Vastarien Vol.3 Issue 2



My previous reviews of this journal:

Work by Romana Lockwood, Alex Jennings, Sam Hicks, Kurt Fawver, LC von Hessen, Rhonda Pressley Veit, Rae White, Michael Griffin, Cody Goodfellow, Nina Shepardson, Casilda Ferrante, Alicia Hilton, Carson Winter, Joshua Plack, Alex Skopic, Sarah L. Johnson, Eddie Generous, Korbin Jones, Sonya Taaffe, J.A.W. McCarthy, Timothy G. Huguenin, Mike Thorn, T. M. Morgan, Lora Gray, Tiffany Morris, David Stevens, Tim Major, Roberta Gould, Ivy Grimes, John Claude Smith, Jessica Ann York, Dmitry Blizniuk, Timothy G. Huguenin, Matthew M. Bartlett, John Palisano, Miguel Fliguer, Chelsea Davis, Denise Robbins.

When I read these works, I hope my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

35 thoughts on “Vastarien Vol.3 Issue 2

  1. D8B30F34-9A38-4981-BEB9-718814F11438Over 330 pages, with inner and outer artwork by Harry o. Morris.
    Co-Editor-in-Chiefs: Matt Cardin & Jon Padgett; Associate Editor: Michael Cisco

    TENEBROUS RAMBLINGS by Romana Lockwood
    Editorial column.

    followed by
    Poem by Alex Jennings: ‘YEAR IN WHITE’

    Above are timely and chillingly engaging reminders that today is 18 January, my 73rd Birthday (with my having now just escaped the Midsommar age!), and that this specific date has always been the true psychological Midwinter, especially where I live in UK. This year, particularly so!

  2. HEATH CRAWLER by Sam Hicks

    “We anthropomorphize our pets and read all kinds into their expressions, but here, peering through this animal mask, was the most uncanny, the most unnerving and subtle, human parody I had ever seen.”

    This is a mighty work of literature, no mistake, and I was immediately captured by this man called Simon who wandered through the various intense atmospheres of the psychological areas of the Heath, with his trusty Jack Russell dog, and he couldn’t help meeting with another man, a somehow threatening-type man with a knotted walking-stick and with his own dog as quoted about above — and Simon meeting, too, this stranger’s sometime woman guardian — a guardian or his help-catcher, assuming the bait was right? Leading eventually to an unforgettable Ligottian township where Simon’s Jack Russell is advertised as missing…
    One of those landmark reads.
    I myself left my red scarf there as a future aide-memoire.

    My previous reviews of this author:


    “Dim orange light perpetually seeps from the cracks between the closet’s door and its frame, and these fiery slivers glow most ominous and most alluring when they’re wrapped up in the thick of night.”

    Ominous as well as alluring, this tellingly bathetic fable of ‘you’ depicts your purpose built house you had built and the pride involved in a poor person made good. Yet a new house should not have a mysterious closet door nor the “grand insanity” that lies behind it and mainly below like a House of Leaves, should it? “Ignorance may not be bliss but it does possess the advantage of clarity.” Anything else is just “faux heroism”, I guess. Any personal drones of an untranslatable voice’s words behind that closet door, notwithstanding. Even your own mother’s erstwhile lack of hope.

    My previous reviews of this author:


    A few months ago, I remember suggesting this writer is the modern age’s New Ligotti, and I did then wonder if I had bitten off more from my ever-smoking cigar than I could chew. This writer seemed to fit perfectly my very first Goodreads review in 2015 that happened to be of the Ligotti Penguin Classics book (linked here).
    This story has now convinced me that I was dead right. Seriously.
    The work is certain to become one of my favourite stories of 2021, if not of all time. A scatological eschatology in apotheosis.
    A story about a pretentiously named restaurant created from an old theatre. But that description of the story can give you no idea about the narrator’s part-time cellist lover, the “Delights” of the four medieval humours served by the restaurant, all the “trendy food nonsense”, scat fetishist swallowers, the Petri dish nature of the narrator’s mouldy apartment, the trepanning by ‘water torture’, the tapeworm diet, the ‘living tongue’, the Rug Man, and much more.
    And what happens when the restaurant turns back into a theatre? The muffled, limp and deadened applause that welcomes how the narrator “enjoys” whatever the narrator enjoys?

