Finalists For the 2016 Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award
When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

9 thoughts on “6 Shorts 2016”

  1. The Dacha by Alix Christie
    “Even a decade after the fall of the Wall, most of the east was still the shit-brown color of old stucco.”
    A mainstream, eventually downstream, story of an American woman and her German husband — whom she met back in America and now with two small kids — buying a dacha in what was once East Germany. I sense this is an adeptly conjured genius loci, including the later surprise that the lake is a site for nudist bathing and the mosquitos fat. And the German woman, a Yankeephile, still living nearby with a small son, who sold the dacha to them, turns out to be conniving in different respects for her own benefit. A believably characterised template for humanity where deviousness mixes with naked openness. Quince jelly and penis rings. A symbol for our times of fake news and naivety, where Walls have again become the answer to everything? Or Dachau?

  2. The News of Her Death by Petina Gappah
    ‘What about you Shylet? A smoking girl like you needs something to make you even more smoking. How about some smoked fish for a chimoko?’
    A characterful womanly gossip (if that is not being sexist to say) between hairdressers and customers in an African hairdresser’s possibly near Lake Kariba, salon or saloon depending on one’s view of the establishment’s class, a customer promised special braids, about to fly back home to ‘Men Chester’ via Amsterdam and London, learns that the hairdresser called Kindness who promised the braids has died, not of HIV, but of being shot by her boy friend…. A fish sales man vists … an older woman comes in, Pentecostal or Roman Catholic, and there is a teenage girl with half done braids who sweeps up. No need to sweep up after this breezy, dark-brightened story, though. It is a slice of life, a backdrop to the variegated human condition in our difficult times, the remainder of our story yet to be braided. And I will now reread Anita Brookner’s At the Hairdresser’s as an ornamental foil. Hers was a death, too. One of my favourite writers.

  3. The news of her death to his? And its similar choice of circumstances as well as identity?
    What Time Is It Now, Where You Are? by Colum McCann
    “All the beginnings he attempted — scribbled down in notebooks — wrote themselves into the dark.”
    “…and she could be facing the gothic dark of the Kerengal Valley,…”
    The perfect story for the perfect gestalt real-time review, at last! A story where we follow in real-time the writer of it, either the freehold author himself, or that author’s leasehold one who sits within the perfect mathematical triangulation redux? A haunting story in itself, as one of them tells of writing about Sandi, an American woman marine in Afghanistan, on solitary voluntary sentry duty in the dark landscape as the other off-duty marines celebrate their Afghanistan version of midnight on New Year’s Eve. She readies herself to call on satellite phone her maturing 15 year old son in, say, Charlestone, back home. And also to speak durng this same call to her lover, the co-mother of that son they share together. Twice, New Year Eve is pluralised to New Year Eves in this working text.
    “…since this is what our New Year’s Eves are about, our connections, our bonds,…”
    Any questions?

  4. Unbeschert by Edith Pearlman
    “Those mannequins, they replace their own heads at midnight, they rifle the safe, they choose the finest jewelry, they go dancing.”
    The eponymously lightsome version of Pride and Prejudice, a family with a large number of daughters, and the politics of love, sex and marriage, but here this New York Jewish family is taken beyond Austen’s end, towards death, but always a “lucky destiny”? It is a different social world altogether. Full of lightsome words and behaviours, backrooms and surreptitious signals, an imputed camel’s serendipity as objective-correlative, despite diabetes, and other slings and arrows of life, some without limbs or straight backs. Garments and bespoke colours. Humanity as a humour, in both senses of that word.
    “…not bothering with further romance he possessed her on their plush couch leaving a stain that would never fade, which they called “Brenda” after their one dear child, the result of that incident.”
    “You didn’t always need words.”
    “Memorizing was preferable to understanding.”
    The wonderful description of the family’s telephone device — dating this extended novel period in the short form of a story — dials your digits up literally towards chirpily saluting this work’s satisfying stoicism.

