Tag Archives: glen hirshberg

My favourite books of 2012

sv4I have just sat in my thinking-dome and come up with my picks of books published in 2012 (in addition to THE LAST BALCONY and THE FIRST BOOK OF CLASSICAL HORROR STORIES and BUSY BLOOD!):

The Wind Through The Keyhole by Stephen King

Dadaoism – an anthology from Chômu Press

This Hermetic Legislature (an anthology from Ex Occidente Press)

The Ten Dictates of Alfred Tesseller by D.P. Watt

The Truth Spinner – Rhys Hughes

Celebrant – by Michael Cisco

Peel Back The Sky – Stephen Bacon

The Lighthouse – Alison Moore

Motherless Child – Glen Hirshberg

At Dusk – Mark Valentine

Numbered as Sand or the Stars – John Howard

Eyepennies – a novella by Mike O’Driscoll

The Aesthete Hagiographer – Derek John

The Screaming Book of Horror

PS: Two more in comment below.


Watch out for JANE by PF Jeffery in 2013 – that, as part of the ‘Warriors of Love’ series of twelve discrete novels, I predict will, sooner or later, become a best-seller of the highest objective quality, with definite cinematic potential.


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Motherless Child – Glen Hirshberg

This is the fourth of my post-real-time reviews – following the recent heart-breaking, but unburdening completion of four years of my real-time reviewing that included reviewing the wonderful books of Glen Hirshberg.

earthling publications – halloween 2012

I have read this book in two sittings: it held me fast. I knew it would be significant, having reviewed — I think — most of the previous published fiction of this author and deemed his work a major find in my long reading life. This book has indeed been significant for me, with many brilliant prose passages.

It is a vampire novel. I am not a vampire fiction fan. I am torn between this as a twilight world to which I can’t belong and this author’s two previous novels. It is the ambivalent take on race and horror and role-playing and simply life itself: philosophy as well as fiction, in many ways. The feisty, bloody life we live in whatever half-world we all live. Here the Mother has her own race. The race to defeat the onset of evil, including herself.

James McNeill Whistler. M.R. James. Beyoncé. The Archies.

The road movie audit-trail as a theme and variations on the author’s own story: Like Lick Em Sticks, Like Tina Fey – the abandonment of offspring love to fulfil not only one’s own destiny but also one’s autonomous body itself when shifted off-gear by SUCKING not FUCKING. Sucking up the reader as the horror upends even one’s own sense of admitted unsubtle dread. That over-big life bursting from the page. We’re our own where.  A “rote nostalgia“.

I think the author got in front of his empty page and wrote this phrase from the book first off: “…put the car in Drive and drove.”

This, for me, is not a Hirshbergian classic. That is ‘The Book of Bunk’ or ‘The Snowman’s Children’ or a few of any number of stories. This is an amid-life crisis. It is where you are made to meet the horror head-on. It will overdose you constructively or destructively, depending who you are. You will float up to it like a neutered alligator, I suspect.


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The Snowman’s Children – Glen Hirshberg

I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt. All my other real-time reviews, during the last three or four years, are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/

All my real-time reviews of Glen Hirshberg books: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2012/04/08/glen-hirshberg/

I purchased this novel as a customer from an Amazon trader.

The Snowman’s Children – by Glen Hirshberg

Carroll & Graf (first trade paperback 2003)

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.


Pages 1 to 15

“…the night the lions jumped over the zoo’s retaining wall and escaped.”

Shuttling between 1994 and 1976 a novel’s protagonist establishes the novel piecemeal with blurred intentions that the reader needs to fathom: about a group of kids in his past that seemd to be tutored by their parents in ‘Never Let Me Go’ party games: a threat’s shadow of the Snowman, and the protagonist’s own present wife at the end of a feisty telephone. All in a feisty literary-modern prose that knows how not to condescend to us. My initial impressions. Dragged in because it’s Hirshberg doing it, the Knowman. (15 Jul 12 – 3.40 pm bst)

Pages 17 to 33

“It was like looking through the moon at the rest of the earth.”

Sometimes we struggle with the opening of plots and we need a sat-nav or gps or ‘Accu-map’ to transcend 1985, say, with 1976, those childhoods, then those adolescent feelings-of-the-way, an iPad window (this screen) with a hand in it to say the plague has been here. The stalker who masquerades as a reader in the know. The scuzzie artist and other characters who amass to pattern one’s early growing life.  “…getting old is like becoming a lake.” (15 Jul 12 – 7.40 pm bst)

Pages 35 to 50

I mean, Jesus Christ, it’s your birthday, you’re in some motel room a thousand miles away babbling about things that happened ten–twenty  years ago, and you sound so small. You sound so small, Mattie.”

