The Janus Tree and other stories

I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt. A hardback book I recently purchased via Amazon UK & received today.

The Janus Tree and other stories – by Glen Hirshberg

Subterranean Press 2011

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.

My previous reviews of work by Glen Hirshberg: American Morons and The Two Sams

All my other real-time reviews are linked from here: (24 Mar 12)


Part One – Longer Stories

The Janus Tree

“Robert just seemed to have this bubble around him. Aura, he might have called it. Or level three shield or something.”

A skilfully cumulative portrayal of a declining mining community in Montana: and of the years passing through the young people as if upon dice-throws from one of their then fashionable role-playing games… bullying, sexual awakening, raw feelings, and, as an aside, another Whitney, Whitney Drum here, used and besmirched: while the main protagonist, Ted, is faced with someone who seems to have a real power rather than a Star Wars assumed power, Matt Janus, and his father who has himself been besmirched by too easy powers with a hint of the occult: plus a strikingly Dickensian-like teacher who provides one of the story’s powerfully oblique leitmotif-objects doubling as live creatures: his ‘gas’ mask he wears for health reasons: lika a hissing snake; and the ‘thing’ that Ted saw on a rock doubling as a replica of a mining tool.  There is High Noon between Ted and Matt where Ted senses he is tantamount to a Suicide Bomber (my words, not the story’s) leaning towards the plot’s stunning ‘dying fall’…  The immaculately textured prose style makes some of the wild things seem so real or ordinary, and makes some of the ordinary things in turn tantalisingly wild, until one wonders if there is no barrier between the words-on-paper and the real you, as well as between the dice-thrower and the adopted part you play for real.  Put your hand in this “anemone’s mouth” at your peril, I suggest. Or don “the skin of the lion of Nemea.” (24 Mar 12 – 3.20 pm gmt)

I Am Coming To Live in Your Mouth

We’ve been coming here a month. I’ve never seen anyone fight like you do.”

An enormously powerful treatment of terminal illness, as Kagome and others care  for Joe who has for many years been riding the hoped-for remissions towards an inevitable riddling death: a sense of crossword and other word puzzles or computer games as part of the tumours’ horrendous ‘riddling’ of his body, too, perhaps.  I don’t want to give the impression however that this story is not an entirely serious nocturne of pain, despite there being, just as one example, a retrocausal form of the ‘Constantinople/ It’ joke together with the weaknesses of the carers (Joe’s wife Kagome, mother, cat, Hospice workers who visit and friend Ryan (and his strangely apt connection with playing a”ukulele” and as a useful Scrabble word)) — their weaknesses and strengths. “But why did Americans always focus on the death part? What else did they imagine angels were for?”  And the central image of fighting back against cancer is here portrayed as a ghost or role-play character of haunting shuddering strength… we are never sure, and I’m not going to spoil things by trying to make things clearer in this ‘review’.  Suffice to say, this is yet another Hirshberg fiction that has affected me deeply. Truly deeply. And Kagome: OK, Game?  We’re never sure how far we can go in such circumstances.  Or let go. “…then froze as the START NEW GAME? message appeared.” (25 Mar 12 (today being my father’s birthday – who died of MND in 2007 after a long battle): 10.55 am BST, i.e. now no longer GMT)

You Become the Neighborhood

I sigh, roll my head back on my neck to watch the ribbons of orange run the rim of the sky…”

I can’t really take in how many winners relentlessly keep on coming – with whole bookfuls of one author newly crammed (for me) with foreseeably well-seasoned classics!  This one is a Proustian-type narrative of a dialogue between mother and daughter: returned to where they used to live years before, the daughter then a child, now a thirty-something who is about to rent an apartment here with her Danny.  But if Proustian, what or who is this story’s equivalent petite Madeleine cake dunked in tea?:- ostensibly the turtle whose longevity out-Prousts Proust; or one of the old neighbours who I early on predicted still lives here but now an origami shadow of her earlier self, i.e. tantamount to a living  human Proustian ‘objective correlative’; or the memories themselves not returning ‘bodily’ like the petite Madeleine does in Proust but like a living ‘neighborhood’ of ghosts paradoxically more tangible than even my use of the word ‘bodily’ might portend:- spiders, possums, a pink Jag, Leyton Busby (cf: Leighton Buzzard!?), Busby’s “ukulele“; or, above all, the ultimate Platonic Form of Moaning in the whole of literature I guess!  A neighborhood like “New York without the Trade Centers“.  The page-turning suspense as one reaches the ending’s memorable plot-crystallisation of all Proustianising in this story heretofore is something I won’t easily forget because, you see, I  have the book itself: with it all in.  A real book.  (A story that is bleakly humorous, grotesquely striking, memory-philosophising, finally, in its last sentence, fulfilling in a very real and explicit sense: a bit Tennessee Williams, a bit Harold Pinter, a bit Robert Aickman, a bit Ivy Compton-Burnett, a bit Edna the Inebriate Woman but without the booze, but mostly Hirshberg.  And, oh yes, a mere sip of Proust.) (Afterthought:- and the ‘memory’ of terminal Stan being looked after as Joe is looked after in the previous story does resonate with the ‘ghost’ there?) (25 Mar 12 – 1.25 pm bst)




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3 responses to “The Janus Tree and other stories

  1. Pingback: The Book of Bunk – by Glen Hirshberg | The Nemonicon

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