I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt.
And it is of the 164 page hardback book entitled ‘HOLIDAY’ by M. Rickert: Golden Gryphon Press 2010.
There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years.
CAVEAT: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the book, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading it. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.
All my real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/
In common with my normal practice, I shall be giving my real-time impressions of the stories in this book, without first reading the book’s introduction or knowing anything about the book at all other than it was recommended to me by people I trust.
“I’m a writer. I notice these things.”
A tender evocation – by a male protagonist narrator – of ghosts in his house, reminding me of how I imagine children’s traditional ‘imaginary friends’ to resemble – ghosts that, if real, would importune him. I assume but do not know that only a woman as head-lease author could write through this narrator (as if the narrator, especially when dressed as a clown, is ‘her’ ‘real’ ‘imaginary friend’). This is coupled with the past’s ‘baggage’ weighing down the evocation of such ghosts (with telling interruptions from more detached characters), ‘baggage’ within the pecking-order of narration at whatever collusive or non-collusive remove. Very intriguing and certainly haunting. [Another thing I shall remember about this story is the handy hint on how to gain the trust of a woman: tell her you like her ear-rings.] (7 Feb 11)
[I note a positive synergy between the story of ‘Holiday’ and that of ‘Being of Sound Mind’ by Roy Gray in the CERN ZOO anthology.] ( 7 Feb 11 – 20 minutes later)
Memoir of a Deer Woman (New Year’s Day)
“Frightened of leaving the children too long with madmen about, …”
Or with a word called “her“?
A dense and textured fable, but paradoxically expressed in a simple way – blending Katherine Mansfield and Angela Carter? The previous story had ‘Holiday’ as a character’s name, here a ‘real’ holiday? The process of growing into what one wonders can exist, amost like cancer growing, a prehensile creative-writing paper chase that is so utterly utterly poignant…about how to pre-figure death and departure with one’s animal soul from those other animal souls one loves, wrapped round with genuine constructive obscurity or randomness. (7 Feb 11 – three hours later)
Journey Into The Kingdom (Valentine’s Day)
“He had already lost some of his life-like luster, particularly below his knees where I could almost see through him.”
This substantial story of ‘story’, at first, reminded me of the salt-puddle stirrings of lost husbands to the sea in my own ‘Down to the Boots’ together with the ambiance of ‘The Caul Bearer’ by Allyson Bird that I reviewed in mid-2009. But it takes its place, too, as a real classic of the communion of ghosts, depending which ghost knows who is ghost and who isn’t in turn from inside their own souls – revealing the grief of cancer (cf the deer story) – and the art museum’s inimical synergy between vision and ‘story’. This book itself has some wonderful wonderful artwork. But we return to the story and the victory of love through recognition of death and death’s breath. This story almost overfeeds the readers, like the ducks, with its riches…. to prevent any “danger of floating away or disappearing.” (7 Feb 11 – another 4 hours later)
The Machine (May Day)
“Graveyards creak with too many bones, and the weight of headstones…”
Ah, perfection. One always knows when one has read a perfect story. It becomes more than story. Even the apparent didacticism at the end is forgiveable – does not mar the perfection. This starts with an intro that could have been penned by Elizabeth Bowen (and that is to me is an extremely high compliment) – leading into a fable of Titus Andronicus proportions about evil, cruelty, the weight of words, the danger from or to those children or ‘imaginary friends’ in ‘Holiday’, the rape of fiction by characters within it … dense, textured, “quilted”, but simple, even heart-warming (!), in hindsight. [The machine? A web-machine that is constituted of words and pictures as in this book?]
“…how weightless she has become, as if her tongue was what held her to the earth.” (8 Feb 11)
Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment : One Daughter’s Personal Account (Mother’s Day)
“…Mr Saunders demonstrated to us girls what it’s like to be pregnant with a basketball.”
A “Roarshack” with the end of the previous story: similar ends justifying the means. A “hologram” of each other. This thought-provoking SFtopia of public executions (where they’re filmed close-up like filming a potential lbw in a cricket ground for later umpiring), executions of mothers as their daughters watch or receive a hairloop keepsake. The potentially interpretable didacticism is again forgiveable (almost?) because, for me, it’s half-undermined by the last sentence. Meanwhile, it was very appropriate that the executionees have child escorts in the two-edged sword context of children in the book so far. (8 Feb 11 – three hours later)
Don’t Ask (Father’s Day)
“…words drift from the floor, hollow, balloon-like, …”
They need the “hair” of the werewolf. Very telling. This ordinary town’s ‘Lost Boys have a Pied Piper who is not Peter Pan but is still ageless as Horror genre traditions are. A “famous lost boy” where fame is all we seek, immortality through fame? Peter Pan was fictional but he lives boyishly forever through fame, lives forever-longer than real people like us. This story seems free of all didacticism, but I sense it lurking in the tropes or archetypes – the poignancy of boyish existence and their vulnerability / equal strength to claw-up, to harm their parents before they become parents themselves in clean garages…? (8 Feb 11 – another 2 hours later)
Traitor (4th of July)
“I looked up at the stars and thought how they were like fish in the frozen sky.”