Mattie, our male protagonist, as small perhaps as a figure from a Canaletto painting, cross-sectioning 1976 to 1994 via 1989, a fragile, almost ‘lost’ man fragilely spinning his equally fragile relationships through the telephone-wires: to his banjo-playing wife and, then, his now after-life’s-storms parents in their porch-swing days … all skilfully over-shadowed by the Snowman who and which sounds more evil each time we ‘meet’ him and it, through these cross-sectionings, as a childkiller…), the GPS-type orientating of “long circle toward home” and “the wreckage of Motor City“: once the Detroit that housed the 1976 events, or so I infer, as a UK reader, a reader who meets a whiffle ball again in Hirshberg and the crafted ambiance of American baseball etc. The book itself has a sign of a corpse-hand somewhere stained on its pages to remind us that it was once pressed in there like a nature-study wild flower?  I almost imagine tiny cars the kids once drove as if they, too, were once born from a Canaletto painting? Dragged in screaming, now, I am. (16 Jul 12 – 11.20 am bst)

Pages 51 to 64

“…he saw the little wooden clown with the arm stuck out that showed how tall you had to be to get on,…”

…to get on the fairground ride and I feel I am on one when reading this book, a see-saw contraption between 1976 and 1994, as Mattie continues trial communications with his past and with his now (the people of the past now and the people of now itself), with his brother, as well as with his wife Laura again, via some taut wire between more than just childhood’s tin-cans: a ‘harnessed’ race against time? Childhood ice-skating now become an adult career (which seems significant in the light of the Snowman) and a school affected by 1970s colour-bussing (I infer) and other grown-up quarrels seen through a child’s eyes seen through that child’s now adult eyes… “‘From my house,’ Spencer whispered, ‘you can hear lions at night. I live by the zoo.'” (17 Jul 12 – 2.20 pm bst)

Pages 65 to 82

Now he’d been swarmed.”

…as if the reader is bombarded with a series of calliopes or see-saws of time: a book of bunk, a struwwelpeter, ice-cream signs, safety clowns, a dark carnival of prospecting for a past life amid the people who once peopled it, amid a threatening cloud of stings. Cold stings like all the bits of the Snowman now come loose? That’s me riffing on the Hirshberg griot. Political  incorrectness made an art form or a Toynbeean challenge-and-response. “Sidecarring” by reader and author. The past as “Mind War“. The “minimall” present as another past. This book’s like playing games in a wonderful fiction-reality fairground. Masks or hands. Emblems or embolisms. Grown-up children needing something placating or playacting. “…a new sadness slides through me like an ice floe.” (18 Jul 12 – 2.50 pm bst)

Pages 83 to 95

The brownie felt like someone’s hand, warm and dense and soft when you pressed it.”

One end of my ‘seesaw’ now rooted in 1976, as Halloween brings out memories from then into the future – of Theresa, one of those people who people the past as a child whom we are trying to discover in the present. Supremely archetypal Hirshberg in this chapter, with griot turned grimoire, as we try to fathom the racial recognitions of 1970s America (or at least this UK reader does). [I earlier quoted the brief mention of ‘lions in a zoo’ from this book’s first chapter  because of my synchronous long-term personal preoccupation with CERN Zoo and the Lion’s Den Syndrome so I am now pleased as well as intrigued by the retrocausal development of this theme…] (18 Jul 12 – 7.15 pm bst)

Pages 97 – 102

Our destination had been a bookstore called Iris, with giant pupils wearing spectacles painted on the door.”

[My own mother’s name being Iris, my recurring illness since 1973 Iritis (here in the book literally ‘stinging eyes’), and books my life-long passion], I am intrigued that my perceived ‘seesaw’ above actually describes the viewpoints of this narrative, see, saw, seen, will see, never saw, and standing by a playground contraption that you once saw at the beginning of this chapter now rooted in 1994 but now it is gone. Like the slippery people whom you can’t capture for some form of intended catharsis (as yet unclear), not yet captured on those taut wires between you, between you and your past, between a deeper past and your middle future. And the Snowman gradually crystallises and I shiver. An “idea bomb” become “splattering colors“.  All in the ambiance of a certain decayed Detroit “….none of my stories have endings.” (19 Jul 12 – 8.55 am bst)

Pages 103 – 132

The H told me this was a vision, maybe even an interesting one.”

Author as a drug? Not only for the reader’s veins, but the characters’, too. Author as drug and drag-artist, dragging me further in screaming, towards the Snowman syndrome which gradually comes clearer but not clear enough, until I want to “Let it go” (cf “Never Let Me Go” mentioned earlier in this review) like Spencer wants Mattie to let it all go  – Spencer being the person from the past Mattie finds (in his continuing search for Theresa who’d been 11 in 1976 and now presumably grounded, not only rooted, in 1994, as 33), Mattie finding Spencer in some sort of multi-piano ‘Busby Berkeley’-like gospel-singing preacher role – and spoons and lions and other objective-correlatives accrete… This is a major section of the book, I guess, a watershed of writing and us reading it, masterfully done, as we learn more of the characters involved and the inferred catharsis sought. The H as Hirshberg is a good sort of H. At the gospel session at the start of this section there is speaking in tongues. And then Spencer later tells of Theresa’s own version of that phenomenon in the form of lists. But I could go on with my own real-time lists. Ever-sidecarred along the narrative’s mind-stretching audit trail. “The zoo water-tower glows gray-white like a monument to the moon.” (20 Jul 12 – 1.20 pm bst)


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My reading-lifetime’s Hall of Fame

Image by Tony Lovell (2011)

My reading-lifetime’s Hall of Fame in no particular order:

Charles Dickens, Christopher Priest, AS Byatt, Enid Blyton, May Sinclair, HP Lovecraft, Barbara Vine, Reggie Oliver, Anita Brookner, WG Sebald, Jeremy Reed, Ian McEwan, Elizabeth Bowen, Stephen King, Oliver Onions, Marcel Proust, Salman Rushdie, Glen Hirshberg, Paul Auster, Mark Valentine, John Fowles, Edgar Allan Poe, John Cowper Powys, Lord Dunsany, Algernon Blackwood, Jack Vance, Philip K Dick, Jeff VanderMeer, Samuel R Delany, Anthony Burgess, Susanna Clarke, Rhys Hughes, Lawrence Durrell, MR James, Robert Aickman, Sarban, Ramsey Campbell, Thomas Ligotti, Tommaso Landolfi, Kazuo Ishiguro, Quentin S. Crisp.