    My previous reviews of this author:

  5. KONRAD by R.P. Veit 

    “You’re not a patient person.”

    A telling story of a middle-aged woman who has separated after a longish marriage … and she and her husband share the responsibility of the almost grown-up children, with tensions between certain external religious and social constraints and these kids’ inner wants of loosening. These scenes are as alternating counterpoints to the woman’s patient restraints of Konrad’s traction table for her arm’s backstory and her neck’s pain respectively to be told and loosened — with the eventual arrival of some kraken sucking-armed octopus or bull’s sperm-expression-machine or a Jack Rabbit novelty dildo, yes, telling us of her body’s submission, if not her mind’s. Yes, an expressively telling story to percolate and stir disarmingly within the reader’s own mind, waiting for this Journal’s own kraken, as gestalt, to emerge, whether it be shipwreck or a patient whole…

    My previous review of this author:

  6. I WAKE UP AND REMEMBER MYSELF by Michael Griffin

    “Between knowledge and ignorance, who is deceiver, who is savior?”

    As if waking up and trying to find one’s bearings of identity, where Sapphire and Steel have become Solum and Self, a quandary as conceived by a Beckett or an Evenson. Strange that today, in my own real-time waking, it promises to be snowy, a rare event where I live. Often cloyed and coagulated, it is refreshing to think of cold purity, I guess.

    My previous reviews of this author:

  7. THE PSYCHIC SURGEON by Cody Goodfellow

    A remarkable literal concept of a ‘psychic surgeon’, especially, for example, the disentanglement of all the computer wires and accoutrements you had kept, in the ridiculous belief that you might need them in the future or will be able to improvise use of them. A powerful fable with the moral of buying oneself as seen or felt, as a route towards optimum fulfilment in what remains to you of life , and never to reject things you somehow kept in good faith as part of your sale price, even if those things now appear useless. 

    My previous reviews of this author:

  8. STONEBORN by Nina Shepardson

    A haunting story of a particular lithopedion as it affects an advertising agent and his hobby of rating haunted houses as well as other real horror attractions on his blog, each with up to five screams. Seems to blend with the foregoing book so far, blended with, for example, Konrad’s bone- if not stone-curing table of a woman’s traction as a birth of an explicit “reef” seen as “delicious”, delicious as von Hessen’s earlier listening “skull”, yes, blended with a later psychic surgeon’s ability to unload things from within the body towards a human policy of caring rather than scaring. A policy, too, of informing things properly rather than embroidering them as adverts or wild scenarios of haunting memory or meme? One of us still standing solid and hard against our soft-headed human-distant siblings? 

    My previous review of this author:

  9. HER LULLABY by Casilda Ferrante

    Either this is simply a powerful Anti-Natalist ‘story’ showing us a pregnant woman’s real-time diary as written to her unborn child, involving an incantatory and ominous lullaby and the child’s potential nursery prepared with a mural painting of an exotic paradise as created by the professional artist father …. OR it is complexly a genuine new classic of general literature. I am so impressed that I tend to favour the second option above as the truth, especially when considering the earlier Psychic Surgeon and Stoneborn stories as its dual serendipitous and oblique preludes. 

    My previous review of this author:

  10. GUNFIRE AND BRIMSTONE by Alicia Hilton

    Following the two preceding stories, it now seems highly significant, if unintentional on the partum of each story’s authrix, for this mother to have given birth to a wildly nightmarish audit-trail that stems from her new baby instead of the more usual symptoms of postnatalism. Demon possession, instead of depression. Words and characters as slick as a razor’s switch. Murder and mayhem to the side-commentary of financial scams on the baby monitor. Needs to be assessed for a madness that imagination has borne.

  11. WIN BIG by Carson Winter

    “She felt the agonizing discomfort of knowing something entirely whilst incapable of describing it, an anti-frisson that gorged itself on anxiety.”

    This seems to be the essence of the Ligottian Corporate. Very subtly, sophisticatedly couched, as if knowing it entirely, but too anxious to describe it clearly. An anti-work, even beyond sub-frisson, gadgeted upon the symbolic lottery of office politics, and all those obliquely telling, half-glanced looks of cowed coworkers who seem out for their turn at the counterintuitive destiny of career acceptance, but such half-glancing looks as facial expressions can only tell half the story. Win big, lose bigger.

