Archive | October, 2014

“Mackintosh Willy” by Ramsey Campbell

30 Oct

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Two coca cola caps stare out from within the darkness of “the shelter” where the graffiti grew gruesome after the alcoholic bum was found dead. It could’ve been a friend’s fault who later gets tugged along then below the shallow surface of mucky waters, his face transformed or smothered by a blurring bag or suffocating burlap. Girlfriends come and go but beside the carnival one always waits and watches, eyes glimmering unnaturally as if the outlines of glasses proved to be some alien’s or inhuman lifeform’s true sense of sight.

Check out “Mackintosh Willy” in Dark Companions.

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“Be Light. Be Pure. Be Close to Heaven” by Sara Saab

30 Oct

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Tanta’s day for voluntary amputations will arrive by train. Her father has already sacrificed his eyes. Clean and sterilize all the precious body parts for the icebox. The eyes are jewels and so she touches them with the delicacy of feathers and egg-shell fingertips.

This story is told in a wonderful series of ice-prose sculpted fragments. You may feel disoriented by the eerie future world it inhabits or bewildered by the horrific sacrifices her weird/underground subset demands, but, in the windy end, the sheer ice crystal that blows through vacant limbs may just burn an icicle of ecstasy or a purple wand of pain.

Read the story in Black Static #42

Review: Engines of Desire: Tales of Love and Other Horrors by Livia Llewellyn

27 Oct

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Livia Llewellyn, I think it’s time we put you under the phantasmic grille:

“Horses” is a post-apocalyptic hornet’s nest of a speculative fiction tale spun from a top flaming within a battle-weary heroine’s consciousness flayed from a damp life spent in a bunker rearing a child whom she does not love. Death howls for lullabies, Kingston thinks. The image of the pale rider in the photo is quite striking and mysterious–I do wish, however, that by the story’s end we could’ve found out in more detail exactly what changed while Kingston hid underground, yet maybe the ironic point was that nothing changed.

“At The Edge of Ellensburg”

Distant guitar chords strumming and crackling in a sultry backseat, summer’s fangs ripe with blood. This is one of the most disturbing stories I have ever read. One often doubts the sanity of the narrator and the raw eroticism has a chilling effect. Livia Llewellyn takes you deep into a dark and twisted psyche in this one, reluctant to raise the reader’s head for a gasp of air. This is a story I will not soon forget.

“The Teslated Salishan Evergreen”

Girls are ghosts in trees, fighting upstream through currents of electricity to be worshiped like living gravestones.

“Engines of Desire”

Engines sound, then take your hand to lead you to the furnace of the past where a sister goes missing and a girl from the cul-de-sac sneaks you into a haunted house where a furnace consumes souls and cajoles desires to a fever pitch. Girls are warm summer cream getting skimmed away (p. 41%) as the generations sink and tumble and other girls get swept away with the ashes to the engine forests as they teach french kissing after the lesson has already been firmly learned.

“Jetsam”

As the narrator sells some of her old books in this tale, a piece of paper is discovered by the bookseller. It is written in her handwriting yet she does not recall writing it. What follows is a series of eerie scenes depicting the dissolution of her former life and publishing job, the note (and a random/befuddled/questioning boy) offering clues toward a reconstruction of what happened…which is vague, though I often found myself hearing symbolic but mysterious echoes to 9/11, although it is never directly referenced. Livia Llewellyn evinces an array of quite different styles in each piece so far–sometimes to the point where I ask myself: is this the same writer?

“The Four Hundred Thousand”

Wombs and eggs to house the dog-faced soldiers. This post-apocalyptic tale one was more humorous than “Horses,” yet themes of abandonment and betrayal recur–although not with the unforgettable horror/resonance of “At The Edge of Ellensburg.”

“Brimstone Orange”

The creature that emerges from the fruit trees never goes inside the forbidden rooms either, but maybe another seance with the local girls could call them both back out of the woodwork…or at least retract the rotting fruit from the fat flies’ stomachs.

