Saturday, July 27, 2019

A Flowering Wound – John Howard

A Flowering Wound – John Howard

My previous reviews of John Howard: and the Swan River Press here:
When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

12 thoughts on “A Flowering Wound – John Howard

  1. The first story reviewed here:
    A Glimpse of the City
    “People from the different centuries caught in the photos, whether involuntarily or posing, were swallowed up into human and stone montages that spanned decades and mixed frozen attitudes and expressions…”
    As well as this being a discrete fiction – one that I recognise straightaway as an atmospherically ‘weird-glimpse’ haunting of a story, an unquestionably great one, of the type I love – this, for me, is also serendipitously a further cross-section of the history and urbographics of the city of Berlin’s ‘obsessive’ genius loci that I have just finished reading about in the whole of this author’s book ‘The Emperor’s Pavement’.
    I am one lucky reader. A maze of emotional linkage.
    Portrait in an Unfaded Photograph – John Howard
    This is a retro-causality by history, tied up with events in Romania etc. and the power of literature (as ‘magic fiction’?)  to make things happen for real.  It involves the power of the emotion caused by literature itself and the rivalries or jealousies that it can invoke, bigger even than world events.  I enjoyed the connnections – and the inferences allowed slowly, savouringly to egg out in the reader’s mind as ‘rumours and possibilities’. The story reminded me of a Poliakoff TV drama made lexophonic.  Unlike with my previous real-time reviews, I suspect – by the book’s already developed osmosis – that I shall need to return to considering earlier stories when reviewing subsequent ones, as, these days, I do personally seem to be dogged by retro-causality (à la Hadron Collider).  So I may re-read this excellent one in due course.  (21 Dec 09)
    “The looming future seemed to be a solid wall instead of an opening door.”
    A man’s life walking and working on the Great West Road or Golden Mile to the West of London leading up to the Second World War, its growth of towers and tube stations and factories – a Machen maze of wandering, with sought soaring Blakean visions perhaps, and radio radiating obelisks, finials, Art Deco liner in dry dock.
    He is humble, like his hopes and those of his fiancée, a poignant time, a poignant effulgent ‘fragment of life’, also with his father on Wembley stadium visits and its own once envisaged tower.
    This text has a “crop of towers.”
    His “heading towards a different tower” makes me think of another west London tower in our news today, something that just happened, happened indeed since this story was written, a tower (“new structures of concrete, brick, and glass together with the sweeping thoroughfares and sprawling estates…”) also full of modern humble trusting folk like our humble hero once was, a tower also one whereby the West End was still, but barely, to the east… “…something disastrous might occur at any time.”
    And “great forces were preparing to draw a set of heavy curtains across the European – and possibly wider – stage.”
    Falling into Stone
    “I thought he loved that stone. He shouts each word as he brings the hammer down, smash, crash.”
    This is an involving tale of unrequited love, where austerity is both a reason for these characters to become lock-easy outlaws like grown-up kids from a sub-titled film making their jokey or scary marks when rambling uninvited in rich houses – and where austerity is stylish minimalism in architecture, give or take the odd Art Deco balcony, I guess. The story also complements the Bestwick story, quite unintentionally, I assume, with stone and a hammer playing a large part in the metaphor of the credit crunch, crunch being the operative word. Marble, too, as a scryable vision of what pattern a stone may contain as well as the person it becomes … flecks on the surface only give away some of what deep emotions reside below, emotions that eventually go cold as stone itself when envy and a sense of unfairness outweigh one’s human nature. But I’m rambling now…
