I’m starting below another of my gradual real-time reviews. This time it is of the fiction stories in TTA Press’s ‘BLACK STATIC’ – Issue 28 (Apr 2012 – May 2012). Received as part of my subscription to this magazine. As before, I shall attempt to draw out all the fiction’s leitmotifs and mould them into a gestalt.
CAVEAT: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the stories, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading them. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.
All my previous TTA Press reviews are linked from here: http://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/0
All my real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/
There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years.
The stories to be reviewed have been written by Carole Johnstone, Jon Ingold, Priya Sharma, Daniel Kaysen, Joel Lane.
NB: There is much else of value for the Horror reader within ‘Black Static’ in addition to its fiction: – www.ttapress.com
The Pest House – Carole Johnstone
“A very nasty thought followed fast on the heels of that nasty enough discovery, and she hauled hard on his hand.”
A substantive work: at one level a forensic attempt to create horror in words by painfully hauling out roots, irrespective of the story being told and its difficult suspension of disbelievability. At another level, a compelling, mock-amateurish, story in itself of an ill-suited couple Gregor and Mary, centred on a common trope of many authorial first attempts at writing fiction for commercial readability: i.e. an inheritance and its repercussions. All with an evocatively sick condition of Caithness. Those two levels blend skilfully: making me want to both groan and cheer with a single guttural sound of readerly absorption. The larger-than-life ‘roots’ of bottom-fishing, including an almost autonomous phallus, a suppurating cold sore, a planted plague-residue, a paternal dislodged daughter-root, a tortured past, a tortured future, and a present wherein we readers all track the stylised horror-experiment-in-words by exploring a once ’religious’ building now inherited yet still here rooted within the ancient past, a past as pest, the pest of all possible worlds, one that housed plague victims… As ever with this author’s work, loved it. (24 Apr 12 – 3.40 pm bst)
Cracks – Jon Ingold
“I squeezed her free hand. ‘It can’t be long.’”
This is probably the funniest horror story I’ve ever read. I spurn the need to connect leitmotifs between this story and the previous one as that would insult your intelligence steeped as you are in all my earlier real-time reviews: ‘the synchronised shards of random truth and fiction’. Here the shards have cracks and infestation. A symphony in amnesic athanasy. Priestian (Christopher) as well as Proustian (Marcel). An ill-fitting, ring-loose, orange-smelling honeymoon couple in an Absurdist Avant Garde Southend-Kursaal happening-in-words: with Magritte figures shading in and out of existence, including an athanasic Ingmar Bergman Knight-in-armour haunting the couple’s house: a cross between St George (note yesterday’s date) and the Man of the Mancha. Funny, yes, but Horror, too, as I felt myself slowly going mad as I read it. It’s as if my brain got infested via the words. Possibly still is. Always was? “Nothing in this world fits together quite right.” (24 Apr 12 – 8.25 pm bst)
The Ballad of Boomtown – Priya Sharma
“I stand on the threshold of the past.”
On this very day, the UK has officially entered a double-dip recession: and Adam Smith (once author of ‘The Wealth of Nations’) resigns his position so as to create a political firebreak. And this story is a symptom of our era’s enduring financial f**kbubble: here now taken literally as a bubble crime of both passion and omission, a crime that brings down retribution upon the story’s female protagonist even from those mythic beings (The Three Sisters) who should support her. With which I feel emotional empathy. Like the first story, we have roots to and as well as from the past, turning ‘pastilential’ just as human motives and yearnings are subsumed by entropy. But where does entropy start, when does it end? Towards another ‘cold sore’-type of facial condition from the first story, & we are stirred by the effective prose that has its own roots in the paper on which the text is stained like tiny articulate shadows. Here we truly inhale shadows. In the previous two stories, shadows inhaled shadows, perhaps. Then a bird, now an owl or horse. Although humanity always reaches the ultimate endgame of encroaching amnesia, myths exploit a special athanasy. The Three Sisters. And tantamount to a type of Lady Macbeth, our heroine inhales the sorrow that always follows a false certainty. A debt crisis of the soul. Like starting to build a housing estate in the more positive sectors of a cycle only to be aborted by the boom’s busting…here evocatively conveyed. And she will herself be turned to stone, no doubt, rooted to the earth’s core: potentially becoming her own myth: a myth towards which future women might return or seek out again and again through each feminine cycle of existence, an existence that is actually created by means of the thing that such existences originally incubated (a thing that in this story is also seen to be unwelcome and invasive depending on context or consent), a thing that the woman here also brings into being by desperately (mindlessly?) unravelling a man’s belt (compare and contrast the almost autonomous phallus in the first story). Just inferring. A great story, even without such inferences. Cycles of passion, as well as cycles of finance, set against the eternity of myth. Boom and big bang. (25 Apr 12 – 2.35 pm bst)
Pale Limbs – Daniel Kaysen
“She would have wept at Wootton Bassett.”
Another treatment of a nagging amnesia, and an athanasy, this time followed by several layers of doubt in the self and what had caused the self’s near death experience and what he is now remembering, suspecting, imagining, feeling, fearing… The text itself has pale limbs. Plenty of white spaces, lean curtness, shortness of concentration, staccato sentences, tacit meanings. It haunts like a picture of a text rather than a reading of the text itself. I glance to the side to check it out as I write this on my screen. Looking away from the page, it’s as if it was never seen. Looking back, it’s been already seen. Time and time again. I distrust it. A death that fails to cling. Meanwhile, the story’s pleasing other readers. Daring not to please me. But it really wants me to like it. Make it whole. Make me whole. As if I am its only reader after all. And without a reader, it will likely cause me to vanish into its widening margins or increasingly truncated text-lines. But… “There is a plot, as I first thought.” (25 Apr 12 – 8.30 pm bst)
The Messenger – Joel Lane
“…the only light came from faintly glowing figures half-embedded in a wall of packed earth.”
Here, now, the text is denser, heavier, but with Lane’s instinctual disarmingly limpid touch of clarity: i.e. fewer white spaces, no signs of attenuating memory: supplying a hindsight-considered coda to this whole set of wonderful fictions: the roots renew, the disease (here earth-rooted, Sharma’s stone myths and boomtown entropy (chemical industrial contagion) creating a ”cancer cluster” as if replacing the earlier larger-than-life ’cold sore’), ‘pale limbs’ here becoming ‘pale mesh’ and ‘white cobwebs’ - all radiating from a splendidly Lane-like nugget of his own trademark boomtown to urban decay trope, of regret, and the ”clumsy” but hopefully base-line effective messages of this story’s ‘messenger’ as symbolised by a rock group with the (ironic?) name of communicative, quicksilver ’Mercury’. And the desperate yearning attempts at cultivating a curative amnesia paradoxically by means of the athanasy of fiction-literature itself (represented here by this Lane nugget of close-ordered text) – i.e. the attempts of a female protagonist’s first-person narrative in tantalisingly ‘heavier’-than-Mercury prose — are threaded through by Kaysen’s deja-vu or jamais-vu, and by the tenor of Sharma’s female protagonist, too. Finally, by inference, from Beneath the Ground, the worm-embraced roots still fructify (or otherwise) humanity and its accoutrements above… “…things living under the wasteground:” (26 Apr 12 – 11.25 am bst)