“Bring Your Daughters To Work”

The factory is a beautiful ocean. An entire family depends on the success of a daughter (a theme we also encountered in “The Four Hundred Thousand”). Gothic sea fantastic imagery grips this dark, inside-out The Little Mermaid-esque tale like a formal choker around a throat.

“Omphalos”

A dangerous god weaves through the forest to save the queen daughter in the backseat of a car on a family vacation as she plays lower lip-biting games beneath the living map. Clinging to a black void when father stands outside the room at night. Different maps for each member of this warped family, allowing universes to open yet further scramble preceding puzzles. The sky cracks into spirals as the map bulges and impregnates. No wolves should ever lick snow this cold, unless they wish for every last taste-bud to freezer rash.

“Her Deepness”

Perfect cursive on every gravestone by the canary. Seeing mines and holes in reality long after the search for coal extinguished. Decaying bodies melt when pushed back into the land that bore them. Trains shift into aquariums bearing mutant prisoners. Wormskill. Respirators preventing conversations with gods. Angry fertility stones becoming immortal. Plunging into anthracite voids, spreading black wings beyond the colors in oil and puma leather.

‘Twas a jolly ride on my reindeer skeleton sleigh through these cursed pages of one LL.

Check out Engines of Desire: Tales of Love and Other Horrors here

Review: The Light Is The Darkness by Laird Barron (Arcane Wisdom; 2012)

22 Oct

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Hurling middle-aged weaponry to shatter bamboo. A lost sister, preparing for the search.

Deja vu in the backseat of the parents’ car with a hallucinated old man in a space suit claiming that “time is a ring.” Eating people in occult rituals. Chainsmoking in front of a sink towering with dirty dishes and broken wine glasses: images of Imogene. Faded postcards. Dialogue from hardened, cold-war dime novels. Tough guy brief. Tears that always dry to fast… ever to see.

There is a manly lushness to Barron’s writing that sometimes reminded me Robert E. Howard’s Conan tales (the boar feast in this book comes to mind).

Vicious, testicle-grabbing Finn gladiators throwing local toughs through windows.

Ghostly figures in the backgrounds of photos. Messages from unseen forces needing to be unscrambled. Surreal images (like red infants, squealing hogs, and crocodiles spinning underwater while chewing deer) as Conrad(a gladiator) gets beaten by the aforementioned, testicle-grabbing Finn.

Men with antlers staring out of glossy photos found in a crawlspace.

Phantasmal woman shapes hover above a bed after the trigger word is uttered and all the meaning in the world begins to truncate and collapse.

Sundews crying and cloying for nourishment in a hive-like apartment as the room wobbles and shrinks. Fiendish cults. Rumors that split apart and burn clandestine images, drowning the surface while marbling the emulsion.

Car-door chewers, gun-shot wound absorbers. This novel has some horror and some post-apocalyptic sci. fi elements as well. DNA mutation/optimization?

Inhuman faces hidden at the dark epicenter’s vanishing point beneath the cowls. Battling brutes with ghoulish superpowers in a dank and abandoned family home.

Barron is a strange and original writer indeed. At times I found myself wondering to what sort of genre this book should belong. Sci. fi? Horror? It became increasingly unclear and ceased to matter. Barron has an obvious love for the pulps but is a far more accomplished, Cormac McCarthian wordsmith than most other horror writers.

I haven’t read Barron’ short story collections (though I hope to do so soon), but I would place him in the ranks of writers like that to genre-bend pulpy tropes into unique/original fiction like Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, China Mieville, David Mitchell, and Haruki Murakami.

Devilish hallucinations (or visitations) for our genetically mutated superhero Conrad by his immortal (or dead) bat-like sister’s beyond-the-grave or beyond-human-shape form.

The title takes on a definite irony by the novel’s end. Barron’s style is quite unique, conjuring superhero comics with gothic and surreal painterly effects. I look forward to reading his short story collection trilogy.

