The WEIRD (7)

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.

The Ghoulbird – Claude Seignolle

Everywhere, as far as the eye could see, marshes, ponds and lakes glistened in the full moonlight and appeared to join and mingle into infinite lacings of water on dark earth.”

The willow pond, the tarn, the summer lake and others all conspiring to make the wide aquatic / marshy / muddy view from the visitor’s non-aquatic attic bedroom, a visitor to this book as well as to the story’s fictional establishment by the edge of this Gobble-Ox landwaterscape, hosted by some academic with an obsessive collection (or “domestic zoo”) of rare stuffed Fowles and other Avians – in a scholarly M.R.-Jamesian conviviality – and Moorish servant – and tale of the Ghoulbird that purports to have this book’s mimicry and ease of chameleon transfiguration. We are slowly homing in on this book’s focussed portmanteau of a definition of ‘Weird’ unless it takes new directions later (I estimate I’m now about a third of the way through it*).  Sleep-sickness as somnambulism. This story ends strangely with the I-Narrator referring to his state at the end which would make narrating such a description of himself impossible unless the reader is having to fill in for the Narrator bearing in mind the eponymous nature of the story itself. Humorous and weird with civilised behaviour transcending any sloughs. A sort of ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ of narration and reading. (18/11/11 – another 90 minutes later)

*{Burrs, Todashes, Zoos or other collections of beasts etc, Willows, lakes big and small but never puddly, chameleons slight to severe, living bodiless skulls etc and skeletons, chimneys / roof creatures, glass / mirrors, disjointed codes, sameness-of-places-making-travel-a-chore, spiderous symbioses, crowds of things peopling pits and things, ropes /vines / lines / audit trails, and other forgotten things  — all to be known as the Third of the Way Through Report proposing a tentative gestalt concerning imagination-configurers called Reva-Menders for a bad world to be made good. Many astounding stories new to me, and the familiar ones, all worth re-reading in my current maturity. Can’t be bad. (Something more though. Poignancy. An awareness of the human condition today from the past.  A traction of susceptibility. An Alephantiasis.  Larger than life. )} (18/11/11 – another 20 minutes later)

The Sea Was Wet as Wet Could Be – Gahan Wilson

And then she stopped and kissed me. Kissed me very gently and I could feel the dry, chapped surface of her lips and the faint warmth of her lips.”

The hardening mineral crust through a looking-glass. (18/11/11 – another 2 hours later)


Don’t Look Now – Daphne du Maurier

“There was something uncanny about thoughtreading,…”

At first I misread that as a conflation of thought-treading – and I said to myself: Brilliant! Encapsulates everything. But never mind, this story – that I’m sure I read many years ago (its memory later spoilt by having watched the film of it) – remains probably one of the very greatest page-turning thrilling semi-weird stories anyone is ever likely to read. It concerns, more than once, the enormous weight (alephantiasis?) of a single glimpse. More than one single glimpse, I mean. The backdrop of sadness of a child’s recent death as its bereaved parents take a break in a beautifully conveyed Venice.  Full of the relentless anxiety of coming and going, and repulsion / atttraction of Venice (as also shown by my favourite film ever – Dirk Bogarde in ‘Death in Venice’) – and much much more.  The ending. The journey taken to get there. And the journey that has yet to take place as a result of a new bereavement.  This is surely the ultimate story of the ‘sameness-of-places-making all-travel-a-chore’ theme shattered by the crowding-in pervasion of coincidences (spiritualist and mundane) — i.e. the book’s earlier coincidence of a ‘spiderous symbiosis’ between just two entities or, now, between a busy world of random passers-by and a select group of unrandom loved ones near and far. The ultimate rubber-necker destiny that unwinds from a myriad of fictions in the shape of a single story’s final plot twist.  “…excitement that only a holiday bedroom brings. This is ours for the moment, but no more. While we are in it we bring it life. When we have gone it no longer exists, it fades into anonymity.” — “The pallid sauce dissolved, revealing two enormous slices, rounds, of what appeared to be boiled pork,…” — “There was a pleasant anonymity sitting down at a corner table alone in the little restaurant, ordering vitello alla Marsala and half a bottle of Merlot.” [And a plate of oysters? That last quote, incidentally, was also quoted in ‘Nemonymous Five’ (2005) at the suggestion of Margaret B. Simon. Meanwhile, summoning, by seance, Alice from the looking glass, the twin sisters expect to ‘glimpse’ her leaping from gondola to gondola.  They are the Walrus and the Carpenter in drag.] (18/11/11 – another 3 hours later)

