Black Static – issue 12
posted Monday, 17 August 2009
I’m starting another of my real-time reviews. This time it is of the fiction stories in TTA Press’s ‘BLACK STATIC’ – Issue 12 (August/September 2009). I shall attempt to draw out all the fiction’s leitmotifs and mould them into a gestalt.
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.
All my real-time reviews are linked from here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/df-lewis-real-time-reviews/
Black Static – Issue 12
My Brother’s Keeper – Nina Allan
My standard introduction to my real-time reviews shown above seemed even more appropriate once I started reading this haunting story of fluid existence passing through a fixed perspective together with the steady fade-in and fade-out of people in one’s life, not only because real-time is treated here with TCP ointment (Time Conflux Parentage (my inference) any others?) but also a telling reference to Wagner’s Ring Cycle – a work that probably invented leitmotifs in music. This story has childhood angsts blending brilliantly with other serendipities and synchronised shards of random truth and fiction. Also related to a Ligottian figure (named Ferenc here) and to childhood’s ‘imaginary friends’ made real. And adult conspiracies too grown-up to fathom. Dark family secrets. And Elizabeth-Bowenesque tea-time sea-side set pieces that I think of as Nineteen Fifties but subject to a modern timelessness invoked by the protagonist’s prized gift of a watch. A well-jewelled piece. A nice movement. (17 August 09)
Bryson Feeds Families – T.F. Davenport
An ostensibly didactic prose work, designed from six discrete responses to interview questions, responses from people involved in or affected by the meat trade, all six in juxtaposition, telling a story culminating in a physically and emotionally gut-wrenching finale. But not, thankfully, didactic, in the end, for me. More, I feel, a symphony in six movements: adult conspiracies regarding selfishness and cruelty and blinkered existence. The animals are not animals, but tantamount to those ‘imaginary friends’ in a childhood Rupert book, which makes their fate even more gut-wrenching. Didacticism through the back door, skilfully done. But that’s only one interpretation. Only one response to the question the whole piece asks. (17 August 09 – two hours later)
Flatrock Sunners – Sarah Totton
This story – let there be no mistake – stands memorably on its own as a rite of passage of a boy’s growing up among a ‘mythology’ of not only real ‘imaginary friends’ but also real “imaginary enemies”, of unknown authorship (the protagonist’s or some other force?), yet presumably a mythology facilitated by his father who was in turn created by the author whose name is appended to the story.
A story’s standing on its own can be changed or enhanced or downgraded (or simply sent along fault-lines it never intended) by the context in which one reads it. Here, for me, it is indeed enhanced. But it doesn’t need enhancing. It just is. But any potential enhancement, even if not strictly required for creating this as a wonderful story in itself (which it undeniably is), can never be unwelcome. Here we have echoes of the ratcheting in time from ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ (here a clock not a watch), the adult conspiracies as seen by the young protagonist, the figures on the shoreline that here become even more pliable as physical structures, the threats of the real ‘imaginary enemies’. It also has the Peter Pan type of timelessness. And a sense of the utterly sad creatures from the end of ‘Bryson Feeds Families’. Feeds Families being a key phrase to keep in mind when proceeding further, perhaps. We shall see. In any event, I love the concept of its flatrock sunners, its petting zoo, and all the filmic pliability of Totton’s story. It needs nothing else but itself. (17 August 09 – another 5 hours later)
Stone Whispers – Tim Casson
I wish my wife and I had found this solitary island by mistake instead of Sark when we were on holiday there many years ago. The story’s wonderful ‘genius loci’ is strangely combined with its opposite: an explicit dislocation. A reclusive (sexless?) couple, George unpredictable and gauche, Celia a poet, are ostensibly ‘invaded’ by some sensual hooray-henries in a boat which they can hardly steer. Milk cows, if not the beef ones from ‘Bryson Feeds Families’. Plus a time paradox as if from the blend of the previous stories, represented by a slowing and quickening gramophone and story-telling scene narrating millennia without account of any inactive periods. A ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ scenario (that also had a time paradox and cromlechs (or caves of sorts), I recall) where I can imagine George and Celia being ‘flatrock sunners’ basking before vanishing into the stone whispers of Celia’s own poem. Or have they vanished into this very story, as if into its word cromlechs, where their only family issue will be those who once were made by dead bones? Only by reading it will you be able to unlock what I say. Not a spoiler, but its opposite. (17 August 09 – another 3 hours later)
Charles – Steve Rasnic Tem
A marked parallel with the type of relationship in ‘My Brother’s Keeper’, but there it was a sibling one, here a mother / son one. A Pinteresque setting, significantly in the context without perceived pauses. The abode is evocatively seedy and disowned, but disowned by whom? Not a whodunnit, as such, but more who’s the leaseholder? I’m sure the headlease author once thought he knew. But the beauty of this truly haunting story is that the reader at least senses that there is nobody at all wielding the levers of collusion-with-some-reality. A wonderful emptiness where once there had been at least one person to imagine another person. As if the ‘hanging-rocks’ here are not caves or cromlechs, or sunning-places, but dark corners where even death itself cannot subsist. One wonders if flights of stairs in these places create acts of ascent and descent that transform time itself on each occasion they are undertaken with only the Proustian selves of the same eventually depleting person being able to pass each other. Like all well-anthologised Horror fiction, each story subsists separately as well as communally, each of them thus strangely empowering a negativity or tabula-rasa that becomes its unique strength. (18 August 09)
Unearthed – Kim Lakin-Smith
I seem to have read these stories more quickly than I originally indicated above … as if time is erasable in hindsight: a concept that seems to be working towards this story: this rite of retribution and paralleling events: almost a Jamie Bulger type re-enactment, involving skinning … and the caves or inferred cromlechs of Nottingham, some of which form the beer cellar of a theme pub where our protagonist works. It is as if we are looking through the other end of the telescope and seeing the fate of vanished or imaginary ones, i.e. the result of ‘absorption’ by the ‘hanging-rocks’ prefigured earlier in this clutch of stories. Can I get into your skin? – a question posed by this story: a real ‘imaginary friend’ fleshing itself out from its position as ghost … re-tracing the life/death symbiosis represented, in particular, by ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ and ‘Charles’. The tanners here as ‘flatrock sunners’? Flayrock skinners? The men who work at Brysons? Unstuffing beasts with blood? Feeding families by removing those who would otherwise need to be fed – in accordance with Swift’s ‘Modest Proposal’?
In many ways, this story is a coda or bonus track, a run-of-the-mill, if well-written, tale of young people in a Horror film escapade. This is the one story that does not stand up on its own, I feel, but benefits from the company it keeps. The final unravelling of the marvellous fiction-self that this clutch of stories represents was with ‘Charles’ – and now this last story is, at best, a cleansing of the palate or relinquishment of the gestalt’s lease. Not really my style of story, so I may be unduly diminishing it by calling it a coda or bonus track. (18 August 09 – two hours later)
Typos and infelicities corrected above (18 August 09 – another six hours later)
You can obtain a free copy of Black Static 12 as a promotional offer at link immediately above on this comment. Please tell them you first heard it about it here on the Weidmonger blog.
2. Weirdmonger left… Wednesday, 21 October 2009 6:06 pm :: http://weirdmonger.blog-city.com/black_s