This is a list including writers I once considered in my Hall of Fame but now rarely read, and new writers whose works I read quite a lot and have included in my Hall of Fame fairly recently and variations upon that, but all have been major reading experiences some time in my life.  Apologies to those I’ve inadvertently omitted because of my semi-Proustian memory.


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Glen Hirshberg


American Morons

The Two Sams

The Janus Tree and other stories

The Book of Bunk

The Snowman’s Children

Motherless Child


Infinity Dreams

The Ones Who Are Waving

Black Leg


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The Book of Bunk – by Glen Hirshberg

I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt. All my other real-time reviews, during the last three and half years, are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/

I purchased this novel today as a customer from Amazon UK and downloaded it in a Kindle format to my ipad.


The Book of Bunk – by Glen Hirshberg

Ash Tree Press Kindle : 2012 (first published in 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.


From “I didn’t hear the knocks” to “and swept him out.”

“Lewis. If you make me do this, I’m going to tell them about you.”

Two brothers, one a first person narrator (Paul), the other (Lewis) who – judging by this short-range time-slippage prologue/outset from 1938 to 1936 in Pennsylvania and Oklahoma (just geographical names to this UK reviewer) – becomes a Senator, following the rather unorthodoxly dealt-with death of their father with the help of blind Lamplighter (their father’s chum). All (after my recent greenhorn orgy of reading this author’s works) in a typically pungent Hirshbergian prose style of some imminent involvement with skilfully picked out genii loci upon the edge of …well, an uncivilly, irreally frayed edge of character and plot…  One thing seems certain, these brothers are not going to get on.  Never have. (3 Apr 12 – 1.45 pm bst)

From “All Three Senators” to “‘Night Time,’ she said.”

“My brother always took more chances than I did. Many more. But his were planned.

Another two year time-slippage, just a short notch further on? First, a sort of politically (fictionally?) retro-extrapolated late-nineteen-thirties Senatorial version of a sort of McCarthy Hearing (as I understand American history) where Paul is up before the Beak, but without anyone else knowing (other than he and his brother) that his brother Lewis is one of the Senators-in-sitting – and, then two years earlier, boxcar-hopping, with a tentative touching-base of a brotherly intervention from Lewis, but ending with Paul leaving his native Oklahoma for the first time: encountering thereon a Galsworthy reading woman called Grace who becomes a sort of life’s-tale confessional… This is a telling and possibly calculated ohm-resistor of fiction: an expression coined for something of which Hirshberg is, I’ve found, the master. (3 Apr 12 – 3.00 pm bst)

From “The train had been chugging” to “then went back to her writing.”

Also, just being near Lewis again was like … I don’t know. Like holding a pillow down on my own face.”

Paul’s journey with Grace railriding in tune with the ‘Railridershere (a story review I serendipitously carried out in the last few days between reviewing Hirshberg’s Two Sams and Janus Tree books) … and her “nigger” child in a blanket whose scream is equivalent to the described ‘moaning’ in the Janus Tree book.  The backstories and potential forward-stories accrete in this juddering journey, and I suspect that time’s cruel racisms as well as other conflicts are impending via or beyond (or in spite of) the calculative text’s and my own historically-imperfect brain’s resistance… (3 Apr 12 – 7.35 pm bst)

From “At dusk, the train” to “about my dad, I guess.”

“…grinning like a jack o’lantern.”

I feel like a sort of lamplighter for this book.  Gradually, my own patrol of its pages reveals a philosophy regarding the pros and cons of “ends justifying means” and “lose some, gain some”, in history as well as in the fictional specifics before us now: the railriding oral-exchanges  and written-down ones, regarding truth, lies, make-believe, make-believe-within-make-believe: possibly making one of those ‘make-believes’ true: a genuine case (the best yet?) of ‘the synchronised shards of random truth & fiction’: and the Lewis character thus emerges from what Paul tells Grace and there is something, too, even more needing my lamplighting from what Grace tells Paul about Patrol (the ‘nigger’ boy) and from what she writes down (as yet unread by me but partially read by Paul) about a fictional (?) character called Roth.  It’s almost like competing with other readers about who of us can jump directly through this book’s narrative ‘fire’ with safety and foolhardy aplomb. (NB: John Galsworthy died in 1933, the same year that Philip Roth was born). (4 Apr 12 – 12.45 pm bst)

From “Grace stayed quiet” to “have us both for breakfast.”

“Train tracks spoked away in all directions.”