[Reva = The gestalt or aleph of Revaluation or revamp of dreaming( rêve), revelation, revolution, revanche or retribution, revery / revary-revarnish: i.e, where necessary, a single glimpse of our dreams revalued, pursued, revved-up, reversed, unreversed, Proustianised, spiritualised, unspiritualised, optimised, fictionalised, unfictionalised, fished from the clinging Jungian aether, perhaps even constructively riven then repaired along with ‘The WEIRD’.] (19/11/11)

The Hospice – Robert Aickman

“…it was as if most of these people had been with one another for a long time, during which things to talk about might have run out, and possibly with little opportunity for renewal through fresh experience.”

I am utterly delighted to re-read, re-value this ultimate classic of weird literature in the context of ‘The WEIRD’ and of my own late middle age / accreting old age.  It is of a male protagonist in an era without King’s FD,NS sat-nav / gps contraption sent on a short cut and arrives at this private hotel (with petrol low in his car’s tank from having become lost) – (and no mobile contraption or even a phone in the ‘hotel’) – (and contraptions inadvertently unmentioned in my Third of the Way report above) – now faced with a claustrophobic concupiscence between the sexes, strikingly heavy meals (unexpectedly exaggerated but typified by the picture of spam soup earlier above), shapes in the night – but, earlier, anxiety sitting in the restaurant like a fish out of water (cf Dirk Bogarde in ‘Death in Venice’ hotel restaurant) and a sense of people of my general time-of-life  in “God’s waiting-room”: the common nickname for the area where I live. There is a pub nearby where people of my age regularly eat – a large steaming roast dinner a day. Not that I go there very often, myself, but when I do it is teeming with people I recognise from when I went there before – except for those accretingly absent…  An Age of Anxiety. The story’s weird unsettling grows artfully. The dust settling grew on this story, until I exhumed it today thanks to this book. It is a “bad dream“, true, but it is also the best thing since sliced bread. “‘…I have seldom seen a more gorgeous dress.’ / ‘Yes,’ she replied with simple gravity. ‘It comes from Rome. Would you like to touch it?‘” (19/11/11 – three hours later)

It Only Comes Out at Night – Dennis Etchison

“Slowly he swept the tuner across the bandwidth, but there was only white noise.”

or black static?  Artfully smooth and staccato, this prose evokes definitively a new world or ‘(un)sameness-of-place’ for a UK reader like me, i.e. an American landscape where distances are so vast not even sleep or death or dream can cover them. Even when this story was presumably written, time was already a non-stop 24 hour journey and night was possibly the only comfort-zone of travel, as cars crossed the moth-ridden ‘desert’ (where even the latest hunted relation of Gaddafi is hunted down in his hood a million miles from Libya) – with motels just a distant glimmer of hope beyond ‘rest places’, i.e. just a couple of relief ‘rest-rooms’ and sufficient space to wait out a driver’s baking tiredness between motels for many parked, dust-settled cars.  And this driver, with his woman, he knows, snoozing in the backseat, finds the irresistible ‘comfort stop’ or resting-place for cars and their ‘passengers’. No spoiler ending from this review, however. Meanwhile, earlier, a “hot loaf” of a wheel-tire – and, in contrast to this book’s earlier Todashes, the protagonist experiences a personal in-body, rather than external, Todash: “Now he was able to recognize the ringing in his ears for what it was: the sound of his own blood. It almost succeeded in replacing the steady drone of the car.” (20/11/11)

The Etchison – cf: The Hospice – another elongated car journey and the changing of one’s ‘room’ companion…? (20/11/11 – thirty minutes later)

The Psychologist Who Wouldn’t Do Awful Things to Rats – James Tiptree, Jr.

“But it is not about parking space.”

