The Impelled & Other Head-Trips – Gary Fry

‘The Impelled & Other Head-Trips’ by Gary Fry posted Saturday, 21 February 2009

My ninth real-time review



A running ‘review’ copied and pasted from here:

 It seemed serendipitous to start this book this afternoon (a book I intend to read slowly into the future). Its first story mentions ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ by Edgar Allan Poe – a story close to my heart and the one I first read aloud on a recording when I was first given a new tape-recorder in 1962. Quite coincidentally (!), I recorded it again earlier this morning on my new voice-recorder, with which I have been playing for the last few days: and have started a list of links to recordings of me reading aloud HERE. And this very story happens to give some clue towards the meaning of the first story in…

(Possible Spoilers)
(And I’m not reading the Ramsey Campbell Intro until I’ve read the whole book).
It is an oddly strange feeling (I’m not sure why) to have a female narrator who writes like a Poe-centred male narrator*! A narrator who has apparently written a text that is this story but by what (gratuitous?) ‘impulse’? And I suspect that the male protagonist (whose older sister the narrator ostensibly is) has himself created her for her to then create his ‘story’, create his existence, as well as to impel an imp (herself as imp?) to defeat his own imp – just like the narrator in Poe’s ‘Tell-Tale Heart’ is possibly (to my mind) created by the narrator’s victim … or at least symbiotic. The ‘eye’ in that is the ‘I’. But, back to Gary’s story, imps can have imps! A nice ending. I was indeed positively impelled by it all. The language was deceptively difficult but I liked getting my teeth into it, so that was not a bad thing. But as the story somewhere implied, does reading horror stories create horror that wouldn’t otherwise exist (something about filling oneself with ‘garbage’ – can’t find the quote now – perhaps it didn’t exist – and another quote about impenetrable language – I must have impagined it.)

THE IMPELLED & OTHER HEAD TRIPS by Gary Fry (Crowswing Books 2006)

The Impelled

*not that all Poe narrators are male. And maybe I need to think this point through further.

Single Hit
Read by me upon Jade’s wedding day, this is (and would always have been without that serendipity) an impressive and substantial morality tale. A tale of encoded celebrity and of a retired teacher’s Head-manqué Trip. A tale that reminded me of Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’. A meaningful tale, too, for one like me who thinks pure music can teach more than the Three R’s. The ending was powerful and gives a choice of self-destruction, except none of us are really given the choice. The trouble was that nobody in the story heard pure music, not even Mr Barlow (Ken?). They stuck in obtruding words. They should have gone with Franz Liszt rather than Franz Ferdinand. But better Franz Ferdinand than Napalm Death? It takes more than a single hit to become a one-hit wonder. Somewhere in the story it says: “This is like knowing the names of all the great composers and never listening to any”. Pure music would be listening to all the great composers but knowing none of their names.  

Pulp Friction
I don’t usually like meta horror-stories, but this one is a good ‘un. Honestly! Laughed out loud at various points. A wonderful treatment of the Horror genre from the point of view of the Absurd and Satirical arts. With apt serious moments. “But not exactly Proust is it?” But the next story is!Kiss And Tell
As near as possible to how I imagine a modern Proust’s treatment of our world (including rape) as one can imagine, with an important but light Proustian kiss and unrequited love and matters of time/memory (inlcluding the Friends Reunited website!) and changing discrete selves of the person. I was very impressed. I should really have read Fry earlier.

Two telling sentences from ‘Pulp Friction’ and ‘Kiss and Tell’, respectively:
“He’d always been attracted to the grotesque; he suspected lots of people were born this way, just a little genetic leftover from the race’s struggle in caves.”
“We can recognise a scent here, witness a blur there, touch slippery phenomena – yet nothing can be fully assimilated.”

