‘How To Make Monsters’ by Gary McMahon
I’m writing an on-going commentary (intermittently from yesterday) on this discussion thread: http://shocklinesforum.yuku.com/topic/8894
and adding the comments below on each story as and when:
‘How To Make Monsters’ by Gary McMahon (Morrigan Books 2008)Strantzas front cover: so frigging frightening.
CHILL – I’m reading it today (4 Jan 09): the day that’s really really cold (for where I live): & the Seasonal Hoilday effectively ends tomorrow. Just watched the Antiques Roadshow on TV. Then News:: Credit Crunch. Gaza war. Etc.
I’m not sure whether that has anything to do with it, but I found this frozen story intensely … EXQUISITELY depressing. It made any real depression vanish!
THROUGH THE CRACKS – I actually read most of this story this morning in the Dentist waiting-room and thought about the poly-filla and the cracks…! Another excellent story – with the theme of embracing one’s own monsterhood… with Fortean implications. Cracks galore. A stunning Joel Lane-like climax but essentially McMahonish. As with RAIN DOGS, I admire the general style and the observations of ‘killing’ life: “He was a shell, a self-abused puppet flopping on severed strings” and many more … although I cringed at “The stairs creaked ominously” and wondered at the degree of omniscience in observing (from a distance?) that a video shop only rented out eighties titles.
An intensely original slant on the ghost story (in my experience of reading ghost stories) and equally disturbing. It mentions Munch’s Scream. I saw this painting in the flesh a few months ago in Oslo. I now see Horror in the flesh of words (not meaning to be ‘flowery’ in my critique but simply honest).
One of the characters in this story has “well-defined edges to her world” – in contrast to the main protagonist’s world. Indeed, one of the most frightening things in life is often catching an unexpected glimpse of oneself as a reflection in a window or mirror… This happens in this story. Death is a shapeless threat, just as your own glimpsed shape grows more gruesome with age.
The ‘something-in-the-way’ is ‘You’: the reader, the one who never understands, however simple or complex the language.
Or ‘you’ actually wrote the graffiti in a moment of automatic-writing – biro marks on McMahon’s neatly processed text (neatly processed bar the odd typo!).
This story would have been perfect without the the final (‘VI’) coda – so I’ve scribbled it out. Seriously.
This story supplements the Nowhere People and reminds me of Elizabeth Bowen’s fiction of the 2nd World War in England, i.e. in that the invasion of the credit crunch is similar in effect both emotionally and physically. A fractured, fragmented world, full of unstill air.
Of all the stories in this book (I have one more to read, glancing at the contents list), ‘Save Us All’ is the most Ligottian – and many will know what I mean, and many will not. Many of the narrators in this book feel themselves to be ‘ghost-like’ and, as in Oliver Onions fiction, I feel the types of character in much weird fiction are what I once dubbed (many years ago) as ‘dimmer-switch’ people (I trust you know what I mean, but if you don’t you will!). This story (this book, so far) is a ‘dimmer-switch’. And I shudder as I read this personal message from the author to me, socket to socket: “Old age meant nothing more to me than fear and regret, and I was being mercilessly eaten alive by demons of my own creation.”
The shambling exorcists come to rescue me…perhaps. But Gary has told me not to let them in. So, I cannot decide on the best course of action…
(re Hugger, however, I hope Gary will read my story ‘From The Hearth‘ in ‘Beneath The Ground’ (Alchemy Press 2002) an anthology edited by Joel Lane).
HOW TO MAKE MONSTERS as a whole is a wonderful book. I cannot praise it highly enough. It is about dimmer-switch monsters that are you and me and the narrators and the author, fighting their corner in a depleting reality, a frozen crack – a swirling meltdown that, in turn, comprises the dimmer-switch monsters themselves, ie. the united states of us.
Some of the stories I shall never forget. A big claim, as my memory has never been good. But I know what stories I have remembered in the past – and Gary’s gems favourably compare to those. So I am confident they will continue to haunt me, perhaps beyond even Alzheimers or Death! Gary McMahon fiction will succeed, even if the credit crunch makes it harder for that to happen. On this gloomy day, this bleak moment in time, the utter bleakness of this book seems to shine forth as a beacon of, not hope, but constructive despair.
I’d add that I have glanced at the Foreword and the Story Notes, but not fully read them. I wish they weren’t there. Didacticism weakens the message, imo. I shall scribble these pages out. Nay, I shall tear them out. Seriously.
(completed 13 Jan 09)
All my Real-Time Reviews are linked from here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/df-lewis-real-time-reviews/