I shall need, I think, to let this visionary alephantiasis percolate after this my first reading of it.  If you were upset by Maybury lashing out at a pussy cat in ‘The Hospice’, then the animal experiments described in this supposed non-zoo of a laboratory will surely kick ass, any irony or imputed moral notwithstanding.  A convulsive visionary ‘Modest Proposal’ that seems to give meaning to my gestalt approach to this book – in a big way – even touching on Holocaust matters that in turn touch on the earlier Beaumont story.  A Cartesian “Neophobia“. The “Rat King” of all gestalts. “Yet he too believes in ‘the organism’, believes in the miraculous wiring diagram of life; he is naively impressed by the complexity, the intricate interrelated delicacies of living matter […] But what holistic means are there? Probably none, he tells himself firmly. Grow up.”  Wow! [Cf: The economic dys-alephantiasis and civil war world today?] (20/11/11 – another 3 hours later)

The Beak Doctor – Eric Basso

Pages 487 – 501: “A labyrinth of pipes runs beneath the city in old blueprints – “

Imagine the almost endless ‘sweep-shot’ of the Dunkirk madness in the film ‘Atonement’ – here densely textured, bememorised, TS Eliot blended with Dickens, a cruelly fog-masked synaesthetica of a journey over variegated surfaces and amid befogged characters towards an inconclusive ‘Roundhouse’, a bookful journey by the I-Narrator doctor (interspersed, say, with a cat’s journey (Maybury’s cat?)), a stumbling rite-of-passage through a modern (post-holocaust?) world become Dickensian again as transcended by a discrete imagination that is granted you by the author as your imagination  – but, sorry, though, as I said before, I’m pigging, personally pigging, pigging on each of this book’s discovery after discovery: and this one is so utterly hypnotic with its crazy-yet-meaningful relentlessness that makes it so difficult for anyone to convey to you exactly the unique experience on offer in this particular story.  Hence this my breather at page 501….”a twisted vine with fuzzy purple leaves,…” — “…groping my way through lianas of balloon rigging…” — “A map, framed under a sheet of glass, the only serviceable mirror.” (cf. The Harrow and the Hungry House) — “reinventor of aliases” — “Part of a woman’s skull they used as a basin…” — and ‘La Valse’ by Ravel that brings me to a sort of homing-pigeon halfway house at this halfway point in both the book and the Basso story co-incidently (a piece of music I heard today because it was played this very morning on BBC Radio 3 (check the playlist, if you don’t believe me)).  “Through my goggles the dim city came and went in macroscopic vignettes.” (20/11/11 – another 2 hours later)

Pages 501 – 517: “Symmetries intermesh so delicately that a breath might blow them out of shape or cause an unmendable tear.”

And what I said  above about the previous pages – and more!
– but now a step change from the ‘sweep-shot’ to the narrator’s roundhouse destination – a type of Kafkaesque hospital that has a dome (emerging from the soot concept in ‘The White Wyrak’?)  – and, gradually, the reader is forming a plot gestalt from within this whole story about the story itself – an inner gestalt that would perhaps be a spoiler to divulge as that would probably disallow you to go through the same piecemeal productive process as I have just done – but do think Kubin [and ‘Nemonymous Night’]!
Plus various characters: an antiquarian bookman, a prankster (me? or am I the projectionist in the balcony at the end?), the manager in a cage (one of the book’s Reva-Menders?), a registrar, a billiards match, a pantomime, ‘flirtation’ in a Narnian wardrobe (a ‘faun’ is mentioned later), a carpet – and so it goes on… Judge for yourself. I am happy that I have cracked this challenging masterpiece of gestaltable absurdity. “Nothing, at the brink of death, but this coarse-grained shroud of dust sinking through the floorboards, down through the stippled ceiling to the last staircase, and into the bowels of the earth.”  And “shreds of other shadowy streets.” (20/11/11 – another 2 hours later)


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


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2 responses to “The WEIRD (7)

  1. Pingback: Reva-Menders | THE HAWLER:

  2. Pingback: This Week: Dark Reverie, Strange Beauty, Visionary Transformation | Weird Fiction Review

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