  5. The Phosphorescence by Nicholas Ruddock
    “Then came ‘the harness, please’, of which there were also two, taken from a worn valise in the corner, ‘wear it thusly, like so, around the waist, yes, and cinch it up, excuse me, here, between the legs, good, that’s good, there’, while the strongmen finished up, one of them clapping his hands in satisfaction as the interior cable now hung slack through the portal though much of its length still remained in the room,…”
    From Sandi’s earlier catharsis in Afghanistan and Pearlman’s lightsomeness — A dream of Nice or a literary effulgence as if Proust were creating magic realism, a sacrifice of two girls found on the beach to replace others to become phosphoresciennes, the ultimate Hawling between Côte d’Azur and Africa, a geomancy beyond carnival, beyond beyond the countryside around Nice. The Hawling created by all my Gestalt Real-Time Reviewing over the last ten years, as if written specifically for me. But I sense every reader may feel this, too. Written specifically for each of them. An occult ritual within a rite of passage as if written by Damian Murphy (now brocaded by its own inner phosphorescence), but then sadly rounded off by a Gide-like Peste (Camus, rather) that is our world today. The girls become groped (as well as hawled) as a me two, too. Making this an ironic self-sacrifice for the sake of being able to experience such a Proustianly ornate (yet deadpan), compellingly narrative-driven story in the first place. No mean feat. Mean, too.

  6. The Human Phonograph by Jonathan Tel
    “We understand them in order to defeat them.”
    And so we do, by dint of each ending of this story being different each time you read it. It’s as if you have never read it before. As this Chinese woman, in the Armstrong contemporary moonwalk period, goes, as librarian and wife of one of the scientists already there, to a part of the post Mao-Stalin handshake China where the Mad Scientist bomb is needed secretly to be part of this and other experiments. She has sex with her estranged husband as if it is illicit. A go-between is the eponymous songster… and we love the way we are beguiled by the permutations of love and impregnating, as humanity once impregnated the moon. All part of a mighty deadpan Hawling of a spirit, I sense, with added bespoke ironies for each reading you make… all grooved as mnemonic.
    “they restored the original crack in the roof through which rain dripped, and included a stuffed rat on the floor”
    “a vast deep pit with many yellow-hatted workers swarming in and about it — where the foundations are to be established for the tallest of towers, that shall one day be built.”
    And her sex with the estranger is a hawled geomancy cultured with that in the previous story’s Phosphorescence, where landmarks and terrains are part of such love, now potentially, I feel, stretched from earth outward, beyond the moon to the stars…

    6 Shorts 2015

    6 Shorts 2015

    The Glove Maker’s Numbers by Rebecca F John A Sheltered Woman by Yiyun Li Hungry by Elizabeth McCracken False River by Paula Morris Interstellar Space by Scott O’Connor The Wedding Cake by Madeleine Thien
    The Finalists For the 2015 Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award
    When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