  12. A telling poem entitled [APPLAUSE] by Joshua Plack. I have often wondered what I shall be watching/hearing or doing upon the point of my own death. Not watching a game show on TV, I hope. Probably and hopefully doing one of these real-time reviews, still desperately trying to culminate its so-called gestalt! 

    Above poem is followed, today, by…

  13. From Veit’s ‘eventual arrival of some kraken sucking-armed octopus or bull’s sperm-expression-machine’ that I earlier described in my own words above, to…

    THEORY OF FORMS by Sarah L. Johnson

    71DAFA26-A2B8-40C2-96C9-9A99EFBC23D1From a vat of “liquid ouroboros” and “marshmallow rumble” in an amazingly tactile work about an ex-chef called Herville, a man not exactly blowing, with his own lungs, glass for a soft kaleidoscope of ornaments but instead he was similarly but intra-physically creating a river — a river not unlike the author’s own constructed wordstream of consciousness artfully here controlled towards a flow of Herville’s Jelly Clots. Such a river becomes a Platonic paradox of rubbery collectables as a unique chef’s high colourful cuisine, or vice versa, as ordered by one of the factory’s important clients, the whole process as oppressively submitted to the tentacular demands of the Ligottian Corporate. Including Herville’s lungs.
    As long the product of its Forms was not seen as blue.

  14. From Jelly Clots above to Fruit Loops here.
    (NB: the photo is one I took and used for my 2015 review on this site of the book half-shown.)


    “…while he slept. The glow seeping inside is a sparkling blue…”

    Now I understand the previous story even more, especially when this next story’s reference to pubic hair is seen at least briefly as “public hair”…. this 11 year old boy’s shocking secrets out in the open for all of us to read and compare with what it reveals about us. The rots and knots of Ligotti given a death’s dipping, prising into, with our concupiscent fingers, the birth sump’s aperture of a dead woman, fingers violating all the sexually and racially political correctness that we all otherwise openly display, while secretly hiding and retaining quite the opposite, as at least figuratively stone-unborn, within us all? Shocking, indeed. Is this either a gift’s generosity supplying the balm of eventual self-destruction before the apple-rot is allowed to complete its process OR a gratuitous powerful spite by sharing with us the gift of such unwelcome and intractable truths?

    • “You can just forget everything you thought you knew about yourselves and everything else in the universe. You know nothing. You are nothing. And the choices you have for dealing with this reality are to go insane or kill yourselves. How about them apples?” — quoted by Thomas Ligotti in an interview


    Part prose, part poem, part non-fiction, these are strikingly original passages for the New Noumenon, echoing themes earlier in this book, such as what is left undigested in a dead girl’s belly and “INFANTICIDE”.

  16. SECRET VOICE OF FIRE by Casilda Ferrante

    “I found a couple of used candles in the drawer. It seemed fitting — candles with the wishes blown out.”

    Candles for Yola’s deathday cake, to add their share of flame from her lover-that-is-fire, but there are powerful ironies here as I assume the narrator is her ageing husband tries to help with the send off, almost as if he has conspired with the author whom I have already established as a powerful author in her own right, here a rite of fire with its characteristic voice and its eventual real-time GESTALT of every flame that become one (beautifully and agonisingly described), and it’s not overkill to say that the orchestration of this gestalt includes a wide-ranging bush fire endangering their community as well as those spent candles now relit, and speaking in tongues of fire, too, and memories of their first meeting when she had a gas lighter and a cigarette, but above all, the ultimate irony of belt-and-braces, as you will discover if you read this work to the end, is represented by the pyramids of wood the husband builds as her funeral pyre. Not to speak of the most poignant moment when Yola strips off her flammable pyjamas so that she can meet her lover-that-is-fire in the purity of its skin to her skin. Not a secret that there is only one fire, only one story in the end.

  17. From Yola’s fire to that of Theda’s bungalow wall, and to the next story’s “but the flames raced back to her with every attempt”…

    (Beware a possible abrupt spoiler in the next review … )

    YOU ARE THE ARM by J.A.W. McCarthy

    “Theda remembered thinking that she and Paul were a family, that you didn’t need kids or even marriage to be complete, to make an unbreakable whole.”

