How To Make Monsters by Gary McMahon (my 7th real-time review)

‘How To Make Monsters’ by Gary McMahon

posted Monday, 5 January 2009

Nemonymous's avatar

 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.

;;;
.
THE UNSEEN – a genuine masterpiece of Variant Doppelgänger Disease (VDD) where the monster is not the ‘other you’ but ‘you’ – all coupled with peripheral glancing blows at modern society and its greed. A VDD enhanced by an unseen narrator-in-itself, unseen because ‘he’ only exists through ‘his’ found words. Even so, he somehow (paradoxically) possesses greater existence even than the imputed author who created that narrator (presumably!).
.
;;;
.
PUMPKIN NIGHT – it’s not right. There should be a warning. Anybody could pick up this book and believe (with this title) that they were going to read a normally horrific Halloween story. I feel tricked and cheated. My dreams shall now for ever more be carved into nightmares. (Seriously).
.
;;;
.
OWED – I’ve never felt so tainted by reading a story before. I owe the author at least that experience. If it weren’t so well-written I might have been tempted not to finish such a painful process. It only worked in this way because it was so well-written. The story thrived as its own cancer upon the crafted words. Like in the world at large, debt is self-perpetuating.
.
;;;
.
WHY GHOSTS WAIL: A BRIEF MEMOIR
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).
.
;;;
.
ACCIDENTAL DAMAGE – The story itself (including some other stories in this book so far) contains not so much examples of a cinematic technique akin to ‘The Blair Witch Project’ or ‘Noroi – The Curse’, but more a feeling of YOU as the reader becoming the camera yourself. Very effective.
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.
.
;;;
.
NOWHERE PEOPLE – the diaspora of the xendead. The ending is too cruel. Surely we deserved something better. But dog eats dog. God eats God. Too didactic? Maybe. But it hits you where you need to be hit. In the Asylum or the Big Brother House. Not sure about this image, though: “my lower back was singing like a chorus of crippled choirboys from being locked into the same position for so long.”
.
;;;
.
FAMILY FISHING – I’m sort of stunned. I don’t often say this but this story is a genuine classic horror story – one that benefits from its setting after the previous stories (and who knows how it may be even further enhanced by reading the stories that come after it – still to be read). It affected me immensely – gutturally and emotionally. I won’t spoil the story for others as any description of it prior to reading *this* story would spoil it. Let me add that, although I know I’m much older than the author of these stories, I see *him* as Granddad giving me a cigar…
;;;
.
SOMETHING IN THE WAY – From the Ligottian Kafka quote via the ‘razor rash’ of visions (including an image that seems to haunt the great horror writers these days – the empty or static-filled (TV) screen) along the nemonymous audit-trail towards ‘fulfilment’ …. snuff said?
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.
.
;;;
.
A STILLNESS IN THE AIR – Good to see an author who has had stories twice in ‘Nemonymous’ in the distant past issue a story of paranoaiac Nemonymity (an element of which is an identity that can easily be mistaken) and this phrase: “glorious anonymity”. The title is also a paradox. In Gary McMahon fiction, the air is never still. It is full of writhing. Cf this image at my review of RAIN DOGS.
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.
.
;;;
.
ONCE A MONTH, EVERY MONTH – As another Rite of Passage (Cf. ‘Family Fishing’), a mass menocide keeps the unstill air at bay. Fiction itself can be like an unstill air. Fiction that becomes more than just fiction, swirling with life’s current ills. McMahon fction is perhaps the first historic example of such fiction actually working like this (for good or ill, for still or unstill). It took a meltdown to create it…paradoxically.
.
;;;
.
SAVE US ALL – I read this one very quickly after the previous one. I feel I need to escape this book somehow …. by finishing it. And I mean that as a compliment!
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…
.
;;;
.
A BIT OF THE DARK
I’m afraid – after nothing but positive reviews of the previous stories – that I was disappointed by this one. Too diffuse, too inclusive-of-everything-but-the-kitchn-sink, too something. Maybe if I’d read this one without the comparison of the genuine masterpieces that otherwise populate this book I may have been more impressed. It didn’t work for me, today, in this context.
(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/

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

3 responses to “How To Make Monsters by Gary McMahon (my 7th real-time review)

  1. Pingback: DF LEWIS REAL-TIME REVIEWS | My Last Balcony

  2. Pingback: Gary Fry & Gary McMahon – My Real-Time Reviews | My Last Balcony

  3. Pingback: DF Lewis's Real-Time Reviews

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s