Check out The Light Is The Darkness here.

Review: Unseaming by Mike Allen (Antimatter Press; 2014)

20 Oct

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“The Button Bin” is a disorienting and brilliant piece of disturbing horror fiction. Its fragmented, intuitive structure bends reality on a number of levels: a traumatic sexual experience between half-siblings, drug addiction, and an odd supernatural entity that controls people by warping them into beings immersed in a chest of semi-living buttons. The use of second person makes you complicit in the shifting seas of alternate realities this masterful and terrifying tale inhabits.

“The Blessed Days” are those on which we awake still entwined in passion, a blood not mine own risen to the surface of the skin. There were strange medusas of veins and flesh growing out of bathtubs, but then we knew the blessing was merely a trance one’s blood shawl could jump and shy away from, forever withholding a kingdom of nails.

In “Humpty” we encounter a terrifying, Chucky-like stuffed toy version of the cherished figure from the nursery rhyme; however, this is an evil doll who can also take our narrator into a variety of alternate dimensions, all with macabre consequences having already occurred…but not necessarily irrevocably. A creepy and original tale–my second fave. after the (probably) unsurpassable “The Button Bin.”

“Her Acres of Pastoral Playground” takes place on a farm where beauty marks morph into nefarious spider-like appendages. An odd, crop circle-like spot in the field proves to be an ominous deflection but also a sort of mysterious portal as this cosmic horror tale pulls together dispersed fluids and body substances of our narrator’s loved ones to suggest a scientific/body horror approximation of a religious experience.

“An Invitation Via Email” is incredibly funny in its casual, cavalier approach to extreme occult and Satanic sacrificial ritual. One might also note how coyly Allen cc.’s one of the emails to ligotti@morbid.net since his work is heavily indebted both to Ligotti that Lovecraft in equal measures.

“The Hiker’s Tale” is another fractured, intuitive horror tale featuring deep-in-the-woods, ghostly mysteries and echoes of Hansel and Gretel. I had the same feeling at the end of this tale as some of the others: a few disparate narrative threads (some in other time periods, dimensions, or consciousnesses) weave together by the story’s end to form a disorienting, confounding, yet entrancing mosaic.

“The Music of Bremen Farm” ends with a spectacularly phantasmagoric and hallucinatory scene that is funny and nightmare-inducing, like many masterful scenes in horror (Sam Raimi’s horror films and An American Werewolf in London come to mind). The image of the smiling donkey chomping into a police officer’s hand is not one I’ll soon forget.

“The Lead Between The Panes” continues the odd story structure established in the earlier tales in the collection; the dead never really die because the deaths in these stories are unusual, traumatic, but maybe also in the end not really deaths at all but disappearances into alternate dimensions, other realities, or in the clutches of malevolent spirits and monsters: whatever figures Paul saw through the stained glass window in the barn would never let his claw-clamped ankles go and return to life once he started laughing with the spiders.

The pun in the title of this collection (Unseaming) is more suitable the deeper one progresses. “Stone Flowers” opens with the description of a rare medical phenomenon in which a woman can carry an unborn child for decades that becomes calcified (stone) in the womb while she remains capable of having more children–even though each subsequent fetus must gestate in the prison of her womb beside a haunting dead stone sibling as terrified expressions are frozen forever to imprint onto the souls of all the other passing passengers. Yet the dead–in this decade-hopping tale and others in this collection–don’t much like to stay dead, even when of the stone variety.

In “Gutter” we encounter ghosts of the traumatically murdered yet again, but this one has a more hardboiled noir/Gotham flavor. As a policeman’s mind unravels, so too does the morality and trust in those surrounding him.

“Condolences” is an odd and bleak tale wherein the title word becomes terrifying due to its blandness and insincerity but also because a mysterious noise begins to sound, the meaning of which is never logically explained.

“Let There Be Darkness” was told by an angel or god with a religious tone. It felt more like a monologue than a story(never a bad thing) about a skewed reality seen through prism-ed eyes.