    A truly superb story.
    “Our name was my idea.”
    Ziegler against the World
    “…as the words talked to each other and edited themselves, agreeing and arguing, before making themselves available…”
    I felt this story was agreeing and arguing with me as I nodded knowingly at the beginning with those erstwhile Howardian postage stamps appearing amid Weimar inflation… But then it started arguing back at me with fictionatronic absurdities even outdoing those of Rhys Hughes, but the novel that the hero picked up in the Great War trenches was Huysmans’ DOWN THERE; he obsessively translated it from French to German while the inflationary zeros and serrated edges of the stamps filled his dreams with arguing apertures and jagged teeth; his behaviour bemused his wife who in another world would have sent him off to work across London Bridge, no doubt. And I felt like eating the weighty words before my head floated off like the froth on a daydream. Like his wife, I am bemused, yet keen to use the text’s pattern eventually toward the eventual real-time gestalt of this book, just as the blocks of stamps formed such patterns in the story. To reach the core of the book itself DOWN THERE.
    A Flowering Wound
    “I turn away from the balcony.”
    But not before it collapses on me – or under me.  This very powerful story is full of meaning for me. But does it mean anything to other people? It reminds me of the classic story, ‘The City In The Rain’, by Mark West that I reviewed here.
    This is about the  gathering into tribes. We are each in our own tribe. A tribe of people-that-are-us.  Even if the tribe-of-people-that-are-us tread cruelly upon the tribe-of-people-that-are-not-us, we can countenance that because we are blinded to those relativities by the ‘golem’ of the tribe to which we belong. This is what I discover from this book’s gestalt so far.
    Sometimes we are  in a tribe of the aspirationally tribeless.  Fascism can potentially bud in each branch of politics, tribeful or tribeless.  It takes something akin to complete non-committedness to become unfascist, neither tribeful or tribeless, perhaps. To cease name-calling is the first step, because names as well as words can be interpreted separately from their semantics. It takes fiction to depict the flowering wound of each ‘y*d’ or ‘n*g*er’ or ‘f*s*ist’ gibe or jollity. (27 Sep 10 – another 4 hours later)
      A Flowering Wound
      “He offers to sew up the tears in my jacket himself;”
      An earthquake is a tear, too. So is Religion when it leads to ethnic cleansing. And this earthquake in Romania around the beginning of the Second World War provides the historical backdrop to a relatively short treatment of these matters, when tears cut across other lines that cross between person and person. And tellingly the map itself suffers its macrocosm or frame of borderlands and boundaries to be erased by a microcosm called Man, in parallel to the cracks in buildings now revealing other frames within them, other structures, other Howard leitmotifs of History laid bare in anguish by more than just metaphor.
    We, the Rescued
    “He had gradually woven them all, his Berlin, into a fabric that he could roll out across the empty spaces that more and more often seemed to be in wait for him when he let down his guard.”
    What can I say about another mighty John Howard story? Always a literary landmark. This one has his apotheosisation of Berlin, its past wartime tortured heat-exchange, its division and later healing, a once fractured city that a different writer Elizabeth Bowen created for a different city, i.e. London’s blitz, as a real-time reviewer of it. We almost feel that the author here in the shape of Sean has gone back to become a real-time reviewer of a past Berlin as a palimpsest of the future Berlin when and where as an Englishman forging a new career, his alternating lonelinesses and relationships took and take place.
    “Water glinted, flowing rainbows in the sun.”
    “That Buxtehude setting was most beautiful. And Johann Sebastian Bach wrote cantatas using it.”
    “The intention had been to create the impression of individual buildings casually placed in a garden environment on a human scale.”