    9 thoughts on “6 Shorts 2015

    1. “What are numbers knit
      By force or custom?”
      — Percy Bysshe Shelley
      The Glove Maker’s Daughter by Rebecca F John
      “It had not taken Christina long to learn to see them divided, like portions of a sugary apple tart, into parts that would eventually make up a whole.”
      I think this is the first story that has genuinely made me feel a lunatic, as mad as the subject of it, Christina. Except I hold on to the fact that she is not the “lunatic” that everyone thinks she is, certainly now cured, a glove-maker the stitches of which job makes her see things turned into numbers and then those numbers as tactile and shaped into various emotions, and you must read about each number as we are told about them in this context. The loops and endlessness, the sharpness of ends, etc. The death in the past of her brother when young. The woman beside her in the lunatic asylum. Her husband reading her Shelley … after she comes home, hopefully healed. There was nothing to heal, I say. But what is the Devil’s number? I know how to escape this story. Pretend it never happened? Count its pages? Or letters? Take my mind off. Who is the glove-maker, the mother or the daughter? Only one photograph.
      • “What are numbers knit
        By force or custom? Man who man would be,
        Must rule the empire of himself; in it
        Must be supreme, establishing his throne
        On vanquished will, quelling the anarchy
        Of hopes and fears, being himself alone.”
    2. A Sheltered Woman by Yiyun Li
      “: a mother is a mother, even if she speaks of flushing her child down the drain.”
      A ‘first-month Nanny’ called Auntie Mei, who keeps one of her two notebooks (the second one unnecessary) with numbers recorded from the previous story, numbers now of those Babies she has cared for through their first month along with each Baby’s Ma. The latest Ma has a dishwasher engineer come to repair and to zap an egret, a handyman with whom Mei links up like many stories have women link up with handymen recently in my reading, but Mei herself is a bit of a fluid engineer, too, as she massages Ma’s wet-nursing paps, I guess. A story of stoicism and officiousness and acceptance between genders and roles and ancestors and scions, methods of motherhood with mothers and daughters and mothers of mothers. And masquerading with mother-surrogates like a Nanny or the dishwasher engineer with a surrogate wife and child to spite a foe who is also a sort of brother by being a foe. I felt my own naive wisdom had been disarmingly enhanced by this story, but it is best not to know exactly how it did that to me because then that knowledge (like this story’s entrapped ‘knowing’) would diminish my wisdom back to what it was originally before I read this story.
    3. Hungry by Elizabeth McCracken
      “, their childhood had been one long period of Sylvia like a mad bomber installing explosives in the bodies and souls of her children, set to go off when they became adults.”
      Who’s counting calories? More numbers, as Yiyun Li’s previous grandmother-mother-daughter syndrome takes on a new turn, quite hilarious, quite tragic, too. The grandmother looking after the granddaughter Lisa and other mother-daughter and family syndromes as Lisa’s father begins to die in hospital. I am made to imagine the eponymous hunger to be this syndrome as love rather than as cannibalism, yet there is a blend of love and would-be cannibalism, too, a hearty caring blend that makes the love ever greater, and a studied forbearance when Lisa gets a wig powdered with talc by a woman neighbour using a dangerous walker, a powdering to help with the effectiveness of Lisa’s forthcoming speech as George Washington, at a forthcoming neighbourly party, a rôle-playing once encouraged by her now sick Dad, or so I infer. It all makes sense when you read this story. It’s just as if a retelling of it, like my précis above, becomes a bit like making a story review into a party performance itself!
    4. False River by Paula Morris
      “You know I hate it when people say things like 1700s,” Thea said, her voice loud. “What are we, Italians? In English we call it the 18th century. When someone says 1700s to me, it’s as though they don’t trust me to work it out.”