This story – like some of the others so far – is simple yet challenging, challenging the interpretative skills of even the best real-time reviewer in the world. Here we have a feisty nine year old girl with jingly hair-braids that ring at us throughout the story like a lost bell-wether. Her ostensible mother who once ‘lost boys’ and saved herself … an ice cream flavoured ice cream echoing life’s later pain and self-sacrifice of an intangible war going on, I think, at the edges somewhere. The ‘I remember’ of life’s hidden audit-trail or a darkroom’s photographic-plate that cracks like a broken rink. And, almost, yes, almost, a foundling suicide-bomber with jingly hair-braids and packed backpack … but if that is not in the story, it’s certainly in me. A corrupted gem of a piece when under the eye-glass. (9 Feb 11)
Was She Wicked? Was She Good? (Summer – anniversary)
“The fissures have formed beneath us […] as if any movement would collapse the careful arc that keeps us suspended.”
That seems to resonate with the whole book so far. This story is disturbing and gains much from its context, as well as being a standalone dark essay in claustrophobia. Here this story’s version of the small girl rips wings off creatures and you need to be a literary word-sleuth equivalent to Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes to decipher all the tropes and archetypes and dream interpretations and motivations. The girl’s father (the head-lease author’s unreliable representative as Narrator) is writing a book entitled ‘The Possibilities for Enchantment in a World at War with the Self, the Other and the Infinite’ and I am suddenly drawn to another love of mine: Proust. And I am not fooled by the comfort of the story’s ending, oh no. (9 Feb 11 – another four hours later)
You Have Never Been Here (Halloween)
“…you sink further into the vague cushion of the seat, …”
For me, this is a symphony of ‘The Hospice’ and ‘The Unsettled Dust’ both by Robert Aickman and ‘Never Let Me Go’ by Kazuo Ishiguro and my long-term ideas on nemonymity and, today, I’ve been reading and writing about King’s ‘schizms’ (my word, not his) in his Dark Tower series, so it’s that, too. There are children, too, like those playing in the corridors of a hotel. But, then, suddenly, it’s not a symphony at all, it’s none of those things I just wrote about this wonderful story, because it’s about ‘you’, not me. And ‘you’ need to decide, by entering it for ‘your’self. (9 Feb 11 – another 2 hours later)
War is Beautiful (Veteran’s Day)
“My angel flutters restless wings beside me…”
An ‘imaginary friend’ from ‘Holiday‘ and the war at the edge of ‘Traitor’ come together here as Viet Nam – ghost or angel, under-age or not she has a baby already – and the male Narrator escapes from within the ‘schizm’ imposed by the head-lease author to disseminate his seed as well as a grenade (he didn’t throw it, but he wrote about and thus created those who did) – and the weightlessness of love, the nothingness of the previous story’s ‘you’ and the regimented execution scenarios of ‘Evidence of Love…‘ now made chaotic by the skewed camera of words at war with each other to describe “the synchronised shards of random truth & fiction” (my words, not the book’s) in a real war, to ear-mark truth or exploit falsehoods.
“The explosion of words, the ink melted by my tears.” (9 Feb 11 – another 90 minutes later)
The Christmas Witch (Thanksgiving / Christmas)
“…where they stop for ice cream. Rachel has peppermint stick and her father has vanilla.”
A substantial story not of ‘story’ this time but genuinely as ‘story’ seen through the third person singular eyes of the small girl made real by this book heretofore, not archetypal so much as, say, Rickertian. She collects bones – and has girl-innocent thoughts about witches, dressing up as them for holiday days, amid a conflux of various characters, some who come back transmuted by a sort of vague ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ scenario. And those erstwhile regimented executions in an earlier story for the ‘crime’ mothers commit by ‘losing’ babies (cf lost boys) is almost given the aura of a girlishly misunderstood bomb waiting to explode within the story. The ending, for me, is delightfully and forebodingly Aickmanesque. But the whole story – from what I have learnt from the whole book – seems to be (if it is here in a more traditional story-telling way than many of the other ‘stories’) Rickertian as new literary ambiance. HOLIDAY is a major collection for lovers of dark fantasy or weird fiction. [The holiday titles? I haven’t fathomed their import yet. Perhaps they are, as holidays are, restful pauses in a symphony that are often more important than the actual notes surrounding the pauses.] (9 Feb 11 – another two hours later)