    We are all parts of some whole. And this story of Theda’s broken marriage to Paul, starts as a mainstream story of the bungalow where they once lived together — and about its dragging-legged landlady, and with effective abruptness its secrets are revealed in pure horror genre terms involving black slime. A jolt to expectations. The essence of where you live and its extension of self bodily as well as spiritually, dragging to and from the past. B6E6487F-D63F-462A-8B4A-85D1163F1A6CMy own 1927 bungalow, where I have lived for nearly thirty years, chimes with this story, hopefully in its more positive repercussions as well as its inspirations otherwise. I intend now to envisage my own bungalow’s version of the “You are the arm” verse homily behind its old plaster…

    My previous review of this author:


    An engaging story that conveys the unique tantalisation of some music and its association with the stars, here in the context of an ungraspable earworm in a man who is under a ‘shrink’ and becomes jobless, with an equally ungraspable sense of guilt about a car accident where his wife died. Haunted by dreams. And a cellar he can’t quite enter as a counterpoint to the stars. A disarmingly tantalising work in itself, if otherwise told relatively straightforwardly.

  19. DEPRIMER by Mike Thorn

    “Sometimes he wished for some fantasy organization that could erase people’s lives from all earthly records. […] …quick merciful and total subtraction from reality, so he’d have no need to worry about leaving others in pain.”

    This seems to be a seminal fable for those who take certain philosophies and certain casts of the human mind from Ligottianism. But here this is something quite different that you can take from Ligotti’s FICTION, a blend of literary worth and avant garde hoax. The story of suicide-prone Vincent and his chance-unchance encounter with Dr Cribs, and it is no coincidence, I guess, that the latter’s cure-all clinic where Vincent is “cured” is an “anonymous white building on the brink of the industrial district.” His own battle with his somehow eponymous internal and external blight, is also almost a love affair starting with a kiss. And the choice that you the reader faces at the moral hidden within the fable’s wonderful ending is balanced in the scales of your mind. The paradoxical irony of Deprimer versus Depresser. I know which choice I made, and you may guess it. Which of the cribs? A crib is both a child’s bed and a cheating act. Yet, if you choose the bed, through a sort of new-born innocence of confident joy, you can transcend your own cheating of self by making the bed and then sleeping in it.

  20. Pingback: Deprimer or Depresser | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time ReviewsEdit

  21. Possible spoiler 

    APOCTATRYPTAMIN® by T. M. Morgan

    “The whole world needs to be vaccinated.”

    …whatever the eventual epiphany.
    An academic footnoted article in the guise of a fiction, or vice versa with versa uni-versa or multi-versa. The “infinite verses” as it says here somewhere as a meaningful typo? Whatever the blend of the fiction drug, it chimes true. The story of or thesis on optimal-aiming, multi-pathed “quantum suicide” to avoid the ultimately feared inevitability of death’s pain. As told by the ‘drug’ and its mad scientist and his mental and physical relationship with both man and woman. Depicted as fiction characters with names.
    This has much in tune with the previous story’s Deprimer or Depresser syndrome. With all the same and different constructive paradoxes. It ends, too, with ‘joy’.
    The mad scientist character of the chemical ‘drug’, as the prophetically, aspirationally, perhaps irrationally co-vivid mass-vaccinator for the world, arguably ends up only vaccinating himself but his resultant optimal path in turn culminates in the world that is  our world, if that is not a spoiler or a misunderstanding on my part. Whatever the case, the work is both inspiring and entertaining. Entertaining is half the battle in our current world, I guess. And being thus inspired a genuine positive spur to remain alive.

  22. BROOD FIVE by Lora Gray

    “If you listen close enough, you can hear them underground. They’re going to resurrect.”

    A brief fiction of boyhood effulgence in susurrus and it has an element of something both ominous and poignant, yet with an echoing, perhaps imaginary, sense of joyful hope in transcending the world’s cyclic undernoise or tinnitus, as portrayed by a younger brother’s account, in fear and love, of his elder brother’s departure once the latter’s obsession with the seasonal cicadas’ resurrection came and went. I shall spend the rest of the day factoring this recurrent buzzing effulgence mixed with liminal despair into the context of this wonderful book so far. And vice versa.

