The Exaggerated Man – by Terry Grimwood.
posted Thursday, 30 July 2009
I’m starting another of my real-time reviews. This time it is of ‘The Exaggerated Man’ a collection of short fiction by Terry Grimwood (the ExaggeratedPress 2008). I shall attempt to draw out the book’s leitmotifs and mould them into its gestalt. I shall leave reading the book’s Introduction by Gary McMahon until I’ve read all the stories themselves and completed this review.
This review will be done slowly, savouringly, in real time, so please do not look back here more than once every few days for additions.
My previous real-time reviews are linked from here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/df-lewis-real-time-reviews/
Caveat to my review: This book contains stories entitled ‘The Friends of Mike Santini’ and ‘Chemo’ that were first published in NEMONYMOUS in 2001 and 2003 respectively.
“He has created a wall that will soon be too high to climb.”
A couple crippled by the credit crunch, and the man shifts (almost strobes) between (1) a nightmare of being buried alive in a coffin often along with his wife and (2) his real day-to-day struggles. For me, it is a memorable third person singular self-dramatised monologue (containing realistic dialogue with his wife and with others handling his debt to life), a tragic monologue that is driven by a simple, effective language. Driven into the ground. (30 July 09)
The Friends of Mike Santini
“The whispering is louder. A car passes, tearing the shadows open. I see things. Feel things.”
I first read this story some years ago and I said to myself then: this is one of those classic stories you meet from time to time in your life. I had earlier met the author himself. And I couldn’t put the two together at the time. Perhaps that’s significant.
This story should be anthologised and anthologised again. The protagonist is one of those rat packers, who has the temerity to test or, should I say, taunt the leader-of-the-pack’s friends in more ways than one. Friends that are a relentless retribution-hungry swarm of not only the Undead or Unhuman but, even worse, the Unnamed… and this first person singular monologue (strengthened in immediacy by following on from the previous third person singular monologue) drives a hard bargain even faster and looser. I wonder if I have taunted that pack of friends to spring alive again now that I’m about to blow the gaffe … yes, about Santini being a near anagram of Sinatra. At least, I did this review my way. (31 July 09)
What The Dead Are For
A brilliantly written vision of a place called Heaven where Pastor Williamson goes when he is dead …. cast as a fable in the tradition of May Sinclair and John Bunyan and Bestwick’s zombie ethos (here called Stealers because they steal skin)… But, no, from gradually morphing into a multi-ethnic ‘Heaven’ rather than one based on any prescribed religion, the reader also quickly realises that it is more similar (literally at one point, as well as figuratively) to being buried alive as that earlier ‘coffin dream’, but not, in the end, a dream. A purgatory? A punishment? Or a path to something even finer than any perception of ‘Heaven’? Just change ‘Williamson’ to ‘Lewis’ below but keep the 61 years (that’s how long currently I’ve been walking the Earth):
“Sixty-one years in the Good Fight had taught Williamson to beware of anything that shimmered and promised ease.” (1 August 09)
The Lowestoft Monster
A brief ‘fiction’ (although it reads like more than just fiction) – just fiction? Fiction is more powerful when it filters real life like …”The smell of the salt-water is like a physical blow and it drives tears into my eyes.”
I currently live on the same coast as Lowestoft – not too far away – and, today, I do not continue noticing the sea. However, I empathise with this very ancient English childhood day trip to the seaside. The trip of a brother and sister with Mum and Dad and Uncle Sidney in the Hillman Minx. I need not merely empathise with what happens as it’s brought to life on the page if a reader has sufficiently sensitive attunement to ‘fiction’. The ‘monster’ reminded me of the girls traipsing up Hanging Rock after the Picnic… You may see what I mean, or you may not, as it is not directly in the words. But it is in my ‘fiction’ of the ‘fiction’ in my mind. The true monster of the story is also not directly in the words but all the more powerful for that. (2 August 09)
As far as I know, a completely original concept, and, if indeed original, mind-blowing, in more ways than one. A staccato SF story where there are Breathers and Non-Breathers. The latter are FullPersons. There is a relentless linguistic hum about this story, too, with words formed like ‘FullPerson’ and ‘SynthiResp’ and ‘FloaterLights’ etc. as if the gaps between words themselves are suffocating. The state of Non-Breathing is fascinatingly handled and anything I say here will not do justice to it. The story – even with all its conceptual artificialities – actually frightened me ….. perhaps because I obliquely related it to the earlier Coffin Dream…. 😐
Also, reverberations with current day Swine Flu precautions and angsts…
“A whore called to him from a neaby doorway. ‘You want me to breathe for you?'” (2 August 09 – 6 hours later)
This fable about our world is told with Old Testament strength tinged with Clive Barker, a fable of Greed as anti-matter. Some of the forces at work remind me of the ‘friends’ in the Santini story. The protagonist gets his come-uppance, in more ways than one. (3 August 09)
Another powerful monologue paradoxically made more immediate by it being delivered as a narrative of the past …. with the monologue’s protagonist shifting (almost strobing) between (1) life with his mistress Mikki and (2) life with his wife and family. But which is the ‘coffin dream’?