Railriding now over, Grace arguably finds haven for The Patrol who wields “the blind and deaf kid’s wail” and, then, she and Paul meet ‘Mother’ in a stone house, wherefrom he is sent to Trampleton as part of a Writing Project which you need to read about for yourself to prevent me spoiling it for you first.  By brief arbitrary mention of Frankenstein, it also puts me in mind of the ‘Workshop of Filthy Creation’ (a direct quote by me from Mary Shelley’s book): but probably more an absurdist-leaning gazetteer of America that puts me in mind of a version of this type of publication told about in ‘Secret Europe’: a Europe of the mid-1930s etc, too (a book very recently real-time reviewed by me here) whereby Paul (and others) contribute their own form of ‘lamplighting’ or, rather, torchbearing the American tourists of the day…  The more I find myself reading this “Book of Bunk”, I am genuinely becoming confident that this novel is a long-lost 21st Century literary masterpiece to out-Auster Auster (and that’s a big compliment from me, one I fully mean). But, if so, not long-lost for long: as it seems to have been first published in 2010! “‘I’m not a writer.’ […] ‘How do you know?'” (4 Apr 12 – 2.10 pm bst)

From “Five minutes later, Grace” to “984 Lumberton.”

“The majestic, intertwined branches seemed to recombine in endless configurations, reminding me of hundreds of conjoined hands or the letters of an unfathomable alphabet scrawled across the sky.”

As well as Paul Auster, please factor in W.G. Sebald.  [Amazingly, just writing that sentence, I’ve realised that my favourite Sebald book is ‘Austerlitz’: an imaginative gazetteer in itself!] — Above all factor in Hirshberg himself into this book’s seemingly disciplined yet autonomous text.  Sometimes one is amazed at a coincidence: like the event as Paul left in the train towards Trampleton and saw someone he knew on the platform he was leaving… Then it dawns on you, with the help of the book’s own lamplighter, that it is quite explicable and not a coincidence at all. This is a lesson for Life from Fiction.  In Trampleton, Paul enters a cinematic world of elms and ‘coloreds’ on bikes.  And a triangulation of plot-coordinates that we hardly notice, if at all. Or so I guess. (4 Apr 12 – 3.10 pm bst)

From “I’d seen Lumberton” to “‘You get a lot of musicians here?’ I asked. / ‘They’re the only paying black folk traveling who ain’t running.'” 

“I heard sharp, irregular thwacks, as if someone were beating a pillow.”

I feel as if I’ve so far jumped through this book’s ‘fire’ with some safe aplomb and I can now sink back into the narrative as if into a well-earned hot bath.  The barbershop scene: the flirting with a new fore-ordained character as well as with seasoned  characters from one’s past via acceptable fiction-coincidences that do not stretch credulity too far.  All as if overheard by the Senators’ Hearing… like the Gods from the film of ‘Jason & The Argonauts’?  We are all our own retrocausal Gods, I guess. Especially Lewis. — Meanwhile, it is easy to take for granted Hirshberg’s striking turns of phrase, poetic conceits, subtle ‘objective correlatives’; so I don’t. “Wherever this led, I wasn’t the first to come this way.”  So, to keep on my competitive mettle as a reader, I deliberately savour each new conceit, each new ricochet of happenstance, each constructive stylistic transgression, each addition to the the seven types of ambiguity, for what each is.  But the whole writerly  project has  somehow made me relax a nonce, as I say. I’m sure, though, I’m to be re-stirred before too long, although part of me wants to continue relaxing. “The eggs were butter clouds that melted on my tongue, easily the best I’d ever had.” (4 Apr 12 – 7.35-ish pm bst)

From “He kicked open the kitchen door” to “He let me pass.”


This is strong soup, a Friend of the Writing Man, as we learn further of Paul’s sly self-flirtation via Melissa, but, above all, his life in Robert’s ‘digs’ along with the other strange guests, plus his ‘Struwwelpeter’-type concoctions of fabrication for his own writing project which Grace and Lewis paradoxically seem to oversee by turning a blind eye to it: a job that reminds me obliquely at least of that with the erstwhile Hirshbergian ‘Safety Clowns’: a sort of apartheid of a miscegenate Alzheimer’s of the 1930s thus fabricated internally by Paul (or Lewis?) as an external reality in our own world where we are reading the book. Potentially frightening for all of us who are at the receiving-end of these words.  But whose words, exactly? That’s the rub. A role-playing game called Diaspora (my expression, not the story’s)  for “coloreds” or “Black Jews” and Whites in non-“White Trampleton“: a picture show with “a monkey escaped from a rundown circus.”  Now Paul’s visiting the Sawmill – but not quite Twin Peaks? (5 Apr 12 – 3.15 pm bst)

From “I visited every day” to “‘Weird,’ Melissa said.”