    The man a head, or the man a heart, the man two lungs, the man other vital organs, separately or in real-time gestalt. The man a man, too, man plus man plus man, with phones and photos and updates, and messages, between them, amid city’s whistles and drums of the Pride march, not a pride of lions, but perhaps a pride of whoever is important to whom, old friends or not, give or take any age gap as well as texting gap or connection between them. The personal touch of one man upon another man’s neck, and yet another man now missing, despite the available communications in the hand that should make him findable again. A plain whistle might have been easier as one vanishes behind a city corner and another comes into view. Is this a story of the modern frustrations of connection that I just read? I only think so. I knew the names of the central man a man a man he is between, but I never really knew whether they connected. I knew other names, too. But not the names of the women against whom they are squashed up on a seat. How does anyone connect? Easier to get lost these days. The tiny handheld screen itself a flowering wound?
    Twilight of the Airships
    “…his son spent as much time thinking and gazing up and out into infinity as he did down at his collection of stamps and aviation photographs.”
    A very powerful, visionary story, but if I told you exactly why, it would spoil anyone’s first reading of it. It features the Romanian town from the previous story and in the author’s ‘Silver Voices’ (a companion book (?) with a story called ‘Boundaries’ that possibly echoes ‘Borderlands’ above). Reference should also be made to this author’s other books (shown below with links to my reviews) that contain, inter alia, some similar leitmotifs as this story…
    …which adumbrates the era’s (1937?) Romanian relationships with Russia and Germany, a story with not a only a genius loci but also a genius immortalis in contiguity with nullity. The shop (the well-characterised father and his son) that sells stamps, banknotes and airship posters. The contiguity of postage stamps along perforated edges, that contiguity of an earlier torn photo and torn geographical/political borders, the currency of leitmotif (part) and gestalt (whole). And the story’s apocalyptic Götterdämmerung portrays the astonishing contiguity of separate and geographically distant historical events…
    You will never forget reading this story if you are as lucky a reader as I am to be exposed to these ideas and thus able to draw such mis-contiguities back together again.
    The Silver VoicesThe Defeat of GriefSecret EuropeNumbered as Sand or the Stars
    “: it was as if I were gazing at a road through a sheet of glass, or looking at a picture.”
    Amid today’s oppressive heat wave in my own real-time, the male protagonist, seemingly complete within himself, travelling places in his head as well in his immediate vicinity or real-time of Ealing or Turnham Green, Middlesex, perhaps in more ways than one (all things with which today’s self empathises), and this man is newly divorced, creating a new home on his own, his ex perhaps previously not in tune with his inner travelling. I know other men like that, perhaps women, too. Wandering the streets and this story’s description of the nature of developed London suburbs, like a new Machen. As if accompanied by a Proustian self. It is utterly magical, but I don’t know how, because it is so plainly, if elegantly, adumbrated by the text. His meeting of a man called David… I won’t say any more; the story itself leaves much unsaid, even unhinted. There is certainly some real magic here as I often find with this author’s work – a truly incredible serendipity or synchronicity because half an hour before reading this story I happened to read the first chapter of Lewis Carroll’s ‘Through the Looking-Glass’ and described my experience here before picking up this brand new John Howard story to read! And mimsy are our borogoves. Divided now by our handhelds?
  11. Pingback: Synchronicity rampant… | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews Edit