“The Quiltmaker” is the longest and most ambitious(besides “The Button Bin”) piece in this collection. Told from a variety of perspectives and bending reality on multiple levels, this tale is masterful; I kept thinking of it as John Cheever on acid, but it also has a Hitchcockian feeling…even when it morphs into extreme body horror or Allen’s unique plague-spirit/dissociative-structure style. At some moments an eerie spirit narrates, having existed before but changed and hyper-charged by the conflicts and terrors it collects from the denizens on this suburban street as it seethes through them.

“Monster” is the final tale in this collection, and again features an unnerving voice that verges on reflecting the actual state of being a ghost or other malevolent spirit that still seems tied (but is perhaps in the process of fraying away) from a human host body.

I enjoyed this collection from an original new voice in short horror fiction.

Check out Unseaming by Mike Allen.

My Top 20 Films of All Time

19 Oct

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1. Consuming Spirits (2012; dir. Chris Sullivan)

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2. What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962; dir. Robert Aldrich)

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3. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974; dir. Tobe Hooper)

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4. Blue Velvet (1986; dir. David Lynch)

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5. La Mala Educación (2004; dir. Pedro Almovódar)

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6. The Loved Ones (2009; dir. Sean Byrne)

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7. Die bitteren Tränen der Petra von Kant (1972; dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder)

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8. The Crying Game (1992; dir. Neil Jordan)

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9. La Pianiste (2001; dir. Michael Haneke)

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10. Holy Motors (2012; dir. Leos Carax)

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11. Jackie Brown (1997; dir. Quentin Tarantino)

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12. An American Werewolf in London (1981; dir. John Landis)

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13. Lolita (1962; dir. Stanley Kubrick)

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14. Under The Volcano (1984; dir. John Huston)

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15. Wake in Fright (1971; dir. Ted Kotcheff)

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16. Heavenly Creatures (1994; dir. Peter Jackson)

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17. Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes (1972; dir. Werner Herzog)

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18. Kafka (1991; dir. Steven Soderbergh)

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19. Manhunter (1986; dir. Michael Mann)

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20. Withnail & I (1987; dir. Bruce Robinson)

Review: Collected Works of Scott McClanahan Vol. 1 (Lazy Fascist Press; 2012)

18 Oct

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Mud-Puppies and Catfish girls stomping change, crusty dollars, and irritated receipts in the muddy grass of a backyard. Deer run over again and again until undead, then beaten with a steel thermos as the morning ran screaming away…harmed and insulted by the blazed brains’ pride. Happy to lose arms, watching the blood spurt while calmly smoking. Ace!

Bologna sandwich throwing bums offer mirrors on their shoes, which may suck and twist you in then spit you back out as conjoined with a bum mutant, the hairs bristling from the beard to reach for cheap burgers and cheap beer. Bike rider’s running chainsaws without gears in their bikes, searching for blue horizons on which to chew. Cars that come for you when you think of them smashing bones into mashed ashes while a narrator too cowardly to help runs and causes more accidents, placing himself on the high pedestal of Charlie in Firestarter.

Mysterious epiphanies in strip clubs. Humiliating cross-dressing escapades, partly forced by chance and miscommunication but partly chosen and longed-for. Eerie phone calls with young girls, breathing fiery holograms and playing devilish tricks on the moral balance of slippery narratives. Stubborn jail cells with rubbery bars.

Good Samaritans dream of kissing Bukowski, or eating three piece fish dinners while daydreaming about the racetrack. Kidney stones shaped like crucifixes: a passing mirror for all other secrets. Lonely telemarketers craving a mark and target in the sighing telephone-pole night.

Dead broke pizza thieves sitting in an observation tower watching a cheating father figure cough up blood in chunks of hope calluses. Hairspray brain Grease songs echoing in a witch-cursed bookstore, the ghost of Walt Whitman erasing all of the future pages of books maybe written in other folds of your eyes.