How does one encapsulate a Fry story? Sometime a Fury story, by tone and nature. One can sense the thrust of a pubertal rite of passage, but how can one put one’s finger on it? Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the young male protagonist’s mother’s name is Judy and there is a Ligottian extravaganza of puppets, toys, dolls etc – that have pent up punches and gangland stabs. This story starts as an Aickman-like family car trip, and here we have a visit to the brash and saucy and often frightening seaside town (and for one who lives in a similar seaside place myself, the atmosphere in this story is spot on), with a Reggie Oliver-like character in Uncle Frank, and a fortune teller and (I sense but don’t know for certain) a laughing policeman dummy at the end of the pier ……and a nightmare vision of all these things leading to a metaphorical positive note reflecting an overtly phallic Blackpool Tower — and Blackpool’s (if not Britten’s) Illuminations that leave a sense of hope that people who read and are introspective and possibly socially inept can change the world for the good, if only they are allowed to do so via the visions they have.

From illuminations to illusio. I note this story was first published in 2006 and speaks of a holiday visit by a British family to Florida in pre-subprime-mortgage America or, rather, right in the middle of subprime-mortgage America. It’s only the global meltdown, ignited by that era, which came afterwards. The people who read this story in 2006 might have realised what storm was coming if they had been sufficiently sensitive to the (unintentional?) undercurrents of this story. The seeds are in this story. Read it and see. ‘Features’ that are futures. Commodities with Mickey-Mouse ears. A monster in the periphery that may indeed haunt many dreams. Indeed, the interesting concept of ‘illusio’ (a new word for me and I have not checked google for it) seems to represent a fabrication of special effects that is akin to a complex financial instrument of worthless promisory notes that seem full of real promise. An internet flashmob who gather just to gather – not out of conviction. A construction that is paradoxically both invisible and opaque. The illusio has now fallen like house of cards. Thank goodness for literature’s illusio. That’s the true salvation. Fiction: the original derivative.
Meanwhile best to be subsumed by symbiosis with one’s family and other loved ones. The only protection against monsters.

A digital version of a hybrid Antonioni’s Blow Up and a ‘conte cruel’ by Charles Birkin. I enjoyed the artful build up of suspense. If exciting novels are page-turners, this story was a word-turner. Or an internet worm-turner. And the worm did turn for Prudence! Excellent stuff!

Do people in some circumstances follow authority slavishly even against their own natures? At the time of reading this short (football-satirical) (formally-experimental) ‘story’ of academic research, I wasn’t persuaded I fully understood it, but then I uncannily said to myself, read the next story in the book, depend on serendipity….
BTW: Just a minor point: in the first footnote which is in an otherwise formal language fitting of an academic footnote, ‘dismissed’ would have been better than ‘sacked’, I feel.

The Haunted Doll’s House
Many of the stories so far in this book are variations on diverse strengths of theme concerning ‘knife crime’, almost like a leit motif in music. I think they are social stories about a dysfunctional world (as in 0.05) overlarded by against-the-grain ‘persuasion’ of dysfunctional individuals upon themselves and others, by magic (supernatural) or by just a subtle look or by nightmare vision (illusio?) or by brute force (often with a knife). I remember, as a child, ‘persuading’ my toy soldiers into enactment of real life beyond themselves. I even did this with ‘named’ marbles, a persuasion of personality and competitiveness when raced. Here, in this story, we have a subtle (overlapping?) interaction between a young girl and a brutal, disillusioned world via a two-way filter of toys and so-called reality. There is a hint at the end that the girl is infected towards evil persuasion, herself, but I hope not. At first, I thought this was a workmanlike (and in some ways over-long) story of an archetypal haunted doll’s house. Well it is that. But on reflection, and in context of the book so far, it will probably become more than that in hindsight.

Inside Out
No knife in sight this time – but there is a ‘severed’ neck-bone, so there must have been at least something like a knife used as an unseen prop in this theatrically effective Poe-like story coupled with a mad scientist plot – but don’t get me wrong there is a symbiotic Fryesque originality about this short tale. I almost felt sucked in. Thank goodness for its traditional trappings: gave me an anchor to claw back. You think I’m joking? Well, in literary terms – in suspension of disbelief terms – this is what I truly felt.  (Also I loved the ‘pre-reflective’ concept with the curtains.)