Friday, July 26, 2019

All The Things We Never See – Michael Kelly

All The Things We Never See – Michael Kelly



Proud that this author appeared in Nemonymous 3:

My previous reviews of Undertow:

When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

34 thoughts on “All The Things We Never See – Michael Kelly

    …one whole paragraph. In italics.
    This is a study in a failing relationship, Alex the man and Teri the woman. But the failing is not just in themselves and their falling apart, but more a sliding all over the place of their faces as well as the car on the empty icy road. Ship’s trunk and car’s trunk, if the latter is American for a car’s boot? A sort of hide and seek on the way back to a holiday resort they went to before, when they were happier, a resort now snowed in with a frozen lake like Mauro’s. But from whose point of view is it told, whose RITE of passage is it? Hope it is not a spoiler to point to their names, and Teri is the single self to whom it is happening, not to Alex as we first assumed. The story’s experience stems from the words that are given us to wrongly assume it his point of view, even just one word to describe it all, a gestalt lexicon – that single word paragraph again?
  2. I reviewed the next story in April 2018, as follows…
    The Wounded Bird
    “Chit chit. Chit chit. The bird is talkative in its cage: chit chit purdy chit chit purdy.”
    A man tries to look after a beautiful red bird that he found wounded in the garden. Gets books about it. Now someone has put them both as man and bird in a book, it seems. A vicarious synergy of dying. The intentions were good, though.
  3. BAIT
    “He let me operate the winch, a metal contraption of open gears and cogs…”
    …but did not let me into his locked workshop. This author with his story, to prevent my dissection. The place where I now know he keeps his meaty haul. A sea town where returning to its harbour was like seeing a bad mouth – and bait was more like meat-soup cast into the sea for tempting. Mermaids now never singing each to each. His uncle and dad, the narrator youth, by oblique instinct, closed their mouths for good. Or, rather, his dad pre-empted by closing his own mouth first. Or pre-emptied it. And, as a naïve decoy, his uncle once pointlessly surrendered a little finger….one of the things we never see.
    Hawling himself up from the furnaces and mines in dragon transport to where the crack in the sky has threatened like a disaster movie the office worker, below. Two separate stories in short patchwork poetic prose, of a man and a woman…
    If this author’s earlier ‘the bluest of grey skies’ is to be believed, that crack is a smile. A smile in the sky.
    “The girl dreamed orange and black.”
    A wonderful Temmish vignette of a girl’s whole future life, her early naïve autumn, her dreams, her disappointments, her hopes, her final hallowness seen. The erstwhile crack or smile now a wry grinning.
  6. CE51CD7E-8D4A-407B-BF39-D7A4765B23D6
    A collaboration with Jonathan William Hodges
    “The good, the bad. Any of it. It’s all got a purpose.”
    The ugly, too, of Myra’s self-perception, the empty space where one of her breasts had been. Not only the earlier abuse from her ex, but also of cancer. A moving account of her retreat to a desert, a man who befriends her with a compass that has four abstractions or emotions rather than the four corners of the world, and a tree. And one ugliness in eight, not four, as a slightly more amenable Russian Roulette, u1, u2, u3… The kissed away stigmata pro bono.
    A work of enjambment breaking prose into free verse. Perhaps, on further thought inspired by this work, such enjambment is the only way to break reality into the welcomingly gratuitous fragments of dream or nightmare. The striving for a hindsight – rather than real-time – gestalt somehow arguably neutralises or negativises this effect. Best, therefore, to leave this work intact without further comment. Maybe, after the simple act of just thinking this thought, my whole approach to book reviewing may change!
    “the static that had hissed from his plasma screen, as if, Todd thought, the whole canvas of the sky was nothing more than a large television or window onto the world, where we could passively and numbly watch events unfold, uninvolved and mostly uninterested.”
    …which lends a new slant to the ‘bluest of grey skies’ theme, especially when later Todd sees the static in the sky itself as snow, but also snow that turns into grey ash! This theme, when factored into Todd’s recurring sight of a man looking exactly like himself — in mutual synergy with the Nicholas Royle dummy syndrome, and other doppelgänger or imposter stories — this work takes on even more significant importance as an example of disturbing weird literature. The ending is particularly haunting.
    “A sky like wet ashes, now.”
    A poetic prose or vignette, with this book’s sky soul in it. And a cat, too. A cat he does not wish to name. But is it effectively named in the first line of the text, its nature and opinions inferred?
    “Death calls in different voices.”
    A collaboration with Ray Cluley