Fairest overseer they’ve ever had here,”

Yes, you’re right … Lewis. Not only overseeing, as I predicted earlier, but all-seeing, almost omniscient, even omnipotent?  But with a suspicion of elite smugness?  Let me make it clear. Throughout my life, I have rarely enjoyed overtly didactic fiction. And there are didactic features to this novel as it seems to be unravelling with its world of three-letter acronymic organisations: i.e. polar balances of black and white, left and right, worker and boss, Christian or Jew or perceived or implied Witchdoctor or Irreligion itself (with Missionary implications for some about others):  politics, religion, labour relations, dependancy on ‘relief’ or not: all stemming from the ethos of the 1930s – but if this novel is intended to be didactic (and I am as yet unsure), it’s the first didactic novel I’ve ever enjoyed.  If not, then it is its own ‘relief’ or support to my apolitical essence, to my inability to have strong opinions … above all, to my view of fiction as its own cumulative religion: like Paul’s writing project itself, a ‘commonplace’ book of every detail of place, plot and people: and each detail possessing its own power.  Even a detail like a tiny shard of seeming irrelevance awaiting potential parthenogenesis as the ultimate aforementioned ‘polar balance’ of truth and untruth. Take the ending of this section: Paul’s spooning with Melissa, impinged upon, for me, by underlying hints of Twin Peaks and what happened to some of the young women amid the timber sawdust and “cicada-buzz” in that erstwhile Trampleton. “I saw half a dozen owls perched like gargoyles in the trees.” (5 Apr 12 – 7.00 pm bst)




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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: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/ (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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The Two Sams – Glen Hirshberg

I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews. An ebook I recently purchased via Amazon.

The Two Sams – Ghost Stories

by Glen Hirshberg

Cemetery Dance Publications 2011 (first published as a book: 2003)

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 real-time review of a Glen Hirshberg book: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/american-morons/

All my other real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/



“…and Peter had meant to light his cigarette, not the roll of toilet paper.”

Paars, Struwwelpeter, Andersz (something about those names gets me…like consonants and vowels rubbing each other up the wrong way … ) and I’ve always wanted to read a story about my ancient nursery rhyme friend Shock-Headed Peter.  And despite the real trick-or-treat scenario built up in a ‘genius loci’ town with Mountain, Sound and Lighthouse for haunting ambiance, the believably-characterised ‘young adults’ (is that what one calls them these days?), a grown-up in some playful collusion of a not totally inclusive scare-prank (despite Peter’s Dad, that grown up, being one of their teachers): an ostensible fabrication of a haunted house role-playing game: somehow the ingredients come together as if it is all happening in some ownerless memory-bank within my mind and make my own hair stand on end… explaining, obliquely, the accreting spate of single-handed massacres over my recent lifetime: a ‘young adult’ necessarily become grown up in the emotional war zone with which each foreign field of experience impinges the collective consciousness…while waiting for the long-haired Messiah or Illuminatus to ring the Dig Dug, Ding Dong Bell to pull us from the Well…?  “He was like a planet we visited, cold and rocky and probably lifeless, and we kept coming because it was all so strange, so different from what we knew.” (18 Mar 12 – 3.50 pm gmt)

Shipwreck Beach

“Rearrange the science-fiction section in reverse-alphabetical order.” — “Taking the drive was like traveling backward through evolution…”

Every now and then, I read a story and I know it’s something special. Not necessarily the crucial read of my 60+ years lifetime, but one of those twenty or so that jiggle for that position.  This is one of those.  If Elizabeth Bowen had written a story about a cousinly relationship in catharsis, this would be that story and its deep-structure style. (I can give it no greater compliment: and if you want a stunning experience – assuming you haven’t had it already – please sample the quotes from her work I have collected over time: linked from HERE). In a male-female feisty cousinly relationship (with the female as first person narrator) as well as (during one its time frames) in an environment of an island in what I assume to be Hawaii. Here we feel we are literally dashed or plunged into the scintillating, life-infusing sensations of this island’s very sea-water, coral, dolphins, anemones… We are taken back to darker days of the past, when a drunken road accident mars a whole life (I know one such life with someone I knew decades ago)…  And the lies breaking, like waves, around that catharsis of re-encounter: near Shipwreck Beach: that cousinly relationship swimming to a mysterious  ‘Lost’-type shipwreck-contraption just off this island: redolent with its own ‘ghost’ and that ghost’s ‘Sound’ (cf the previous story’s Sound) – and, earlier, the most incredibly memorable scene with a giant moth in that Bowenesque hotel: a Moth –> Mother? –> with the “…and I felt like a little girl” contiguous passage supporting that resonance of meaning… Can you tell I enjoyed this story (of almost novella size)? “…and there were near-consonants in it, soft r’s and y’s as though whatever it was had known language once and forgotten it.”  Forgotten, and here regained, I’d say: as you dive into this invigorating sea of bright and dark words alike. (19 Mar 12 – 1.55 pm gmt)

Mr. Dark’s Carnival

“His pajamas had zebras on them.”