“It was as if the anonymous grey surging about us was impregnated with half-glimpsed, gold-haired ghosts.” (3 August 09 – 3 hours later)
The Exaggerated Man
“How do you re-live death?”
An experiment in near-death experience leads to a startling vision (cast as a story in a book named after it), a vision of entropic synaesthesia when the subject returns to life. It is OCD magnified… One wonders what reading it will induce in vulnerable readers. I am strong enough, but are you? Thankfully, the words are fixed on the page and may not begin slowly shifting like tiny insects or start stinking…
The actual vision of Heaven reminds me of the May Sinclair feel in ‘What The Dead Are For’. The protagonist’s dead parents those who took him for day trips to Lowestoft. And Heaven’s Redoubt was Hodgsonian and the protagonist’s fleeting contact with it unforgettable… (4 August 09)
“Assumed. Another word John would never have used.”
More effective staccato prose. Another monologue by an intangible on-looker at the side of the stage recounting to a special audience (us) the action being acted out before the normal audience face-on in the dark. At first I thought this was, like ‘The Exaggerated Man’, another post-near-death treatment, whereby, also, as in some May Sinclair stories, the dead come back as ghosts in a physical, even ‘sex-able’ form. And, yes, that is what it is. Don’t listen to anyone who says anything else about ‘John’. They’re just out to spoil things fo you. (4 August 09 – 4 hours later)
Melissa and the Singer
This is a brilliant story. Simple, staccato language suits Grimwood. Actually, with ‘Melissa and the Singer’, I was compelled to read to the end voraciously, quite agog. Both cringing and uplifting. I really felt Melissa’s emotions. The stress of an office party in all its nightmarishness. It is an effective story of a gauche, overweight girl in a highly believably-evoked office scenario of professional and personal politics. Presumably, this story was written before the Susan Boyle ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ phenomenon? (This book was first published in 2008). Whatever the case, it either prefigures (or echoes) that phenomenon with panache and memorability. I won’t forget this story for a long time. I will continue fathoming how Melissa progresses beyond the story’s end, Susan Boyle or not.
In many ways it also obliquely echoes the anti-matter observation I made regarding ‘Soul Money’, lending a further depth for me to this story.
“Anti-Melissa was not going to let her off the hook. Anti-Melissa never let her off the hook.” (6 August 09)
“There were stories, of whole communities drowning beneath floods of human vitals that oozed under locked doors and seeped through letterboxes.”