      I worked out today while reading this in the UK that False River is a real river, one that is in Louisiana. A story of post-Katrina New Orleans with that Katrina era a backstory, a story hinted of a marriage kept together by transcending marriage itself and incriminating footprints expunged as either real footprints that had evaporated or false footprints that were never there in the first place, and old friendships, old flings and secrets in backstories kept further back, and two funerals, the male narrator instructed by his feisty crazy wife to burgle her late father’s house in NO for the expensive vintage wine in bottles to be shown off at his, her father’s, funeral. Either real or false bottles? Reuniting, as the narrator does, with youthful comrades Thea and Jimmy (the latter obsessed with the explorer Stanley and in trouble with the police for moving a moveable he was not meant to move). Pass the bâton rouge along? Or throw the drink in the False River. A gesture of defiance or just cinematic panache? A story still haunting or clinging to my folk memory of these events, without it being possible at all for me to be in a position to remember them in the first place. The narrator with no name, I presume. Unless I missed it?
    5. Interstellar Space by Scott O’Connor
      “I wasn’t able to go inside like Meg did, the full withdrawal from questions, from the shed, the world. Occupying some distant interior space, there but not there, not really.”
      Cate (narrator) and Meg, two sisters, played, when children, games of DEAD MAN FLOAT and PRISONER in the family home’s shed by the pool. Father works for the rocket and satellite industry. Meg hears voices. I can’t do justice here to how she hears voices; she blames father for them? Aliens, channelled through by him? Meg’s later mental ill-health circumstances. Cate’s Movie scenery job, designing for a plot about a SF colony for humanity on a distant planet, incorporating the shed in the fabricated copy of their childhood home, in hope of transcending it… and, for me, this story comes fully alive at the end with the shared fiction concept of all us readers empowered through the triangulation of just such a process as Gestalt Real-Time Reviewing of mutual hyper-imagination, thus this being a story prophetically pre-fabricated by preternatural means, in parallel to the post-fabrication within the story itself. Equivalent to the real False River…
      “Meg in her pinwheel dress, her thin body covered in multicoloured spirals. KFAC on the radio, Mahler or Bartok or Holst’s Planets, our father’s favourite, strings and horns swelling but Meg hearing something else,…”
    6. The Wedding Cake by Madeleine Thien
      “In this country, when they’re serious, they whisper! But when they’re frivolous, they shout! They only want you to hear their stupidities!”
      A new colony for their culture (cf the previous story) in a new land. A story, as all good short stories should, that gives us the gift of stoicism as a defence against the odd items of life we all suffer, odd and tragic things that are given perspective and an art form, a sculpture, as one of the characters does, as a prize for good aesthetic living or as a punishment to break teeth! This set of stories, here, now, with an ambition of building a transparent building that one’s dead son imagined building, and “Strato imagined that everything in this universe was produced by weight and motion.” My sense of the Hawling quality now almost threatened: “There were cracks in the plaster, lines emerged from the walls as if the building was writing them a message.” This is a story of four men, as four friends, who are alienated Lebanese come to Canada and reunited there, and they have set up their lives anew, shared names with their sons, as is their culture’s wont; they escaped from the endless-intermittent war in Beirut. We learn their poignant backstories, and one of the strongest objective-correlatives in literature I can recall is the eponymous cake, that one of their wives had preserved in the freezer upon their son dying before needing it, his wedding aborted, of course. The events and tribulations in their lives are an honest mix that made the several stories or storeys of the cake, this book as a whole, a mighty cake in reality or only as imagined by the blind one among them. A False Cake as a Real Cake like this book’s earlier river. I hope none break their teeth on it.
      (Love-eating or Sin-Eating? cf McCracken)