    “He will tell her the poems he is too afraid to write and she will lean in close because she likes them.”
    A swirling story of four 16 year old girls and boys, as they wildly speculate on the endless summers ahead of them, their loves, their ambitions fulfilled, upon an idyllic idealisation of fairground, their ride on the carousel… I was swept and wept along and I found it unique in this swirling, excitable quality and the ending, in its very last line, was perfect. Moving, too, in certain musically-flowing ‘dying fall’, but if I tell you more, it would spoil the effect. I thought I knew something that I didn’t.
    “Sly to your very end”
    I first misread ‘Sly’ as ‘Sky’, and the title as ‘Another Knife — Grey Sea’.
    So it first misread me! This prose has had the knife at it again, enjambment, to produce evocative, tactile ‘free verse’ of the sharp-toothed, knife-grey sea. And someone called ‘you’: in this book earlier a cat, now an albatross.
    “She does not have to look up the word ‘assiduous’.”
    A haunting short short of a lonely, intellectually, accomplished, schoolgirl pining — in a her room under the sky’s harvest moon, meaningfully “fat and orange” — for her own unrequited love for a boy. Mixed with a potential dog’s return possibly like that of the earlier cat and albatross… moral? We are all responsible for whom or what we allow to taunt us, or we them? Unrequited absoluteness?
  13. 081FD705-59B8-4180-A5C6-CA5213D1E8C2ALL THE THINGS WE NEVER SEE
    “the joys of the subway:”
    Susanna searches for her missing other half Kevin in the city, from off-piste hair-do to the blurred reality of bus windows, now noticing the homeless —- arriving eventually among the diaspora below the city. With off-piste bites at the end to variate a Joelline apotheosis…
    “Gary had been transfixed by Carmen’s small pink tongue, the way it circled her.”
    I understood most of this story’s different skins as one’s changing personalities to suit social or inter-gender circumstances, the subtly mutually abusive relationship of young students, the telling by one of them about a ghost that once shovelled shit as its prior personality, a ghost now haunting the campus, a telling about a brainstorming-conversational – then real – ploy of interaction, such a conversational game morphing into a serious survival technique in the competitive hierarchy of relationships, but I did not understand that bit about the tongue at the beginning of this story, a story that has its own different skins to suit its relationship with different readers, I guess.
    … a single paragraph that word. But allows spreading into an artistic expression of the soul.
    A short incantatory prose piece (containing that single-word paragraph), a still spreading expression as parts of you gradually vanish or were never there in the first place. Spreading beyond even that eventuality.
  16. I read and reviewed the next story in October 2014, as follows:
    The White-Face at Dawn
    A ‘yellow haze’ and a mannequin add a sense of Ligotti to Chambers, but which the ventriloquist which the dummy, retrocausal or otherwise? Spiders crepitating, creepy movements seen out the corner of the eye, a white-face at a balcony, a pallid mask, that is, atomised by spiders to make stone to flesh and sculpturally vice versa. Bereavement of love, then a new adoption: with death as Kelly’s new adoptee. Enjoyed this cloying, scuttling atmosphere surrounding a spider-human symbiosis that I once discovered (along with Prince Autumn) pervaded as a major leitmotif the VanderMeers’ huge WEIRD book… It as if we have here again entered a world where everything is sinister because that is how everything always is, undecorated with false hope or light. Truth is realistic, fiction a bubble, and this story is no bubble.
  17. I read and reviewed the next story in its then context in March 2013, as follows:
    insole7[image by Tony Lovell]
    Turn The Page
    “She is Dorothy in Oz. She is Peter Pan, Captain Hook, and John Carter. She is Lucy in the wardrobe.”
    This short short or prose poem is the bluest of grey skies, to echo its author himself elsewhere. It’s a portrayal of an author as victim of her own work, eventually and ultimately the perfect beneficiary of it, too. It is a most beautiful piece and, with the McMahon, acts, after all, as the perfect coda to the other stories. For me at least.
    “The baby.”
    …another single paragraph, carrying a multitude of sins or shells breaking with its innards emerging or death being experimented against by various drugs, by false identities of dementia, by collective nouns of birds gathering….
    This is a truly powerful, cleverly couched portrait of a pregnant daughter visiting her dying widowed dad in hospital, him thinking that she is his wife, that she is her own mother.
    It will affect you deeply.
    “Eyes wide,”
    …a single line, that, not with a simple enjambment in this poem following the comma but also with a stanza’s line-space between. Followed by a sky’s downpour of Biblical fish, a plague of grey toads, included. Eyes wide shut. You the newly prehensile you.