“The Prisoners”–my favorite story in the collection–is unexpected, wise, human, and shocking. Told in McClanahan’s characteristically breezy/greasy and informal style that reminds me a bit of Sam Pink but is less sociopathic in tone and a bit more poetic and dreamy, though no less grounded in a mundane but immediately relevant and compelling yet terrifying reality.

Abbreviated suicide notes drift from paper shredders in abandoned offices where vents wish for shredded paper to feel like snow drifting by.

Forgotten teachers, faded students. Old ladies shoplifting string beans, lonely cashiers. Benevolent futures predicted with a haunting certainty. Waiting on the phantom coal train to sing from West Virginia.

Check out The Collected Works of Scott McClanahan Vol. 1 here

Review: Burnt Black Suns by Simon Strantzas (Hippocampus Press; 2014)

15 Oct

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I read a short story by Strantzas in Nightmare Magazine called “Out of Touch” that genuinely affected me. It’s a simple ghost/haunted house story yet it resonated because of some other human touches (a lonely teen amidst a difficult divorce and a house-bound, sick friend). I had an immediate urge to read Burnt Black Suns afterwards.

Critics of the weird fiction genre are often quick to put everything under the burnt-black sun beneath the umbrella of: influenced-by-H.P.-Lovecraft. The first story in this book (“On Ice”)–while sharing some themes and symbols (eerie, otherworldly god-like monstrosities)–has a more straightforward style, pace, and natural feel than Lovecraft. It certainly is a taut tale that places you right in the desperate arctic circumstances no matter how strangely the plot unfurls. I especially enjoyed the vivid and terrifyingly original description of the monster in this one.

The second tale, “Dwelling on The Past,” is–predictably because of the title-a guilt-infused narrative. There is a particularly fine moment in its second to last scene which manages to blend and balance two separate timelines of hallucinations from the past. It sort of has a Poltergeist flavor to it and is again zippy, direct, and enjoyable–although not as strong/memorable as the first tale.

The third tale, “Strong As A Rock” causes me to revise my view of reviewers flippantly comparing Strantzas’ work to Lovecraft, for this tale shares its atmosphere with “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” to a degree–that sense of an abandoned town(in this case a hospital) being overtaken by malevolent/ancient/supernatural forces. It shares the sense of guilt and lost-loved-one theme of the previous tale, but this one ends too abruptly…and just as strange possibilities were opening up!

“By Invisible Hands” was written for a Ligotti tribute anthology, so that explains the heavy Ligotti influence of this tale. It is a bit reminiscent of two of my favorite stories from Songs of a Dead Dreamer (“Dreams of a Mannikan” and “Alice’s Last Adventure”) in that there are multiple levels of reality conflicting with each other, presaging madness. The puppet the creator constructs mingling with the driver’s multiple arm and mouthed body returning over and over as if in a living nightmare back to the mysterious Dr. Toth’s house was an unforgettably strange and disturbing image.

“One Last Bloom”–the body horror tale most referred to in their reviews–was excellent (and also the longest piece so far); it feels closer to Stuart Gordon Lovecraft than to the man from Providence himself. It also shares a bit with Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (a work Lovecraft himself was hugely indebted to). Strantzas wisely frames this grisly From Beyond(1986)-flavored tale within an unrequited love triangle, notes, and journal entries. It reads a bit like a romantic comedy mixed with body horror–sort of reminiscent in tone to The Loved Ones(2009) (one of the best horror films of the last 30 years).

“Thistle’s Find” is an absolutely wonderful piece of the macabre. This has that pulpy/Reanimator Lovecraft vibe but with a more bad-taste of late 80’s/early 90’s horror movie element. I actually wish more pieces were as daring and funny as this one. Still, Strantzas has continually kept me surprised so far. [Note: on thinking back/revising my notes, this one remains my favorite story in the collection. It has kind of a 80’s goofy/Back-To-The-Future or Weird-Science vibe, but then becomes much darker.]