    6 Shorts 2014

    6 Shorts 2014

    Anwar Gets Everything by Tahmima Anam Othello by Marjorie Celona Nirvana by Adam Johnson Number Three by Anna Metcalfe Snow Blind by Elizabeth Strout The Shoe King of Shanghai by Jonathan Tel
    The Finalists For the 2014 Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award
    When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

    8 thoughts on “6 Shorts 2014

    1. Anwar Gets Everything by Tahmima Anam
      “And when he hauls you up, whatever you do, don’t look down.”
      Much hawling of people and materials, this is a story of those in some ex oriente’s downworld backstory migrated to labour on the skyscrapers of Dubai, two torpid towers called Bride and Groom, our protagonist with his wife back home and child. Co-workers getting into cinema films free. The cinematic high-rise finale is dizzying. Short measures taken to preserve one’s own small level world. We all shrink our cloth to match our maximum means… hawling itself, scaling the triangulated coordinates of self.
    2. Othello by Marjorie Celona
      “It was the end of August and we hadn’t seen a cloud in weeks. Going outside was like being microwaved.”
      I got a hang-in-there as today in UK it’s been a long hot August so far. But I don’t know Idaho or Pullman or Othello, but I guess you can tell me more of their ambiance, the pull-ins, scrapyards, various stains and piss smell in the armpit. This is the narrator’s tale, well, it would be, a 16 or 17 boy or man with a forward flash of the middle-distance rest of his life like a retrocausal drowner drowning… as he contemplates the current complexity of the parental break-ups around him, his Dad and Mum, and why he has a six year old autistic boy called Wolf in his story, and the two bruisers in the low dive ice cream shop he thinks will rob the place, instead Wolf has a fit and hangs like a limpet on to one of the bruisers…yes, you can tell me all about them and the place they are in. I love this story backwards. Wolf’s Dad who runs funerals, notwithstanding.
    3. Nirvana by Adam Johnson
      “It was like we were in the past and the future at the same time. I kind of feel that now.”
      “I want you to stop talking to the President,” she says. “It’s time to accept reality.”
      I try to be light-hearted. “The President’s the one who talks to me.”
      “What did the President leave behind? Uncertainties, emptiness, a thousand rocks to overturn.”
      Electronic social-media “reputation management” story in the then future 6SHORTS2017: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/08/02/6-shorts-2017/#comment-13371
      “I was hired to write a program that would sweep the web to construct client profiles. Creating the President was an easy step from there.”
      A powerful SF story, more real than non-SF, a man with a wife who is paralysed from the shoulders downward, striking depiction of their marital life in all senses of this situation, sad (to the point of potential self-destruction) and happy and in between, with a surveilling drone and the man’s electronic projections of both Kurt Cobain and an assassinated US President. But be careful for what you wish for, I say. Even good intentions could go awry in the then future of this 6SHORTS2014…
      “I see the President again, on the lawn of a Korean church. I understand that he is a ghost that will haunt us until our nation comes to grip with what’s happened: that he is gone, that he has been stolen from us, that it’s irreversible.”
    4. The next story I reviewed here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/02/18/best-british-short-stories-2014/ and below is what I wrote about it in that context…
      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.
    5. Snow Blind by Elizabeth Strout
      “‘We’re not in the appetite.’ Annie had once asked her brother to play cards and he had said he was not in the appetite.”
      The Hawling of Anwar or the Proustian memory of Celona, this is a poignant and satisfyingly stoical short story of long lives, all the clues there at the beginning of seemingly dire and shameful adult habits crystallised by future’s remembering. The story of Annie, one of three children, of her parents, brother and sister, of Annie as sylvan skintone-variable loner as a child … and as her loner spirit projected into or from her grown-up within a theatre career. A story of eventually transcended or tape-recorded shame. White dazzle of the sun and snowblind earth.
      “What Annie did not say was that there were many ways of not knowing things; her own experience over the years now spread like a piece of knitting in her lap with shadows all through it.”
    6. Isabel nested his balls in the palm of her hand, as she spoke. “I can’t get ‘men’s shoes’ out of my mind. Men’s shoes. Men’s shoes. Always men’s shoes until men’ shoes, just the sound and a new meaning attaching to the sound, take on an evil aura. As if I’m dreaming about not dreaming.”
      “Men’s shoes? That’s a funny expression to have a phobia about. Your tongue must be to blame for pronouncing it with a meaning it wouldn’t otherwise have.” And he kissed her slippery tongue to taunt it back to good behaviour.
      —- from BIG SHIP, LITTLE SHIP AND BROWN (in ‘Weirdmonger’, Prime Books 2003)
      The Shoe King of Shanghai by Jonathan Tel
      “…for above a certain income level death is of less account, the rich maintaining their network of connections in Heaven and Hell,…”
      They say if you die in Beijing, you reincarnate as your punishment in Shanghai. If I recall correctly. Like ‘The Phosphorescence’ I read yesterday in 6SHORTS2016 (https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/08/10/6-shorts-2016/), this mind-dazzling story is as if Proust has written a magic realism of the highest quality. Also, as with Phosphorescence, an added ingredient of Hawling building works interweaving through the byways of the main plot of the shoe thief at funerals. Echoing, too, Anwar’s building of skyscrapers in this very 6SHORTS2014. Even the cars parked outside the funeral are associated with shoes. It is hilariously tantalising and is a for-its-own-sake endlessness as a word-hypnotic path towards a maze, whereby several changes of shoes are required. Wolf’s Dad in Othello also runs funerals. ‘Shoe’ and ‘child’ are homophones in a certain dialect of Chinese.