This is a larger-than-life version of the scare-prank in ‘Struwwelpeter’ … as if a symbolic form of the over-sized moth in ‘Shipwreck Beach’ has now effectively given parthenogenetic birth inside my own private imaginarium by the magical means of a <<Maximum enjoyment requires concentration, the patience to allow for moments of electric, teasing agony a suspension of disbelief in your own boundaries>> form of ‘the synchronised shards of random truth and fiction’.  Mr. Dark’s Carnival is an extreme audience-participation in or audience-vulnerability to a whole town’s ‘theatre’ for Halloween: which we start piecing together in parallel with how the students are encouraged to do it earlier in the story by a slowly cumulative gestalt of jokingly-concocted and seriously-thought-to-be-real ‘primary sources’. A fabrication or not, this ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ experience is the most interesting case-study in ‘paradoxically-enjoyable-with-real-frights-experiences’ or in Contraptive Horror that I’ve ever encountered. “No one gets to go inside with the person they came with.” Above all, however, it is compelling fiction with further plunges into tactile experiences to compare with those earlier Hawaiian island ones I mentioned. But here it’s not sea-water… [There are also references to the zoo and the cage – and this story would have been perfect in the recent VanderMeer ‘The Weird’ gestalt and, retrocausally, I find myself hoping to escort this story that I have just read for the first time towards a situation where it will have been included by the time we get there!] “If this was a prank, or an imitation, it was the best yet. And if it wasn’t a prank…” (sic: ellipsis) (20 Mar 12 – 2.10 pm)

Dancing Men

She’d made me teach her how to say it right, grind the s and z and k together into that single, Slavic snarl of sound.”

This is a deeply poignant story that I need to read more than once. A real-time review, for me, has always been based on an initial reading of a whole book, even if I plan to read some of it again after finishing the review. So just on a single reading… Despite this having the background of the Holocaust, there is still an element of enforced prank (here by the protagonist’s father in taking him to see his grandfather): or rather a ritual performed; a type of reenactment-contraption that reveals the horrifying truth (as earlier in the contrivance haunted house or the ‘Lost’ shipwreck-mystery): a story, here with a skein of puppets as it were from a different Halloween*, a plot that is organically parallel to ‘Mr Dark’s Carnival’ in that it starts with the protagonist’s students and their attitude to him and then, later, his ‘ritual’, an ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ deliberate self-fright here in the form of a revisit to his heritage, the hinterland or backstory of his father and grandfather, and the necessary catharsis from a fabrication of ‘alive’ wooden effigies or an object like a dead bat-creature related to that earlier moth — all potential Golems that emblemise the experience of his grandfather in the war and the Polish concentration camps and the Wandering Jew that needs always to assuage a personal spiritual diaspora: and the final encounter with the ‘earth’s core’ of self through a cross-section of time and fate and blood-links and those Golems, all as retold to us as a story within a story where he is today travelling with his students among the Eastern European sites of those War-time cruelties. [Cf: The Golem used similarly in connection with the Holocaust, I recall, in Nina Allan’s story ‘Feet of Clay’ that I real-time reviewed HERE] *I’m sure ‘Halloween’ is mentioned in this story but I’ve lost it and there is no search facility with an ebook it seems! (20 Mar 12 – 9.25 pm gmt)

Afterthought:- the ‘whittling’ in “Dancing Men” equivalent to the gradually accreting gestalt of ‘primary sources’ in “Mr Dark’s Carnival”…? (21 Mar 12: 7.55 am gmt)

The Two Sams

“…walking through our apartment at night is like floating through a shipwreck.”

As unbearable as any reading of any story could possibly be, yet so fulfilling in itself as a discrete story, plus, in its context here, a combination of all sorts of other emotions as the coda or culmination (or both) to the whole book’s gestalt.  A haunting by lost children: because of some ever inexplicable process of them never really becoming discrete children beyond the mother. The ‘mother’, here, is a teacher; like so much in this book is self-taught by teaching others as part of the organic pattern.  The ‘father’: someone who struggles to come to terms with the hauntings that he senses: and their concomitant pain of hope and hopelessness: surrounded by objects (like so much of this book) that are (similar to TS Eliot’s) ‘objective correlatives’: the Pinnochio clock, the lighthouse, the pumpkin face of the drawers, the glasses-prepared eyesight for nothing to be missed even in a deperate hope against hope of retrieving something as consolation, the cheese/dairy craving that usually accompanies pregnancy but here accompanies its sad aftermath for both parents, fog as ghost-tide, the Holocaust Museum (betokening some oblique connection between womb and Hansel and Gretel’s oven), the grandfather / cousin recurrences towards the end of this story, the lint balls, the ‘visit to the dentist’ (I was actually in a dentist waiting-room today when reading that passage on my ipad), the childishly touching Girards /Giraffes confusion, the tests of underlying conditions re future child-bearing chances (the fragility of physicality where bodily tunnels or corridors can be as easily impregnated as haunted house ones are, I guess) — but, for me, the possum as the ‘objective correlative’ above all such objects: that bat-creature again, the book’s earlier moth: that mother – which was an untutored prediction a few days ago in this review that I had no idea then would bear so much ‘fruit’ here – ironically and without wishing to offend anyone who finds even more sorrow in this story than I do (which I doubt). Fruit that is eventually preserved for sad sickly pickling? And this book’s earlier Carnival (literally)  thumbs floating in the blood-soup that then ties up this ending with such utter sadness: thumbs that once a baby may have sucked as comforters given its future ability to do so. A ghost-tide, indeed, is the best we could have hoped. [Suggested further reading of another fine ghost story that is along this theme: ‘Fragment of Life’ by Gary Fry which I real-time reviewed as its editor’s running commentary here]. “Do we literally dream our children?” I think, without question, I would not have believed a book like this could have existed unless I dreamed it.  I wonder how many books like this by countless authors stuttered with a clash of inconsonance between cup and lip and then only existed as a Platonic Form of itself? But this book does exist.  Here for me electronically, a ghost? Has always existed – or at least since 2003, it seems! A book with a rollercoaster audit-trail: with bumps and invigorating dips, haunted house sections and shipwrecked scenarios through which our-foolhardy-belief-in-our-‘invulnerable’-carriage can journey, with pangs and sorrows, rites and tribulations, a paradoxically uplifting engagement with the world’s dark history as well as with personal tragedy past or present and (if neither) future — eventually a coherence of insidiously or openly implanted leitmotifs reaching what I consider to be the literary gestalt: a contraption or scaffold of words that we can all clamber for its views, views spiritual or mundane – and then dare reach beneath its foundations to see how sturdy it is … or how fragile.  How real  or how contrived.  Only ghost stories of this quality can manage to build such a House of Haunts: to provide us that tension of the possible and the impossible. Genuine scare or well-intentioned prank. Darkness or light at the end of the next tunnel…