    “(and have you ever noticed how babies’ hands always curl into tiny fists, as if we’re all born angry?)”
    A moving, haunting, well-observed portrait of an adolescent loner boy meeting his dead friend from school called Alex as some sort of ghost from a crack in the ground, meaningful as a crack perhaps in view of the later sexuality implications, and the vast difference between two kisses, one to tame a brutal father, the other instinctively, if not consciously, to assuage or replace an earlier sexual assumption with a pillowghost / poltergeist as surrogate girl friend? Highly thought-provoking. Other interpretations are available.
    “And I open my eyes to an expansive grey sky.”
    The beach where a lot happens to Elspeth in memory, her father jokingly (?) burying her in the sand, her kissing a boy, the grey rain, the blue skies, much Kellyan atmospheric linear and staccato flows of language – but who is Anna? Her younger self returned? Feeds her stew. Or just another such cycle beginning with a new girl? The latest self from or toward the stew whence life comes and whereto life goes? The head this time buried without a hinterland beneath where it seems buried? To know where the bodies are buried, even if they are the things we never see! Or just a means to dig your way to China?
    A single one word paragraph in this vignette. Sheila and Brad travelling towards a relationship rescue in a holiday cottage. Their black hole to be filled in. A tick turned to a simple inward tuck, instead of a fuck, I guess, by the end. The hole’s filling being Brad himself? But who is Tori Amos? It seems cheating to use google to uncover what line lies within that personal mystery of mine.
    “But the radio is nothing but white noise, and black static.”
    And this story has more of this author’s staccato moments, those moments identified earlier, now outweighing the more linked linear clauses. No bad thing, though. A blend of Tem and Mauro and the identifiable Kelly.
    The loss of an ice maiden. Whether wife or daughter, the ending is acute, and that red coat again, makes one ponder….
  24. I read and reviewed the next story in October 2014, as follows…
    imagePieces of Blackness by Michael Kelly
    “One day, he knew, it would open up, all of it; the sky, him, and the entire world.”
    Feeling like a new gestalt, a new page for my review, this work is a theme and variations around a simplistic refrain: ‘the boy scared him’ – a treatment of anti-natalism that derives from an adoptee and the way it disrupts a childless marriage. I found it disturbing, but not a welcome disturbance. I found it mostly worrying in a negative way rather than nightmarish in an imagination-awakening way. The sky’s bracketing unequivocally pleased me, though.
    “…he peered back at the boundless sky.” – from Michael Kelly’s The Bluest of Grey Skies in Nemonymous in 2003.
    A pent-up violence here, and even if it is a quiet axe, the implications give us a readerly gulp as to what happened to the protagonist’s wife and daughter and as to the way the text’s tone provides a now invisible enjambment, a chopped up staccato within the otherwise unbroken lines of fate.
    “‘What do you see?’ Jack asked.
    ‘I can just make out a few trees. Nothing else. The woods and nothing.’”
    Two oldsters, the younger one visiting the other and concerned for his well-being on his own in the snowy wilds, What with the rumours and things, The implications of a quiet axe in the previous work now become those of a bubbling stew the older one eats, after the other leaves. Even spookier and Blackwoodian after I remember the earlier stew in this book.
    “a soundless white static”
    Much seems to come together here, the mother and the daughter, interspersed with quotes from medical books and other disciplines that tell more of the story and its inferred aftermath of disaster. What we teach ourselves, after we tried to teach our children but failed to protect them. A mutual apotheosis with Tem’s own fiction’s recriminations. Green dress becomes red. And the yellow balloon, now half deflated. A lot becomes clear, beyond the pieces of blackness, the guilt distilled of fathers, in, say, Tem’s, Owen Booth’s and Kelly’s fiction that I have been reading simultaneously. And this book’s final attempt at selflessness. Post-Natalism by tragic möbius default, as it were, as it always is.
    This book is the greyest of blue skies. Or vice versa. Things in life most often come out of the blue. Good and bad things. And this book has many colours. Too many colours as gestalt might make a sludgy grey, yet this book manages its multiple interpretations well, interpretations of colours as well as of other leitmotifs. The better sort of books do. And books that have been considered great weird literature, like this one has, achieve an act of thought-radiating best of all. Be alert, though, until your final breath, because some great weird literature is not labelled such. You need to keep looking in unlikely places for the most lasting disarming strangenesses that dog or bless existence. Also all the things we never see, never seem. A quiet axiom.