    GAMBLE by Kerry Hadley-Pryce

    17 thoughts on “GAMBLE by Kerry Hadley-Pryce

    1. Pages 1 – 9
      “It was all just a jumble of words to Gamble.”
      To risk that same wager upon meaning.
      The language — here describing things from within Greg Gamble, a fifty something secondary school teacher beset by Ofsted, etc. with a wife, and his daughter at the same school — is for me deceptively and satisfyingly full of literary traction, despite its disarming simplicity within each abrupt closing of spaces between commas, and he somehow reaches a sort of abrupt passing coma himself at the start of the school week’s busy corridor of sound and sense.
      Just the act of watching through his eyes ordinary things — like the girl visiting in a van across his drive — reaches extraordinary parts of the reading mind. From corridor to canal, that extraordinariness might be because I have myself been on a narrow boat, through the Wolverhampton locks on a flood-threatening rainy day back in the 1980s, and along the Stourbridge Canal, too. We shall see. But no spoilers upon each real-time wielding of my windlass.
    2. Pages 9 – 20
      Separate words, all comma-ed between, as if each the ‘moment’ of fuller risked meaning. Yet I feel deceptively strung along on more tentacular longer clauses, as if driving a car with the inability to turn around except at a winding-hole, then on a road growing narrower, all in a sort of slowed motion, drinking while driving a car (as some often do when tillering on canals), not already drunk and then driving, but drinking alcohol WHILE driving. I watch through Gamble’s eyes, the words instilling such empathic feelings without exactly saying so, a blend of self-consciousness bordering on paranoia, anxiety, a glitch in the brain somehow slipped into a new slower gear while every moment slips by fast on another level beyond the depths where one is steering. We see, through or with him, an ex-pupil girl in a shop as shopkeeper and later the girl in the previous van that features now with her off-putting male driver. We reluctantly see such girls through his eyes, but impelled to do so. Some sort of present real-time in a preterite tense toward a dreaded gestalt. I will try not to adumbrate too closely the forthcoming plot, for fear of spoilers. Stumbling on something I do not wish you to stumble on. But be warned, the risk will remain, as predicted by the name of the eponymous ‘hero’. Further review entries will hopefully be shorter than this one. Rapeseed, repressed. Olfactory projection of cucumber and vanilla. From my windlass to his windscreen, “, slow was too slow and fast was too fast,” and much more.
    3. Pages 20 – 35
      “— see the lock — the locks —“
      I feel as if I am one of many gongoozlers on the towpath watching the narrative locks and the changing depths between. And “the semantic importance.” Synaesthesia, too. Watching the complexity of meticulous patterns in Gamble’s thoughts and actions, including the house opposite his own house, the reflective canal, the migrating birds, the arrival back home of his wife during this absence from work, plus the photographs and other items in his own house … the gap in the net curtains perhaps matching the apparent gap in one of the photographs between people’s feet and the ground. And smell of lavender and a colour called ‘mystic apricot.’
    4. Pages 35 – 48
      “, it doesn’t matter about colours or smells or such things. It just doesn’t.”
      But they do, I say; here, “the smell of raw chives”. Meanwhile, we continue to have the misfortune of seeing ‘girls’ via Gamble — arguably by means of his poetic-adapted words recast as third person narration (he is a sad would-be poet, his daughter Isabelle implies) — ‘girls’, viz. his wife Carolyn and his own maturing schoolgirl daughter and a suggestive erstwhile fling called Hannah (his ex-pupil.) I use the term ‘misfortune’ advisedly, though it depends on what the nature of the reader is, I guess, exactly what I imply by that word. We also have what I earlier predictively referred to as ‘gongoozlers’ at the canal side, now with “blind expressions, pale.” Plus “the irrationality of the pattern on the carpet.” That observation means a lot to me, as do some others too numerous to quote here. This book continues to develop in my mind with some accretive awareness of matters transpiring – and their predictive power.
      “Not. Yet.”
    5. FFEC0C50-72EA-4BA8-AE4F-F1B6622F4CE8Pages 48 – 56
      “— I am a man. I am a man. It was a mantra, it had become one.”