The Trip
A wonderful, wonderful story – well, it was for me. I empathised with the narrator’s ‘only child syndrome’ and being ‘persuaded’ to join the Wolf Cubs. Well, more than just empathy for me!
Robin Somon (Robinson Crusoe?) disappears (like the girls in ‘Picnic At Hanging Rock’). Did Robin ultimately escape a plastic world because of the narrator’s pre- and post-reflective ‘trip’? Did he reach the star-filled cosmos? It is more than simple empathy, because the adolescent guilt (I warn you) seems to stick for real to the reader who feels forced to to live within the mind of the narrator. Well, I was there in that mindset already but perhaps one forgets that fact (when you are as old as me) until a timely reminder of the angst of archetypal adolescence comes along (like this story). A head ‘trip’ indeed.
[I’m sure Robin must have had a knife as part of his surivival techniques, especially with all those badges … and to help make the five-pointed twig star … and, as in the Cub song, to poke you in your eye with it!]

Home From Home
I’m becoming self-conscious about liking all the stories in this collection so far. Of course, I’m only trying to express what I feel with no possible autobiographical clutter about its author or anything else that I may infer. I sense, however, that I may have a direct (if zig zag) line to a mindset that underlies (either intentionally or unintentionally) the growing ethos coming out of this book as I read it. This story is another classic – indeed one about self-consciousness itself, a sense of paranoia regarding social backgrounds, gender, self and selves, an inexorably ‘persuasive symbiosis’ (to coin a term to conjure a blending that is encroachingly involuntary and rarely mutual-sustaining) – and here the symbiosis is indeed negative and one that is inter-nuclear family…not only in social terms, but horrifically in physical ones, too. I’ll merely mention that the protagonist in this story grapples with the protocol of cutlery, including knives, as some sort of emblem of what I’m trying to say… And a story that was nicely Aickmanesque at times. [I note that there is coincidentally a similarly striking lavatorial plot-device in one of the stories in the ‘Cone Zero’ anthology that ‘Nemonymous’ edited/published in 2008.]

Now and Then
At first sight this is a run-of-the-mill Dickian SF story of time and space, a retro- pre-Sat Nav scenario!  Enjoyable enough.  But then it gradually (insidiously?) modulates into a retro-pre-echoing of another adolescent angst and the working out of complexes that have existed in the protagonist’s ‘teen-hood’ regarding his mother and father, complexes spinning endlessly along the tangent of his own ‘future’ relationship with his fiancee.  Can fiction be used to make bad things better?  Well, the reader (even the inferred author himself) has to work at the fiction – whirling not out of control but into gears that must inevitably (and optimistically?) synchromesh…
There is a delightfully mysterious moment towards the end.  What is in the father’s pocket that he puts his hand towards? What dire event nearly took place?  Perhaps the aforementioned leitmotif in this review gives a clue.  A way this book of independent stories is already synchromeshing into their projected gestalt?
[“All he wished for now was to be at home with Jenny, to receive her stabling influence…”  Stabling? Or stabilising?  I sense ‘stabling’ foreshadows this: “Then presumably something biological had been triggered inside Jenny, and she’d suddenly wanted to live the usual narrative…”]

Lest Spirits Darken
I was proud I got the significance of the title before it was given away towards the end. This neat original little story dabbles in Ligottian Corporate Horror and Capitalism, describing a dreaded spike of a weapon – and the only escape the revolving blades above as one lifts up away from the motorised mayhem.

