The WEIRD (5)

Real-Time Review continued from HERE.

The WEIRD: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories
Edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer
First published in Great Britain 2011 by Corvus, an imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd.

Mimic – Donald A. Wollheim

“There is even one that is so long it is marked like three ants in single file!”

Cf. the triple-ratcheted ley-line I observed in the Bruno Schulz story.  The Weird story – as I’m learning more and more from this book – is something that sticks like a burr to the mind, at first intangible (in contrast to the tangibility of the book where it’s printed), then gradually, a meaning dawns, from Wordness, Weirdness, then fake-or-break Meaning, then realisation – but realisation that just teeters on the edge of true understanding – a state that is indeed tantalising but the only understanding one can hope for from a slippery reality and reality’s imitators. This brief vignellarette is one such – blending the roof/chimney scrying from ‘Smoke Ghost’, the insectoid structure of humans transcended by Lovecraftian indescriptivities, the hauled-over heath-robinson contraption contrived within the plot (here flat metal sheets to make a simple metal box), and the srednipity of ‘The Spider’ as a a two-way communication by mimicry!  (The conceit that women notice men more and can thus scry them better  … well, that’s just the sexist icing on some fake cake.) (13/11/11 – another 8 hours later)

The Crowd – Ray Bradbury

An inspiring essay on the nature of those who first arrive at the scene of an accident. This book, continuously, seems to provide classic weird stories I think I’ve not read before. Crowding in on me. The Town that squashes Cats. Rubber-Neckers who People the Pit. “If he yelled they might turn around. / And he was afraid to see their faces.” (13 Nov 11 – another 90 minutes later)

The Long Sheet – William Sansom

“These cubicle walls were made from the same riveted steel as the main walls:”

Here, the simple metal box contraption has become a prison of a few of such boxes made contiguous with a new ley-line, i.e. threaded by a sodden winding-sheet as a long turban of fabric to be wound or wrung dry with the bare hands by whatever long-term method thought to be most efficient  – as a metaphor for both captivity and freedom.  It is rather like a task from the TV Reality Show ‘Big Brother’ (with liquidising forfeits and trip-ups to place inefficiencies of torque into the mangling of the manual wringers), but also an Orwellian feel in itself , too. We readers as viewers forming a crowd ogling this accidental comparison with modern culture. A story of  Quantitative Easing for the indebted soul by ironic means of a physical (fiscal) tightening! [And on a personal note, this story is a soul-mate for another story: ‘In The Steam Room’ by Tamar Yellin in ‘Nemonymous 3’ (2003)]. “Yet they dared not lean over the sheet for fear their sweat should fall on the hungry cloth.” (13 Nov 11 – another 90 minutes later)

The Aleph – Jorge Luis Borges

With this story, we turn a page in the contents list of this book, literally as well as figuratively. This tale is rigorous ‘weird’; it is the justification of the gestalt or ley-line (or, here, the Aleph, that, as described in this story, conveys what I have failed to convey as my goal with this real-time review), an aleph that I am still humbly seeking in this massive book as part of my public reading-journey of it. Also, in relation to that very journey, this story also conveys something I mentioned in the ‘Town of Cats’ critique above: “Also, I, too, as in this story, have noted the ‘sameness’ of places, making travel a chore. But not the journeys in books!” The author as named protagonist (here Borges, giving similar ‘truth’ considerations as King appearing by name and substantive character in ‘The Dark Tower’ with his recognisable family, a phenomenon that I discussed when real-time reviewing the whole ‘Dark Tower’ series of novels this year). ‘The Aleph’ in 1945 also gives a succinct description of the technological ivory-tower in which many of us live in 2011. The story is predominantly ‘Borges’ re-living his Beatriz and meeting someone (connected with her), someone of deep stylistic / linguistic approach to literary language (hopefully bearing out some parts of my own approach in this review).  Plus that previous ‘bookness’ haunting my own concerns over the years (now brought nigh to actuality by ebooks): “…as a boy I would be astounded that the letters in a closed book didn’t get all  scrambled up together overnight...” And another preoccupation of mine: “Sometimes learning a fact is enough to make an entire series of corroborating details, previously unrecognised, fall into place;”. And yet another: “And then he was off on another tack, inveighing against the obsession for forewords,”. (14/11/11)

A Child in the Bush of Ghosts – Olympe Bhêly-Quénum

I could have called you but I preferred to follow you with my eyes, for we were moving along parallel lines.”