“Beyond the Banks of the River Seine” ends rather abruptly, and the supernatural element ends up being more of a tease than in previous tales where it was the showcase and focus. The voice is quite strong and it is a nice mix to throw in a new locale(France). I guess I just wanted to know what happened to Elyse, and to have a further doorway opened.

“Emotional Dues” is an incredibly visceral piece, shining a cruel light on the darkness and pain within every true artist’s heart; this really is an astounding collection of weird tales, and I might say here lies the true heir to Ligotti. Yet there is an accessibility to Strantzas’ style without compromising his strange and warped ideas–ideas like drifting clouds with the capacity to scramble and twist one’s preconceptions of the horror tale without, paradoxically, drifting too far astray. The imagery in this tale is particularly gruesome, strange, unexpected, and haunting.

“Burnt Black Suns” concludes this excellent collection. On his website, Stranzstas states that ” I know a few writers who work with oblique narratives, and a few more with cosmic horror, but I don’t know many that flip between both to the degree I do, especially within the confines of the same story.” Indeed, this masterful tale embodies both a sense of “cosmic horror” and “oblique narratives”; I especially enjoyed the scene where the narrator turns on his pregnant girlfriend to pursue his phantasmal lost child. This subtle state of madness is portrayed with sensitivity and with an underlying/terrifying current of cosmic dread.

I hope to read many more excellent stories by Simon Strantzas. I also love that his work helped inspire True Detective, my favorite television show (and I hate most television) since Twin Peaks.

Check out Burnt Black Suns here.

Website of Simon Strantzas

Review: Mira Corpora by Jeff Jackson (Two Dollar Radio; 2013)

11 Oct

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Wow. To read this directly after By The Time We Leave Here, We’ll Be Friends was a revelation. These two works offer whole new vistas of writing ideas and styles. This one felt more intimate somehow; probably because it reminded me of people I knew in my youth.

Hazy daydreams. Disturbed snapshots of a dysfunctional childhood (alcoholic mother). Redirected, spiralling narratives pointing/painting towards a cohesive whole.

Murderous truckers, sawing off kids limbs. Flashes of Henry Darger’s psychotic paintings but this time in world called Liberia. This reminds me of the excellent quote by Paul Eluard that opens the novella: “There is another world, but it is in this one.” And, indeed, another world does seem to open up within this one as you proceed through Mira Corpora’s riveting yet fractured pages. Jackson even confesses that Mira Corpora is based on a series of journals he kept as an adolescent–an extremely strange and original approach. I kept asking myself exactly how much changed was or left unaltered.

Odd oracles in fragments of notes discovered in tree houses. Young lover’s promises. Matted hair. Becoming feral. Superimposed desires in the form of reflections on the bodies of floating dead teenagers who could have almost died in ecstasy. Burning bodies mixed with perfumes, the awkward stages of ritual. An homage to Macbeth’s witches in the nightmarish forest (a lot of these scenes reminded me of the atmosphere of Charles Burns’s Black Hole as well).

I also enjoyed the series and asides and meta-narrative reminders that this is a series of discovered notebooks–there is a line in one such italicized meta section of Mira Corpora that talks about stabbing a hole in a piece of notebook paper and how an entire world is contained there (like the Eluard quote)–also, the fact that Jeff’s oracle is an ominous blank page–ominous because it predicated someone’s death previously–is an important symbol related to the theme of Worlds Within Worlds.

Bloated cassette tapes containing cherished, taped-off-radio mixes and packages managing to find our narrator even when he lives in a cardboard box. Black condoms, walkman headphones without foam. Nose-biting, ethereal music-loving clues. Transformed and transfixed to honor ephemeral passions. Clues to the unconscious or the soul, whichever heart-wrenches you away from the cold shadows and into the nourishing sun of some way of contacting humanity.