Myself: A Fiction
Although I haven’t obviously finished the book yet, I strongly sense this is the seminal story from which all the others radiate. It is in part a ‘working-class’ version of a Reggie Oliver theatrical ghost story – and I feel you can give no stronger compliment than that comparison. However, ‘Myself: A Fiction’ also contributes to the growing gestalt of the book. Here the ‘persuasive symbiosis’ is between many interlocking pairs, like truth and fiction, art and artifice, scripted drama and improvisation (‘Big Brother’ TV reality?), past and future – with the earlier relationship of the protagonist’s father and the reappearance of the leitmotif I indentified much earlier, as stabbing with a builder’s tool (presumably used like a knife) – and symbiosis between Proustian selves of the protagonist one of which was in prison for murder… I am agog. Speechless, almost. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it and there does seem to be an overkill at the end (or is it meant to be the finale of a Shakespearean Tragedy!).
[For me an incredible coincidence: I finished the third part of my own currently written story this morning before reading this Fry story: it’s called ‘Build A Character’ (posted HERE) – and I feel ‘the people who’d constructed me’ theme in the Fry story makes an intriguing parallel. Well, I hope at least Gary knows what I mean!]

The Sunken Garden
I don’t know if it’s relevant but I read this relatively short story at the Barber’s while waiting for my No. 1 (i.e. instead of reading their Star or Sun). Another sort of ‘head trip’! Well, it seemed relevant at the time, bearing in mind the pruning etc that went on. Indeed, the narrator “thought about the chainsaw in the back of my van”, but then I think the reader hears nothing more about this chainsaw in the story…only its implied use? Perhaps it was later stolen from the van and used to ease someone’s packing!
This at first sight is a run-of the-mill Horror story of Imperillment, Witchcraft, reprisals etc, with a combined Aickmanesque and Oliveresque flavour. But yet, again there is something more. Fry effectively uses Horror images, visions and plots as surreal/absurd metaphors for the ills of the modern world. Here, just as one example, is the ‘box’ image of both the narrator’s home and being ‘trapped’ in a package. With possible gender fears.
As ever, Fry’s prose style is assured and a delight to grapple with. Workmanlike but also subtly complex and well-constructed. In fact, I couldn’t believe this particular ‘I’ narrator being able or willing to manage such an assured style. He says at one point: “I’ve always said reading is bad for a person.” Indeed. But then I read: “Actually I don’t mind reading at all.” But he still doesn’t seem the sort to write this text’s wonderful prose in , say, his diary!
[This particular, newly bald ‘imp of the perverse’ that I call ‘me’ seems to be drawing close to the end of my review of this book in the next few days, judging by what there is left to read: ie two more stories according to the contents list. I reiterate that I have not yet read or even skimmed Ramsey Campbell’s Introduction or Fry’s own ‘Afterword’. I shall probably enjoy them when I do read them, but I am guessing that the Afterword is likely to offer some ‘intentional’ attempt at autobiographical background to the stories. I wonder why writers think they need to do this. These two items will, I hope, remain ever fire-walled for me from the stories themselves. But it remains to be seen.]

(later)Gary F: Funnily enough I don’t often regard my first-person narratives as written documents – more a kind of translation of the character’s thoughts in my own words. ————————————-
DFL: Yes, that’s an interesting point. I asked a similar question about the female narrator in the first story? By what impulse did these people want their story to be told and in these terms? Translation by an omniscient author-god as the best way to tell the story through the filter of ‘I’ — or a fallible author-god whose character-as-narrator exceeds his brief …. collusiveness and non-collusiveness… etc etc. This is a whole vast field of stylstic speculation. Suffice it to say, the fact I made that point at all does not mean it adversely affected my seen-from-above-as-if-an-out-of-a-body-experience suspension-of-disbelief when reading the story – but merely sparked off something interesting that occurred to me when in the mode of reporting on the fictitious reporter of a story, which I would not normally have done had I not been engaged in writing a free-fall on-going review of your book (a way of reviewing that the internet, it seems to me, lends itself in a very new way that was not really practical before).

