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

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