Red-scarved, frizzy blonde-haired singer in a grainy photograph. You return to the spotlight of your dreams. Traffic sounds become a song during the search for a maybe dead rock star. Drunken burglaries. Prison shadows. Chewed-off noses, chewed-off tongues. Sepia-tinted dreams for vintage bands already lending dreams to some starry-eyed teen staring at the back of a still-original plastic-sheathed vinyl artifact. Mouth-breather. Casual devil-worshiper.

Dreams could only be sleep-blind, snow-blind carousels. Baited with a little bag of heroin to plastic guitar humiliation.

Sketchy operations in underground veternarian offices with an upper window to watch people’s shoes on the sidewalk pass.

Divorced from one’s own body as if trapped in a mirror. Drugged and drifting while burning money and drinking the last drops of booze beside a highway. Let the spirit revolve or welcome inner revolutions, as if an uncertain raven in search of a dead hawk’s claws on which to feast.

Were the skaters slicing through the ice or just scratching flame trails on the endless white paper typewriting the unbearable vision of the orange tree?

Check out Mira Corpora here

Review: By The Time We Leave Here, We’ll Be Friends by J. David Osborne (Swallowdown Press; 2010)

7 Oct

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I started reading By The Time We Leave Here, We’ll Be Friends in a bit of a haze. After reaching about the 60% mark, I decided I must’ve only been half paying attention…and I was a bit lost. I decided to consult some synopses. Was this book really worth my time? The reviews were unanimously stellar, many comparing the book to David Lynch and Clive Barker. Also: many of the synopses focused on the fact that, eventually, an escape from the Siberian Gulag would be attempted with a “calf” (a prisoner to eat/cannibalize should the Siberian wilderness prove barren of nourishment). Putting emphasis on this element of the plot adds a bit of sensationalism (which, oddly, even the book’s editor (Jeremy Robert Johnson) reinforces in his afterword). Although an excellent scene–and perhaps the most lucid/thrilling/suspenseful in the book–it is but a silver of what the novel contains, and this novel is hardly a much of a suspenseful or traditional book at all. In other words: I loved it.

Even the aforementioned prison-break scene ends with a surreal mythological flavor (I won’t go into specifics since this is also the end of the novel). The novel is a bit like a puzzle, albeit an exquisitely tightly constructed one. So if you, like me, find yourself a bit lost the first time through, don’t be ashamed; just start at the beginning, regain your footing, and allow this beguiling little work to enfold you within its enchantments like a modern day Pedro Paramo.

One often feels as though one were tumbling through a George Grosz or Mark Chagall painting…in that it features a sense of charged/conflicted history but with a fantastic element (a man picking lint out of the ventricles of his heart or a serpentine shaped light escaping another man’s throat). Shark teeth, little women in shirt pockets, obscene tattoos, whale bones lodged into thighs. Even Diego Rivera is mentioned. Talking chalk writing, humming placentas, barbed wire growing and thrashing like venomous horror movie vines, ingrown (into ear) shoelaces, and haunted mines are just a few of the other images that will leave an imprint in your skull with a swift boot-kick to the face.

You feel like you’re reading an Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn novel at times, yet then something very strange or whimsical happens–like an angry guard growing shark’s teeth or an officer beating her lover with a vodka bottle instead of making love as they then both derive immense pleasure from the sadism (shark teeth growing, eyes shifting to a devlish shade)–and we return to the harsh prison camp reality…yet at the periphery: a kind of electric fan of insanity continues to hum and blow, threatening to unravel and distort all of the officers’ and prisoners’ conscious and unconscious experiences there. Dreamlike scenes when a wounded prisoner fights with an officer while urinating all over him and his wound (by whale bone) would be one such scene to support the previous thesis.

Hallucinated voices over the radio, feelings drifting through a netherworld from someone far away (“warm and red feelings”). Throats that can suck souls. Fantasies of cannibalism Dreams of holding a stick attached to a decapitated head while feeding it apples. A marvelously strange and original book. This one will last.

check out By The Time We Leave Here, We’ll Be Friends