  23. We are all part of some fateful if not fatal hecatomb today, and a poem HECATOMB by Tiffany Morris truly resonates – also ‘hecatomb’ has a hard sound, a brittle one of stony death, duly followed by a wonderfully written kernel of story-prose… 


    “Candle stubs meld with the rotting window-frames.”

    Not only this book’s earlier candles made towards ‘hard rot’, but also a grown body that makes me think of the earlier stone-born baby having developed and become adult! The narrator’s vision of their dead grandfather’s body self-exhumed, as it were, if not reclaimed from the gravity depths within a drowned river, a body being dressed by others for burial again. The reader’s ’ossified mind’ has indeed now had conjured for it the due nacre, coral, shards that transcend any despair at vanishing into nothingness….and where there is something there is always the prospect of something else? Onward into a sort of ‘forever’?

  24. DEAR WILL by Tim Major

    “Where one finds oneself is where one must be.”

    An engaging letter in modern days, transcending on-line communication despite the one writing the letter finding it frustrating to write snail mai with ague in his ageing hands, a letter from one old friend to another called Will, although their friendship has faded over time by lack of letter writing … well, to cut a short story shorter, I relished the letter’s expressed interest in films and literature involving puppets and dolls, and neatly this book’s earlier stone-bound baby grown older, here becomes a wooden corpse to bury; a supposed old letter copied out within this first letter has seemingly fallen from one of the writer’s old books with a possible “shared dream” that today I call a co-vivid one, wherein which second letter an undertaker reports to his loved one that he is asked by the authorities to give all due rites to this wooden puppet of a life-sized corpse…
    A weird moving illusion this letter within a letter, and I somehow ask: Can simple will-power transcend surface Ligottianism and is that surface’s morphing from stone to wood the first initial crossroads towards the steps along the path to full resurrection?

    “— Will you or will you not…”

    My previous reviews of this author:

  25. A darkly candid poem called DEATH DOLL by Roberta Gould, of ‘becoming … dummy’ in tune with latter stories and more, as if flesh and non-flesh are never two, have never been … in tune with the story that follows with ‘tatTOO’ and ‘TWO’ as one, always there, if not always seen…


    “…felt as if she’d been through an earthquake that had split her up the middle.”

    That prospective stony chasm amid another gem of a story for this large book. They all seem to keep on coming! Have they saved them up for one big splurge?
    This darkly charming work is of a young woman called Two (her dominant Mother calling her children by numbers, for example Two’s brother Three is now known as Dr. Trois, known in Ligottian circles, no doubt) and Two goes into TOWn aptly on Surplus Day, because she woke up with intricate tattoos on her hands. These are believably and hauntingly described and the outcome — via meeting another doctor and visiting the day’s carnival — involving the mother made me think that simply counting days in my own seemingly dominant-lockdowned winter hopefully does not prevent my choosing between each day’s different unique markings and designs…

  26. From DEPRIMER’s “anonymous white building on the brink of the industrial district” to…


    “The wall stood in front of an empty lot. Twenty-five to thirty feet long, perhaps eight foot tall. Off-white in color, or lack thereof, adorned with no graffiti.”

    Possible spoilers, and if one has to warn against spoilers at all, you simply know it is a great work. You should read this review once you’ve read the story for yourself.
    A wall suddenly appears when the narrator was away on another annoying business trip. (Business trips entail smart communication, I guess.) And at first this work is in remarkable mutual-synergy with the mutability of ‘The House of Leaves’ that I am currently and fortuitously re-reading and reviewing here. Especially when the narrator starts precisely measuring the exterior dimensions and depth of the mysterious wall’s inscrutable, apparently pointless hole. Measurements later morphing between his absences on business trips. His growing, eventually apocalyptic obsession with the hole’s eventual waspish buzzing and its actual wasps buzzing in and out (wasps, not orange balls!) — an obsession to the extent of his thoughts becoming thoughts of self-trepanning to relieve pressure in the wall of his skull, I infer. This work becomes even more powerful and unique in its own terms, especially at the precise point when I happened to first read in the text about the description of the sound of a wasp’s vibratory buzzing and somehow coincidentally my smartphone happened then to emit such a buzz once, and emitted several more buzzes while I was reading. I then knew what sort of eventual oblivion he needed! That monster of easy communication formed into a god-like husk of such wasps…

    My previous reviews of this author:

  27. Equivalent ‘soring,’ perhaps to the Grimes stigmata and the later vibratory buzzing or scraping of inferred wasp stings….