…which seems to symbolise the act of reading Weird Literature as a developing tantalisation intrinsic to my perceived gestalt of the stories in this book.  And the Weird ‘burr’ here is also given a new slant: “…the thorns no longer tore my cloth; everything slipped smoothly off me as it did off the skeleton.” This is a remarkable ‘walkabout’ story in the African bush about a youth’s initiation into experiences of death and sex, backdropped, at one point, by a potential zoo of African beasts.  And a skeleton crew as part of this rite-of-passage or journey that involves, inter alia, “a shinbone with a skull on top“. Also a chameleon a la ‘Mimic’. The story’s very last brief paragraph (pursuing the previous context) provides more wisdom than the whole of some formal religions put together. [It occurred to me today that this book’s double-column text on each page (that becomes increasingly for me exactly the right instinctive way to print and read this book) also symbolises its two editors working together, page-gestalt by page-gestalt. Just a thought.] (14/11/11 – another 2 hours later)

The Summer People – Shirley Jackson

“Never been summer people before, at the Lake after Labor Day.”

A repeated incantation like a spell from all quarters: nobody stays here beyond Labor day. Meanwhile, never step out of your comfort zone…and this is a story, accretively, subtly creepy, about an otherwise ordinary late middle-aged couple (with undutiful grown-up children elsewhere) who innocently dare decide to extend their regular holiday by the solitary lake (with just a few local people as supply chains), i.e forsaking their ordinariness, their definition as ‘summer people’, like those who vacationed upon the Danubian river earlier in this book, perhaps?  The battery-radio, the wall phone, the car, those previously unbroken supply chains or lines, all now disjointed contraptions of connected-line security seeming gradually to shut down…  A vacation towards vacancy. Now just store leaflets and apparently no mention of books to divert them or even of the book that once contained them safely in their comfort zone of narration…  Only an uncharacteristic letter from one of their children and the dying echoes of a lake reflecting something that may later become more important in the later context of this book.  This enjoyably provocative story is even more provocative in its not fitting in, i.e. not a story intended for ‘The WEIRD’ but something that has changed into a different character to avoid any entrapment otherwise by the book’s irresistibly and increasingly and relentlessly erstwhile burr-clinging gestalt. Not a summer story at all. (14/11/11 – another 2 hours later)

The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles – Margaret St. Clair

“The concern good Christian folk should feel for their soul’s welfare is a shadow, a figment, a nothing, compared to what the thoroughly heathen gnole feels for those eyes.”

i.e. a gnole’s auxiliary eyes, and this gives a telling slant upon what I wrote above today about having more wisdom than all formal religions put together! Equally, there are more liens, lines, ley-lines in this three page story than in the whole book put together so far. The book’s own conflated ‘Long Sheet’, perhaps, as then woven, wrung, tightened, separated out into various strands, torques, lengths, textures and qualities of tying connections together. This satirically funny story of a rope salesman with formula sales techniques is a tip of the hat to Lord Dunsany earlier: i.e. with, I infer, this Borgesian or Kingian self-referentiality of a tale tripping lightly off a gnole’s own “narrow ribbony tongue“.  [Also gives a new perspective upon my own regular ‘Tentacles Across the Atlantic’ articles in glossy old ‘Deathrealm’ in the 1990s!] (14 Nov 11 – another 45 minutes later)

The Hungry House – Robert Bloch

It is Autumn again and it is time “- to store the summer clothes, get them out of the way.”  Indeed, as I said, ‘The Summer People’ is not a Summer story but, beyond the ‘Labor Day’ pains of rebirth or, rather, redeath, it is yet another Autumn story. And now there is another ordinary couple within the Bloch here. On the first reflection, it seems to be merely a workman-like retributory ‘haunted house’ story, but in the context of this book (and, perhaps, eventually, of the story itself) it takes on a new wo‘man-in-a-bottle’, Sylvia Plath ‘Bell-Jar’ (cf Bellman) horror where ‘through the looking-glass’ becomes more than just a Dorian Gray phenomenon but rather a sort of cage like the previous metal boxes.  The story has a surface hiding the multifaceted diseased skin in the Leonora Carrington or the sexist “About looking into mirrors. Women did it all the time. Men were different.“, reminding me of the Donald A. Wollheim as well that story’s chameleon mimicry – the converging mirrors now as geometric focus of the Aleph or the Night Wire as ley-line – crowding in like the book’s earlier rubber-neckers at accidents. A tale of a poltergestalt.  But away from the story, now, I believe it was just another average ghost story. I’ve smashed all its tropes, you see, from my scrolling memory’s long sheet of glass in this book’s joined-up, double-reflected typesetting. But then I cannot escape thought of the tarn in the Hugh Walpole or the ‘reflective’ lake in the Shirley Jackson implicitly, even explicitly, returning at the end of ‘The Hungry House’ to drown (as melted mirrors?) any reader that the story finally captures within it. Self-evidently, by writing this, it seems I escaped – somehow. And I don’t mean that facetiously. “…belongings had been dragged and hauled and swept along in a haphazard fashion.” (15/11/11)