An enlightening or, rather, endarkening monologue: a telling parallel with the apartheid in ‘Breathe’. Here we have the alive and the dead, where the former is the oppressed race. This a very gory and powerfull original take on the zombie myth, with Swiftian ‘Modest Proposal’ implications for us all. The monologue itself ends as all monologues should with the near certainty of outcome but where the outcome is still in play. An apartheid between all who exaggeratedly call themselves ‘I’ and the rest of us. (7 August 09)
An effective 2007 fiction telling of a flu pandemic where the young are dying more readily than the old. We focus on one aspect: the tussling with a loved one’s body (a grand-daughter) and her coffin, negotiating all the dangers and mayhem to get her buried in the graveyard. One wonders why cremation was not a solution. But deep down we know: it is a rite, a feeding of the earth, a life-line towards consecrated ground… We simply need to return to the beginnng of ‘What The Dead Are For’ to unlock the puzzlement. This book is a coffin dream, a strobing of despair and hope, without knowing which is which. We have to manhandle our own coffin towards some as yet unknown end…. (7 August 09 – 5 hours later)
A short Stravinskyan ‘ronde’ about freedom, imprisonment, liberation, freedom…
We are all the same despite the strobing of ‘apartheid’ and communion, of Dead and Undead. A telling poetical political moto pepetuo that spins round the fixture of death as the ultimate liberation or imprisonment dependant on the point of view… (8 August 09)
Nobody Walks in London
This is a truly hilarious, grotesque, Swiftian fable in magnified almost-medieval-in-tone caricature of a Brummie man travelling to the Big Smoke to rescue his wife’s soul that had been captured by Parliament because of non-payment of tax. At first, it reminded me immodestly of DF Lewis’s stories of those questing St Paul’s Cathedral… but of course it soon morphed into a wild Grimwoodland of police kettling and MPs expenses together with this book’s Alive / Dead apartheid theme. The ending was like a nightmare of his wife as Thatcher who sort of straddles that Dead / Alive divide these days, but thankfully one assumes our protagonist returns to Brummie with more amenable female fish to fry. A sheer delight. (8 August 09 – 3 hours later)
A staccato SF tale where a sort of social atonement is attainable by Lloyd by visiting the planet Erasmus and liaising with one of the aliens. An alien so alien it’s mind-blowing to me. Called ‘female’ for convenience, no doubt. A liaison rife with symbiosis: anthropomorphically sexual while strobing negative/positive. It’s as if I, too, have been entrammelled by the broken web of word-strands. Words acting like ‘friends of santini’: I just need to bribe them by reading them.
According to Wikipedia, the Christian name of Erasmus is the Latin for ‘longing’ or ‘desire’… (9 August 09)
I’ll take these two together. I remember ‘Chemo’ from first reading it a few years ago. Well, how could anyone forget it? And, today, after reading ‘Dirty Stop-Out’, I re-read ‘Chemo’ straightaway, as I sensed the former short burst of relationship angst acted as a telling overture to the longer burst in the latter.
‘Dirty Stop-Out’ has the feel of a world gone wrong … as the male protagonist awaits the return of his female partner frrom the wide wild world he can see and hear through the window and which is transmuted into cruel ‘reality tv’ on his screen indoors. One wonders why a female would go out alone … until she returns? It is an ‘anti-matter’ relationship with mixed feelings of love and need … a selfish need that ignites the symbiosis. It take some understanding, but once understood you are ready for the utter poignancy of ‘Chemo’ which…
… is indeed a very touching story — with a deep sense of ‘reality’ beyond that of any ‘reality tv’ or such contrived fiction-made-from-truth. A story of a wife who also bears a physical glitch not similar to but resonant with that of the female in ‘Dirty Stop-Out’; here it is cancer, and the husband has mixed feelings about this ‘tragedy’ in his life…surrounded by the world as represented by his family, including a son-in-law who acts according to business courses he has attended. To chemo or not to chemo, that is the question. It is almost unbearable to critique this further and to divulge what paralell (or symbiosis) of events determine the final decision. An apartheid of dead / alive that vibrates long after you put the story away. (9 August 09 – 2 hours later)
This seems to make a triptych with the previous two. But don’t get me wrong, these stories live separately as items, as well as ‘only-connections’. ‘Red Hands’ has the alternating of ‘Coffin Dream’, as if time strobes in fictive bursts. Orientation strobing: gay/straight. But reality’s underpinning is the protagonist’s family reality, with Emma: but it is another relationship forged with mixed feelings for selfish needs, this time professional ones.
Red Hands – Pilate washing them? No wonder the pub our protagonist frequents is the Hammer and Nails. And the Nicholas character: is he the one who visited John’s Ex earlier in the book? All perhaps Exaggerated meanings wrung from meaninglessness: a synaesthesia of inchoate connections that are only there if you are the one reader among a million others. This book should have at least a million readers, if it receives the attention it deserves. (9 August 09 – another hour later)
The Fairest: The previous story having culminated the book’s gestalt, this is a bonus track, a coda, a mere mediocre bagatelle … which, at best, cleanses the palate. A fast and furious fantasy: the Snow White story extrapolated. It seems to have a swarming of ‘friends of santini’ in childish pantomime form. Much seemed theatrical, much seemed beyond exaggeration. (9 August 09 – another 2 hours later)
This book represents a quietly unpretentious author perhaps surprisingly standing up at the Fiction office party and, after taking a deep breather, performing the most memorable exquisite song – beyond all ostentation and comparison.