    PHASES OF THE SHADOW by Jessica Ann York

    “But I have complete control over my body. Just not the things it sees.”

    I, too, as an equivalent, have complete control over my reading of words, just not the things they make me see. This story is a fine case in point, with a relaxed but crepitating texture of style, telling of Diane the narrator and her relationship with her mother and especially the difficult one with her father, and now with her live-in boy friend Hunter, whom her father has not met and checked out, or so it seems. But then amid paradoxically lasting but shifting impressions in the reader of the breeds of dogs these farms trade and keep, and in particular the horses being bred by her father, where he practices kerosene burning as a “soring” process on their legs to improve their gait, I think. Then, alongside Diane’s perhaps sleepwalking hallucinations, I hallucinate, too, sleepreading and then shepherding the transpositions of this “soring”, and the implications of what I glimpse on the beds with the men… or did I completely foul up? Whatever the case, another work worthy of this darkly inter-accretive anthology of weird substance.

  28. ..from those singeing phases of shadow to…

    THE INEXHAUSTIBLE RHYME OF NATURE by Dmitry Blizniuk (translated by Sergey Gerasimov)
    “…reflected in the burning hot asphalt.
    The evening comes with its viscous horde of shadows…”
    A finely honed free verse poem that, inter alios, takes a scalpel to the horizon, followed by…

    ….the inexhaustible inner incantatory refrains in the matchless prose of…

    OH THE BEAUTIFUL STINK by Matthew M. Bartlett

    “What if I am responsible for the troubles? You never know, do you? You forget large swaths of your life.”

    I have no hesitation in calling this THE Bartlett classic story to date. And that is saying helluva lot! If I itemise all the particular prose refrains in this work and show how they work perfectly, I hope that does not blind you from its essential final rite-of-passage of an old man demeaned by being led down the street by those who should love him — him with a birthday hat, blaming himself for all the visions in the story of his dying days – at one point glimpsing himself ahead in the cruel palliative hospital – i.e. the Bartlettian phenomena seething in the supermarket groceries, in the images you watch on TV, and in the various other things going scatologically and eschatologically awry … as this is really his Death Day present not his Birthday one at all, I guess. This work is such a present or gift to me, too — me who faces these various demeanings and nightmare visions in coming months, as my own version of that old man — judging by the various prognoses already building up against me.

    My previous reviews of this author:

    A non-fiction article follows entitled…
    By John Palisano

  29. Seemingly as an inadvertent but preternaturally intended theme-and-variations on the Bartlett (that was in turn the latest representative of this whole remarkably substantial yet pervasive book’s gestalt decorated by many Harry o. Morris artworks), there follows this mighty Triptych of relatively short works….

    DISSOLUTIONS – FINAL WORKS by William Kamen, Museum of Contemporary Art, Oslo — May 11 to September 3, 2023
    by Miguel Fliguer
    The fusion of an artist with his work, literally the fusion of a painting on a canvas with one’s body and soul, as brilliantly conveyed by a catalogue of Kamen’s posthumous exhibition of paintings, the fusion of words like Bartlett’s with images like Van Gogh’s…

    …followed by “the drooping sack of an old man” seen in the mountain crick and a young woman’s duly bowing to the protocols or etiquettes of age as well as that crick’s sacrificial confessional in the story entitled MOUNT P (by Denise S. Robbins) containing another series of incantatory refrains, here upon the different P-words of the Mount’s name, like PERSEVERE and PRAYER, as well as POINTLESS and PITILESS. From this book’s crib to crick. That pointless hole in the wall of rock. Via Bartlett’s hospital room again. I remain in its cruel palliative care, I guess. Or at least part of me does or will. The other part still climbing more PLEASANT heights…

    …with, in between, another young girl or woman in cruel transition …

    The ultimate incantatory refrain, as written or transcribed as a poem by Chelsea Davis.
    Keep telling yourself that is was a movie — it was art, not life. And art is everything, I say. Hope and survival built in. But if life still ends cruelly, pray its Art perseveres. 


    What about them apples?