The Complete Gentleman – Amos Tutuola

“…the complete gentleman in the market reduced to a ‘SKULL’…”

An inexplicably enjoyable ‘fabulous’ pursuit of a pursuit (and vice versa) in the endless forest, also a retrocausal rationale for the nature of the way my real-time review started developing more absurdly (if still with due diligence) when in ‘The Hungry House’. If absurdity follows absurdity, the degree of each absurdity makes one of those absurdities unabsurd by comparison – but not until both absurdities are absorbed and weighed. A bit like a gestalt or aleph, each item to be bought or sold and weighed and stuck to each other like burrs, a ‘complete gentleman’ the same. The Screaming Skull connected – using a cowrie shell’s elongated rope-necklace – with the earlier skeleton crew in the African bush. A tale of severe transfigurations that is a disarming example of Weird Weird.  The first so far in this book. The compleat angler of jujus. “…humming with a terrible noise,…” (15/11/11 – another 3 hours later)

‘It’s a Good Life’ – Jerome Bixby

In faded letters it said Campbell’s Soup.”

This fascinating (new to me) story – about a kinetic-telepathic Anthony and the transfiguring (cf. the Tutuola) influence that he has on a small community and its margins after he was born among them – is given mutual synergy (or spiderous symbiosis) with the quote I gave above from ‘The Aleph’ (“…as a boy I would be astounded that the letters in a closed book didn’t get all scrambled up together overnight…”). It is quite a frightening tip-toe treading of a read in case one’s own world is similarly affected by reading about Anthony and his attitude to configurations by words.  Meanwhile, re Anthony’s pool in the countryside: cf: the pool in ‘Genius Loci’ and the later srednibutory tarn and summer lake… [Mention of ‘The Aleph’ reminds me that some readers of this review have contacted me privately wondering how I earlier recorded the year it was published when I have never read story-notes etc. before completing a real-time review. I admit I surreptitiously glanced at the book’s story-note to see how long the premonitory ‘technological ivory-tower’ I observed in ‘The Aleph’ had preceded the present day’s fruition of it.  Equally, here, I admit I have also glimpsed the year of the Bixby story to see if it preceded Andy Warhol’s painting of soup tins.] I think the Perry Como record birthday present should have been his ‘Catch a Falling Star’ rather than ‘You are my Sunshine’. Lollop. (15/11/11 – another 90 minutes later)

Mister Taylor – Augusto Monterroso

“A home without its corresponding head was seen as a failed home.”

…and, indeed, a story needs a head, too.  Some stories herein heretofore have single animated skulls, and now ‘Mister Taylor’ even steals the missing head from ‘The Shadowy Street’ as could have been predicted, if we’d known then that this later story was coming up in the book. Meanwhile, ‘Mister Taylor’ itself is a fable akin to Swift’s ‘Modest Proposal’ (with heads instead of babies), whereby a Weird colonialism hits an economics-of-scarce-resources head-on at the interface of Society’s High Fashion’s for shrunken ones from Latin America.  I personally have the largest human head I’ve ever seen in real life (seriously) and I don’t understand how heads can be shrunk with the skulls still inside. But every author needs a narrator or chief protagonist as head-carrier at the last resort of supply-and-demand.  But he still needs a reader to reach and then read the last paragraph. I laughed my head off. (15/11/11 – another 3 hours later)

Regarding ‘The Complete Gentleman’ and ‘Mister Taylor’: other examples – amid the current world economic storm – of Quantitative Easing followed by Physical (Fiscal) Tightening? (16/11/11)


All my many other real-time reviews are linked from HERE.


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3 responses to “The WEIRD (5)

  1. Wow. Very thorough reading of “The Weird”! But if ever a collection deserved it…

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