      Me, too. Yet I decline to identify with Gamble, particularly the cigarette ends in the ashtray, and the way he sees certain things (even if our eyes see the same things) – although parts of me do echo parts of him. The split in coping and not coping, for example. And the sense of duty and guilt. And the synaesthesia. The smell on one’s body after a hot night. Other smells and tastes. These pages contain more of them! The memory, meanwhile of a backstory by the canal is Gamble’s alone. I am mere gongoozler. An event beside a willow or is it an oak? My long-seasoned Yieldingtree seems appropriate to reproduce alongside. Earlier in this book I remember I somehow mistook the word ‘canal’ for ‘carnal’. In fact I wrote that thought down for my review but then deleted it among some other things, as I thought I was becoming too verbose! Now that memory comes in full evocation to my mind.
    6. Pages 56 – 67
      “Gamble tends to tell you things as he remembers them, but out of order, out of time.”
      …with the words, like those in this real-time review, “running away with him, as if he was floating, just a little, above, them,…” I am forced more and more to identify with Gamble; he has a daughter, so do I, (grown up now), a wife who has a thing about cleaning the shower, so do I. But “performing a marriage.” And – “Look what she’s ended up with, he thought: me.” Provocative, but recognisable, thoughts to have. But I hope to keep my powder dry. I do not have memory of a Hannah in my life, you see. Not one that actually happened. Too late now, anyway. Thankfully.
      But this is a fiction. I pick myself up and shake myself down. No window opposite with a near naked girl in it opening its Venetian blind. No voyeur, either, in the window opposite that window opposite. Nor is my name Gamble, a name with its meaning beyond the person it names.
    7. Pages 67 – 79
      “There was a pause, not even worthy of a comma,”
      “…as if, carved in tree trunks over there, there were faces, or bodies, fixed and distant and naked.”
      And a car that is “full of cross-purposes” – like steering a narrow boat? Only going one way till reaching a winding-hole, and steering against the way you want the calculated drift to take you. (See some of my previous recent reviews regarding the concept of ‘calculated drift.’) Later or earlier, a poem he wrote, four years ago, he then at that time tears out of his notebook and actually makes into a gift to the one material to his sense of duty and guilt, but as a token of what? An endlessly resonating objective-correlative like the canal itself? Also, “, mushrooming into something, someone different, despite himself.” This is a tale not necessarily of synaesthesia alone, but something unique in literature perhaps, something I shall tentatively call sin-aesthesia. Mixed with male panache. All such rambling thoughts of mine later halted and re-focussed by my recognition of a change in POV on the last page of this section of pages: Isabelle and the canal in poetic interface. The shells, notwithstanding.
    8. “What is now proved was once only imagined.”
      WILLIAM BLAKE, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
      Pages 80 – 94
      “‘Greg’, she said. ‘You want to live in the Black Country all your life?’”
      The potential of spoiling this plot increases, as perceived events develop in the past as well as in later real-time. The house opposite – and the girl/woman there – promises to take on more significance, but that is currently almost a minor consideration when compared to what was – and is – going on in Greg Gamble’s nuclear family, along with Carolyn and Isabelle. Smells, some more trivial or domestic, like damp and Carolyn’s wish to redecorate, the smell of ‘pot’ from his earlier life, the word ‘pot’ being tussled over like poetry, and separate Proustian selves (thoughts of his youthful reading of Blake), but the smells of the canal area seem more intrinsic. “The smell that sap makes when it’s bleeding from a branch.” The house opposite, though, he had not properly noticed before. And that house’s discovered name a hint of some Gothic implications? A car struggling in reverse gear. Gamble’s perceptions of his own life, as well as of nature and Gaia, are “like modern art”, too, I reckon.
    9. Pages 95 – 110
      “It could, everything about this situation he was in, he knew, take him to an intensely uncareful place indeed.”
      I know the feeling, reading this today. Poking at scuffed demons. Dislocated possibly back into some sixties student bedsit in the house opposite, with other implications important to this book. “…as if he might be an unexploded bomb, or an alien.” I feel I am in a version of REPORT ON PROBABILITY ‘A’ (my review here) or prose by Samuel Beckett plus intangible anti-novel elements. Even Aickman? Captivated, nay, captured by it in tranches of Gamble’s backstory and present real-time, as he seeks to unfester a secret to his wife. We all know how secrets fester, don’t we? More gongoozlers canalside; this book has created a previously unrecognised sort of human being that lurks down there? Like Gamble, I hate pets. Another unfestered secret. Every gamble has its price. And every price has its gamble. “It looks like a killing cone. It does.”
    10. Pages 110 – 134
      “He was being careful, making the uncareful much worse.”