[As is usual with all my real-time reviews for the last three and half years, I shall now read the book’s introduction or other non-fiction material for the first time. But I will not be back here to review it. (I notice it is by Ramsey Campbell in this book and I’m sure it will additionally give me valuable food for thought.)]

END (21 Mar 12: 2.55 pm gmt)


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American Morons

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 & received two days ago.

American Morons – Stories by Glen Hirshberg

Earthling Publications 2006

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 other real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/ (22 Feb 12)


American Morons

“‘Howler monkeys?’ Kellen said softly to Jamie. ‘What the hell is that?'”

This first story seems poignantly appropriate to be read for the first time on the very day that Marie Colvin – a well-respected American journalist – has been tragically killed in Homs, Syria. This real-time thought of mine seems to disguise my otherwise lack of understanding of a short fiction that I feel sure will be eventually memorable or haunting: one where an American couple’s car in Rome is fuel-jacked on a toll-highway (reminding me obliquely of the opening of ‘1Q84’) with the sounds of screams or squawking birds just over the brow of the road: a pavane for a dead pavone…?  There is much sinister going on  (Twain’s ‘Innocents Abroad’?) and those Italians who come to ‘help’ them seem nightmare-driven or, at best, confused – but my own brain has also been fuel-jacked….and I hope hindsight will eventually do justice to this promising start of the book. (22 Feb 12 – 6.25 pm gmt)

Like a Lily in a Flood

“…one of those tiny roadside New Hampshire cemeteries that house at least one dead soldier from the Revoutionary War and three or four infants, with tree roots enfolding their graves like mothers’ arms.”

A sterile man – into his second marriage – revisits alone the area where his parents died: and the tangibility and handleability of ‘crammed’ books (so retrospectively telling in this coming day of nothing but the ebook, a great disappointment, in utero) – as his Hostess trawls over local and family history – and recites an old third party narration from among the books about forebearish events that become increasingly closer to this narration’s heart. I am, myself, here in the UK, one of those aforementioned Innocents Abroad as far as the high- and by-ways of this book is concerned, especially regarding my very scanty knowledge of the history of America, but a word I have often used in my real-time reviews and in my own theory of literature: ‘eschatology’: here implicitly comes home to roost like one of those birds now untrapped from beside the modern highway.  And although, as I speak, I am still finding my way within the solid covers of this book, I feel already confident that it will not present a similar ‘great disappointment’ in itself. The style is richly literary, the tone modern genre.  Crossing or, rather, straddling some missing-link of textured truth… We shall see. (22 Feb 12 – two hours later)

Flowers in Their Bridles, Hooves in the Air

“…SUVs skimming the streets like incoming seagulls and squawking at each other over parking places,…”

This is a wonderful story, one that I feel due to remember forever.  It was backing a winner for me straightway, since it makes a striking job of conveying the ambiance of a sea resort complex (one upon the strangely permanent downward or out-of-season path) – equivalent, I sense, to a similar place here in the UK where I have lived for many years myself.  The post-youthful relationships with one’s peers and with one’s dead forebears (cf: the previous story). And the edges of emotions, of characters, of motives – not in your face – but hinted at – emerge all the stronger. In parallel with the ‘edge’ of smog. The ‘edge’, too, of life’s ‘great disappointment’.  The rich poignancy of a disused carousel. Beautiful turns of phrase.  And there is something incredibly sad about a ‘change dispenser’ man in an amusement arcade carrying far too much change for the number of likely customers. And, as well, there are all the walk-on-part ‘characters’, sketched so evocatively, that tend to haunt such places. Or haunt for real.  Making this essentially a ghost story of marked accomplishment. And what I call ‘line-hawling’ (plus a number) of the obsessive pinball wizards – and ‘line hawling’ of the fishermen etched against the sky’s rim: fishing within or close to a ‘Rooffed’-hat of a pier.  And then the story’s coda: not a disappointment in itself because it ‘creates’ disappointment so convincingly. A blend of all our life’s disappointments.  “Are there such things as blue raspberries?” (23 Feb 12 – 2.10 pm gmt)

Safety Clowns

“…we were juddering over a dirt road a bit narrower than the van, crushing bird-of-paradise stalks on either side…”