Both And
I didn’t think even I could have earlier predicted the serendipity and ‘persuasive symbiosis’ (‘persuasion’ in this story to explain ‘gang’ behaviour and please see the earlier story ‘0.05’ as a comparison-lamp for ‘Both And’) and the now even stronger leitmotif of knives — but these things are coming together even more now in this story! And the past ‘working-class’ council estate (with discommoding dad) as a hinterland for the protagonist’s future life as a scholar – the Ligottian mannequins – and the brilliant twist ending of this story concerning a character called Zed. And more serendipity (of this story within itself) of reading a book about a Nazi death camp and then followed by a ‘connected’ factory where the student protagonist finds a single-day-a-week job to make ends meet (some would say too much plot coincidence in a single story but I’d deny this criticism in the context of the whole book that I’ve now nearly finished reviewing) … Well, what can I say? Self-mutilation? Or communal and mutual mutilation? There’s something very deep going on here and I guess I shall have to read Merleau-Ponty (name-checked in this story) to get to the bottom of it all. Or perhaps best not to do so, as fiction should stand on its own (as the stories in this book (so far) do as good accessible and enjoyable Horror stories), ie stand on its own without recourse to always unknowable authorial background which can only be dangerously inferred by audience and author alike. And that goes for Merleau-Ponty, too, or any other philosopher whom the author may or may not have read. .

The Unmoored

The longest story in the book tells of another trip, a real ‘head’ trip, cerebral as well as physical, culminating in a Horror extravaganza worthy of someone who has indeed turned out to be for me (by reading this book) a great Horror stylist whom I shall continue to seek out. ‘The Unmoored’ tells of a trip into the Moors (where Brady’s children are still trapped?) by three male student protagonists, echoing many of the themes of the whole book, e.g.. serendipity, chaos theory, the theme expressed by wanting “to craft a person”, the question regarding the gaining of comfort from others (even strangers) against the cold unknown, crassness versus scholarly perception, class divisions, philosophy, love and loss, burial, aliens, the noble savage, being trapped in a box, and, in a few places, those knives again! – with the final apocalyptic vision of a protagonist’s dead girlfriend being actually cut free by a knife. I feel proud of identifying the latter leitmotif much earlier on in reviewing this book. ‘The Unmoored’ is a great story with many wonderful Horror moments and an artfully built environment of uncanniness and surreal vision amid the startling serendipity of modern intrusions…. as well as a fusion of metaphors and images as a ‘persuasive symbiosis’ between author and audience…but (not a disastrous ‘but’)…it is the one story in this collection that, for me, crosses the line into a ‘roman à clef’ (Jean Jacques Rousseau or Jonathan Swift??), and it becomes, for me, too didactic, with too much thrown into the melting-pot. In this way, then, this story is not ‘unmoored’ enough! Also I found it hard work to differentiate between the three protagonists (although I managed to do this in the end). [A very minor point: there is one sentence (the only one in the whole book, I think) that I found clumsy and had to read several times – the last sentence of the story’s second paragraph.]

I think my take on the ‘gestalt’ of the whole book has become clear if you read the complete review so no need to summarise it here. I am enormously impressed by the book and there are many horror classics within it, as separate entities and by each gaining from the other. Someone mentioned on another thread elsewhere that Gary Fry’s fiction is fiction for those who like ‘intellectual’ Horror. I disagree. I think it is essential reading for everyone who likes Horror fiction plain and simple. Nay, for everyone who likes fiction!

Thanks, Gary, for giving me such enjoyment in reading and then reviewing your book.

The above review was written between 21 February and 5 March 2009 inclusive.

My other reviews to date:

comments (6)

1. Weirdmonger left… Tuesday, 24 February 2009 10:39 pm ::

There is also some on-going discussion on this review at above link.
2. Weirdmonger left… Thursday, 5 March 2009 9:44 pm

I’ve now read the Intro by Ramsey Campbell and the Afterword by Gary Fry – and I have enjoyed them as expected and they have given me much further food for thought. Not least of which is the concept ‘Philosophical Horror’ and the initials of the main character in Pulp Friction. I am glad I read these two commentaries *after* making my own journey — but it was good then “going into the pub to have a few drinks” with these other readers of the book – and I use the term ‘reader’ advisedly, even in the case of the book’s author.
3. Weirdmonger left… Friday, 6 March 2009 10:17 am ::

The lovely Louise Brooks on the cover of the book? See link immediately above.
4. Weirdmonger left… Friday, 6 March 2009 10:20 am ::

The book can be bought as a bargain at link immediately above.
5. Weirdmonger left… Friday, 6 March 2009 11:58 pm



DFL: Indeed, the interesting concept of ‘illusio’ (a new word for me and I have not checked google for it) seems to represent a fabrication of special effects that is akin to a complex financial instrument of worthless promisory notes that seem full of real promise.