      This insinuating prose is also often ‘uncareful’ – in a good way. This review, too, I hope. From the lipstick shoplifted to “the lipstick dried into darkish clumps…” The lipstick he consciously later takes and uses as his own objective-correlative for this narration-at-one-remove, something he does not understand why he did. And there is the ‘being a parent’ section laid out for us, having been parents, perhaps, like me. The ‘parental tics’, the making of the child that then maketh the man, as, from my memory, Wordsworth once put it. Life, aspiring to make itself ‘a beautiful work of art.’ The girls or women in Gamble’s gamble or jumble of a life possibly blending in and out with each other, against the canal’s backdrop and alongside other gongoozlers. (I once had a story entitled ‘Down by the Fast Canal’ published in ‘Vollmond’ in 1990). Why did I put that in brackets? The ‘climate change’ in his relationship with Isabelle: her sullen, even unsocial, teenage change of behaviour. The use of poetry in parentry. The staff room at school “an echo chamber of past chat.” The syndrome of “it was him but it wasn’t.” Events and time vanishing or not happening at all; the reading of his mind, by the girl in the house opposite, with the word “Retro.” “She was a cat.” The earlier dysfunctional car journey when driving his daughter, a new fast canal of mind and (or over?) matter?
      “And maybe she was waving. And the footsteps were quick, down to the canal.”
    11. Now I must make amends
      And try to correlate event with instinct
      And me with you or you with you with all,
      No longer think of time as a waterfall
      Abstracted from a river.
      ― Louis MacNeice
      God or whatever means the Good
      Be praised that time can stop like this,
      That what the heart has understood
      Can verify in the body’s peace
      God or whatever means the Good.
      — Louis MacNeice
      Pages 134 – 152
      “And right there, he could see the deepest tracks of things, he could see the younger him, yes, but he could see Isabelle, too, underneath it all, the truculence of her, and yes, that uncarefulness of her.”
      In that way he pieces her together, as he wished earlier. As I wish to do with all books. But this book somehow seems itself uncareful with meaning, while heady with poetry. A sort of spread out soliloquy by Shakespeare, triangulated, trunculated as it were, by collaborators of us readers with the characters that make up this whole Gamble. Throwing a dice to see what is God, what is good. What is self, what are others. We have now learnt the name of the girl opposite as well as of the house where she is staying behind Venetian blinds thus opposite. That ultimate “sleight” this book strives to express. The gaps in what the book says, in what the blinds say. Damp pornography trodden into the towpath. Mushrooming, again. Beneath the skin like a worrying lump. “, underneath it all.” I’ve been there, done it, got the T shirt, had the rabbit stew. A book review like a spread out soliloquy, too? Abstracted from a canal, not a river nor even a stream of consciousness.
      “He needed an explanation mark. Something. Not this, not that.”
    12. Pages 152 – 164
      “Maybe not good, exactly, but some part of the identity of ‘good’. He can’t explain it.”
      Not ‘Report on Probability “A”’, after all, as I earlier suggested, but this clinching scene with Maria (?), I guess, is Probability ‘I’, the one that follows ‘Aitch’, more of a sort of space exploration with alien dangers and other pitfalls of feeling one’s way in such a terrain (Aitch himself being just one alien who hovers at the side?) rather than a sex scene, as such, although it may be both. A sex scene as “an outcrop of each other.” Also that ‘I’ is not only the first person singular pronoun but also: “We’re a team, Carolyn and I. We still are. And I’ve lived like this this – we have – for years now. And there’s Isabelle, and there’s…” as another ‘I’. He looked at her one eye at a time. Surprised she was smoking a cigarette. Porcelain doll, also hinted in her demeanour. A report on a balance of probabilities to ensue?
      “In that light, her body, he saw, was surprising. More like a child’s than he thought it would be.”
    13. Pages 164 – 181 (end)
      “He’ll say now that it wasn’t that he felt guilty.”
      The book’s, for me, perfect coda, poignant and probably meaningful. From the “dampish mushrooms” in the fridge to a dream of “a woman or a girl” wading in the Stourbridge canal. The “over-optimism of the shops, that is, in any circumstances, intensely sad.”
      This book is, if nothing else, intense. Disarmingly so. A book that has taken me by the scruff of my own scuffed gestalt. In the previous set of pages we had “Something and nothing.” And the book itself ends with “And that’s something.” Not a spoiler, how can it be? A “whole minute click past. / ‘Tox screen shows up…’”
      “her goodness, the goodness of her,”