A morality tale, an amorality confessional, an immorality diaspora, where one needs to keep in mind the happiness one can best sow: viz. ice cream or ice cream, “a non sequitur or a nickname“, cockroach or fold-up conscience-clown… This is the stunning story of Max  or ‘Big Screen’ as he becomes to be known, recently orphaned of his last forebear – when, starting a new job training with a team-building fleet of ice-cream vans and their in-built cartilaginous novelty ratchet-clowns who I see acting as traffic lollipop men for the mivvi-seeking kids and other customers: a fleet that leaves the ice-cream depot en masse with their cargo of frozen and unfrozen goodies in various formats like, for me, holiday coaches leaving their feeder-base at the same time for various parts of the continent with me and you and them and us on board  the appropriate coach for the holiday destination we booked for: ready to be made happy (I’ve experienced this often).   Not line-hawling this time, but line-crossing. I loved it, although, like with most holidays, bad things often stay with you more than good. The images and characters (even when stunted) will linger with me: yet essentially glad that I chose this destination-coach, this ice-cream van, this fiction, to dangerous, dubious parts: cantilevered neighbourhood-watches, ghosts and all. (24 Feb 12 1.15 pm gmt)

Devil’s Smile

“…beset by gulls that swept out of the moonlight all together, by the hundreds, as though storming the mainland. Amalia had pitched stones at them, laughing as they shrieked…”

A 19th century shipwreck scenario: Poesque (perhaps Hodgsonian) in rescue-masted extremity even while glimpsing the storybook-sun’s eponymous smile through storm clouds — Hirshbergian, I sense, here, with another eschatology, this time a Catholic confessional one … echoing the feminine “(Like a Lily) in a Flood” inner-narration with this feminine lighthouse-keeper’s inner-tale here. The sea contains its own violently gulping motive-force “playing at recklessness” or with deep meaningful intent – as the feeder-town to the Lighthouse dies like that community surrounding the erstwhile (narrator’s soggy?) Rooff-hatted pier…. and the “Sand convent” of Ligottian (?) dolls as nuns that the lighthouse-keeper collects.  These are synergistically, satisfyingly, obliquely tantalising ingredients to the rite-of-repassage of the story’s head-lease narrator (a Lighthouse inspector from the local area who hears the lighthouse-keeper’s inner-narration): surely a great literally chilling ghost story that I should have read before. Like I should have read this author’s work before.  Never too late, even at my age. (24 Feb 12 – two hours later)

Perhaps I meant Vernesque rather than Poesque above? (24 Feb 12 – another hour later)


Even up here, the din bored into their ears, and not only their ears. Ferdinand could feel it drilling into the corners of his eyes, and the top of his skull and the cartilage of his rib cage. / And then there was the exhaust, which he half-believed he could see rippling in the air at the bottom of the escalator. It didn’t exactly float, any more than smog on the horizon did.

I now feel ordained to have finished my real-time review of the previous story on an upbeat note referring to my current retirement age, all the more now to descend into the utter poignant power of this story: to enter the Transitway. I don’t know if such a place exists in Los Angeles, but judging from this story its existence is stronger by the minute as two friends – just retired from teaching on the same day – celebrate their ‘freedom’ by deciding on a day’s “playing at recklessness” from the previous story; they wilfully absorb, I sense, all the bad ‘smog’ of modern life: whence their loved ones have vanished or are due, like me, to be ordained to vanish – or fade rather than vanish if one doesn’t say: Bring it on. I can’t do justice to this story. It is a dual bonhomie’s high-fiving followed by each of them somehow embracing this book’s erstwhile “great disappointment” – flooding life’s plate with tabasco sauce or wielding the wiffle bat (whatever that is!). I feel like a better person, having just read this story. Read at the optimum moment, for me. (24 Feb 12 – another 3 hours later) 

The Muldoon

Balding carpet, yellow-white where the butterfly light barely touched it.”

Many of the previous stories have their own built-in codas; this, for me, is the whole book’s coda. Taking me (whatever rituals I might enact religious, fictional-religious or otherwise) beyond that ‘optimum moment’ which I mentioned above yesterday: taking me into the inevitable ‘great disappointment’ that is life after where I am now today at the age of 64. Yet, yet, yet this story is an effectively chilling ghost story involving children breaching some mock-Narnian nightmare of real genealogical spite and ‘beyond-old-ageness’: surely another classic I’ve discovered by reading this book, seeming to bolster as well as deflate…and, the more I think about it, I’m sure that facing one’s own dark rooms of mixed-motive forgetting – amid the tuk, tuk, tuk of life’s great clock and the supposed venting of air-conditioned links between darkness and light – one prepares oneself all the stronger for what one is about to face in one’s personal life, before long.  And, for me, that final ‘Last Balcony’ and its sock-ball game of eschatological absurdism amd mis-faith. 

I shall now read the end story-notes for the first time; but, in tune with my life-long interest in the literary theory of the ‘Intentional Fallacy’ (a sort of fallacy so relevant to this book’s fiction in itself), I will surely remain pleased that I did not read these notes beforehand, whatever new food-for-thought they may now provide of hope or despair. (25 Feb 12 – 9.00 am gmt)

[This book has recently been re-issued as an ebook by Ash Tree Press.]



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