DFL: Fascinating, Gary. Thanks. I’m glad I didn’t read that *before* reading your story. I’m now still absorbing that link, but have noticed so far this sentence: “This makes Bourdieu refer to interest also as investment or libido.” The review (here: Bourdieu/dp/0745625401) of one of Bourdieu’s books in 2005 seems relevant to my review of your story prior to knowing anything about Bourdieu.

GF: Yes, indeed it does. My thing about Illusio is that it’s like a kind of transfixion indoctrinated at birth. It’s interesting that you thought the place to hide was the family . . Good point about sacked/dismissed.


DFL: There is a hint at the end that the girl is infected towards evil persuasion, herself, but I hope not.

GF: I think the key here is in what the grandmother says to the girl before sleep the previous evening . . . And I fear that the “small uniformed figures with pig-tails” render the girl more dangerous than her mother . . .


GF: Thanks, Des. ‘The Trip’ has gone down well with many a reader. It’s largely autobiographical. In fact, the ‘editor’ of the book suggested I leave it out because of this. I’m glad that on this occasion I didn’t listen to him.


GF: Funnily enough I don’t often regard my first-person narratives as written documents – more a kind of translation of the character’s thoughts in my own words. He says reading is bad for you in public (that blokeyness, you know) because he reads in private – probably having started far too late for it to be of any benefit to him. It’s an interesting issue, of course, as to whether a first-person narrative must accurately match the central character’s vocabulary, etc. I’m reminded of V S Pritchett’s comment about everybody being full of wonderful thoughts. It’s what, as an example, Martin Amis supports in books like Money, in which he attributes such great prose (I mean, great prose; not my stuff) to a scumbag.


GF: What’s the overkill, in your view? Am interested.

DFL: I was being slightly and teasingly over-critical – because I can’t find any damn faults otherwise! – but I’m sure you intended the Shakespearean finale (ie a pile of dead bodies) and so I meant ‘overkill’ literally as well as possibly figuratively. It’s just that I could have done with a quietr ending. Perhaps, tomorrow (or yesterday), it’d have been fine as it is.

GF: I did wonder whether you meant overkill that way, but had forgotten about the pile of bodies! I’d intended the pile of dead bodies to relate to what the old woman says earlier – that folk just want a suspenseful scene without necessarily appreciating the horror of the event. So the pile of dead bodies in the aisle is ignored by the audience – it’s violated the stage / auditorium divide, and yet they still don’t acknowledge it.


GF: Hurrah! You made it! And you’re still alive. But watch out for those knives . . . They’re everywhere . . . Seriously, thanks for reading it, Des, and for your thoughtful comments. You’ve come close to expressing what I hope I was up to here and indeed highlight a few things I didn’t think I was up to. Brill review. The kind an author cherishes, let alone needs. And here’s more serendipity: your review ends and my comment in response is the 100th in the thread. PS Just checked that Unmoored sentence – you’re right: it’s terrible.


GF: With regard to the above, I’ll say this much: a lot of people read ‘Both And’ in GATHERING THE BONES and I had quite a bit of feedback, to such a degree that my original reading of the story is hidden within so many alternative interpretations. For example, one reader suggested that the boy in the bin was a symbol of a life thrown on a scrap heap. I never intended that, though it fits. It’s interesting how an author’s own understanding of a piece of fiction can be modified – or completely transformed – by feedback. Your leifmotif certainly fits here. I had no idea that knives played such a central role in the book. All very interesting . . .
6. brint montgomery left… Friday, 10 July 2009 6:35 pm ::

Hi, you might enjoy my 21st. cent. update of Poe’s work, The Imp of the Perverse. It’s here: dated.html


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3 responses to “The Impelled & Other Head-Trips – Gary Fry

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