ONION SONGS by Steve Rasnic Tem (Chômu Press)
All my many Steve Rasnic Tem reviews linked here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/steve-rasnic-tem/
THE RESULTS OF MY READING OF THE FICTION IN ONION SONGS by Steve Rasnic Tem WILL BE SHOWN BELOW IN THE COMMENTS TO THIS POST AS AND WHEN I READ EACH SEPARATE WORK IN THE ORDER THEY ARE PRINTED, WHILE HOPING TO GARNER THEIR GESTALT.
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“I have often awakened with the sensation that I have forgotten something essential to my happiness and sense of well-being.”
Or it has forgotten me, I reckon! And gone off to make someone else happy.
Maybe because I am 65, but I sense that is the right age to relate to this first story. In my view, the sense of Proustian selves reaches its optimum or pessimum at my age onward, depending on what you want to forget or remember and what you are forced to forget or remember, and this story means a lot to me in this context. It is poignant and open-ended. An excellent start to this book that itself remains open-ended…until it or I finish first.
“It is too late to be surprised, you think.”
A prose piece, short and bitter-sweet, entailing a consciousness of one’s children, waiting for them at the way station. Waiting for the uncertain wife. Short, but full of meanings and restrained incidents that unlayer the more you think of them. More bitter than sweet, I guess, depending on who you are.
Whilst Rhys Hughes fables are absurd on the Borgesian bounce, this fable, absurd in its own way, is more a Ligottian lurch. But it is in fascinating tune with the foregoing – involving messages about the children and wife whom he was previously awaiting… The fable’s moral? Losing patience is never on a gradual spectrum of evolving selves. It’s a discrete sudden climax of losing it when you finally find it. Or so your current self hopes on behalf of your final one.
“His had been a futile rage; now it was released.”
This is a remarkable story echoing that end release of futile rage in the previous story, remarkable in it being about an Italian hijacker on an American plane with a vest of dynamite – his father now waiting for him at the way station! Or Our Father? An unforgettable scene of the holy crystallisation of terrorism at the end.
Me reading ‘Onion Songs’
Out Late in the Park
“In this park of the world, suddenness is the business of the day.”
This is a splendidly engaging story of slowly disengaging … as a few relatively old men (now shuffled out from one man into separate, insulated, game-playing Proustian selves?) congregate at this book’s ‘way station’ to play rounders, before they themselves are rounded up either by the ‘last bus home’ or by critters lurking at the edges of their ‘playing-precinct’. A frisson of companionship for them, empathy for me, as they recall that their Mums no longer can call them home to bed from their play, and the father-son relationship of Clarence Senior/Junior (echoing some of this book’s foregoing sentiments?)
The themes of “profound patience” prefigured differently in ‘The Messenger’ leading to the ultimate Hijack of the soul… and mention of “paternal responsibility” … utterly, beautifully poignant and haunting. Frightening, too.
A young family, where the Father of the two small kids seems to be both physically and mentally close to the ‘Ligottian lurch’ and disrupts the shell of happy security of his kids with home truths about life’s reality. It is particularly telling following the previous story that was also on the edge of the park, no doubt where this family have their day out, where, too, the critters that threatened we Old Ones are equivalent to the squirrels that trigger the home truths in this brief ‘Picnic’ close unto death’s impending or hanging rock?
The critters looking in or looking out? Are we the critters in just another shape? ‘Picnic’ doesn’t tell us or even ask those questions, perhaps.
“If he forced himself not to doodle, the days flowed on without form or direction.”
A story of an obsession, much like my own obsessions, one of which is real-time reviewing as the dream-catcher of the books themselves as well as of the precious time that passes.
Most of the sections in these reviews of mine start with what I feel is a ‘keynote’ quote from each work, as most of the sections in this story themselves do, too!
Here, the doodling obsession (at various times) symbolises and/or accentuates and/or neutralises a tragedy in the doodler’s family concerning his daughter. There is far more to this significant story.
And his own “father used to say, ‘Find the one thing you do well, and do it often.'”
[I have by now read enough Tem fiction to know I am an avid fan of his work, and it is pointless to repeat how great each work is as I read it (as I feel I am almost certain to do), so, from now on, in this review, I shall attempt to continue tracing the theme and variations of the book’s audit trail or gestalt, i.e. not description-interpretation-evaluation (which is the critical gold-standard) but merely description-interpretation alone and take the evaluation as read.]
“Mr. Verloc, getting off the sofa with ponderous reluctance, opened the door leading into the kitchen to get more air, and thus disclosed the innocent Stevie, seated very good and quiet at a deal table, drawing circles, circles; innumerable circles, concentric, eccentric; a coruscating whirl of circles that by their tangled multitude of repeated curves, uniformity of form and confusion of intersecting lines suggested a rendering of cosmic chaos, the symbolism of a mad art attempting the inconceivable.”
– Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent, Ch. 3
In case it should become significant, I confirm that, while reviewing the 42 stories in Tem’s ONION SONGS, I shall be simultaneously reviewing Mann’s THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN here.
“I don’t know what I should forget.”
…’depending on what you want to forget or remember and what you are forced to forget or remember’, as I suggested at the very start of this real-time review. Even memories of real-time reviews suffer from ‘strands’ as much as life itself does for the protagonist of STRANDS. A Marcel Proust with a Peter Rabbit toy rather than a petit madeleine cake dunked in tea? The nature of ‘ligotti’ (viz ‘ligottus’, ‘ligottum’: please google these words for further reference) gives them the meaning of ‘knots’ for which one needs blades or knives to resolve. Unless the cutting of the knotted strands reveals something far worse than if you had this book’s earlier ‘profound patience’ to slowly untie them after all…?
Having slept on it, the concept of knots in a vegetable form makes them more like onions? Not so much unlayering as unpicking.
Slicing against the grain of the layers in an onion with a knife seems sacrilegious but it’s probably preferable to tearing apart with one’s fingers or jabbing with a skewer. A gentle peeling back of each layer, the best of all. Thinking aloud, singing silently. Weeping without weeping.
Night, The Endless Snowfall
“…night is beating at his windows, beating at his door, trying to lift off the roof…”
The whole of this ‘story’ is a keynote quote in itself for itself (particularly, in my case, that ‘roof’ bit!); an old man’s soliloquy in the third person, his sleep of family memories, personal anxieties, fleeting affections as fast-recurrent interruptions of conscious self, never real sleep containing real dreams — the feeling that death is more than garnering the gestalt, more than chasing the noumenon, more than doodling the synchronised shards of random truth & fiction, more than the hot flames of that earlier story’s tragedy now contrasted with the cold weathering of death which this self-conscious soliloquiser tries to keep at arm’s length by putting it in this story, this story of watching and waiting: a truth for which publication was sought as a story, so that its readers, by the innocent act of reading it, will turn it back into fiction?
Still thinking aloud…
THIS REAL TIME REVIEW WILL NOW CONTINUE HERE.
The four parts of the ONION SONGS review:
https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/13314-2/ (this one)