Editorial: Hello everyone. I'm pleased to announce that the latest Dark Lane Anthology, edited by Tim Jeffreys and featuring my uncanny tale, 'No-One Driving,' is out now. Here's Tim's official notice:
"Just to let you know, Volume 8 is now available for Kindle on Amazon.
The paperback is only available from Lulu at the moment, but it will be on Amazon within 1-2 weeks.
I also have three new reviews for you. November should see the next Pan Review of the Arts with a couple of interesting Q & As' alongside a couple more interesting new titles. Enjoy...
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Sing Your Sadness Deep by Laura Mauro, Undertow Publications / Masterworks by Simon Jacobs, Instar Books / Pareidolia, Edited by James Everington & Dan Howarth, Black Shuck Books
Mauro’s debut collection follows on from her Dark Minds Press novella, shortlisted last year for a British Fantasy Award, Naming the Bones (2017). Impressive it is too, showing an accomplishment and a humane warmth rarely associated with the uncanny. On this evidence, it is enviable that she only wrote her first tale in 2012.
'Obsidian' is the first of two real gems as an older sister strives to retain care for her younger who is epileptic and possibly autistic. One of the latter’s rituals is to submerge herself beneath the ice of the local lake in the belief she is being called by its aquatic denizen of amoral intent. The jeopardy the elder sister experiences is particularly well-realised as her fears for her younger sister grow. 'The Grey Men' sees the figures of the title hang in the sky above a nervous town like ominous clouds. Their significance remains a mystery until the end when the narrator‘s perspective on events suddenly shifts. 'In The Marrow' sees two young sisters play out their fairyland fantasy as regular visitors to 'the lough' after school. Later, as one lies ill, the other sister appears to bring their fantasy worldview home, convinced she has been exchanged by the little people and her 'real' sister is out their somewhere, healthy, just waiting to be found. A deceptively simple take on the oft-utilised Irish fable of the changeling, Mauro reveals her class in its very economy.
Mauro won a British Fantasy Award in the ‘Best Short Story’ category for ‘Looking for Laika.’ A tale of considerable charm that never sells-out to cynical sentiment. After her Grandad briefly tells her about the dog the Russian space mission sent into space in the early Sixties, young Beverley asks her older brother – ignorant of the original story - to fill in the details. Adding the apocolyptic plot of the dog’s mission to find a new planet for humans to live on, fires the young girl’s imagination still further. When she later claims to have observed a miniature speceship, what else can the family do but humour her? 'Strange As Angels' is – literally - the one entry of full-bloodied horror, after a bizarre, tiny creature flies into the windscreen of the speeding car of a fractious young couple. As the naive woman begins caring for the wounded find, it inevitably grows into treating her as its mother – with macabre results. Finally, a quick word for 'The Pain-Eater's Daughter, ending the collection. I don't think I've ever read a tale on familial empathy and grief quite as moving; not in the last twenty years, at least, and neither in this genre.
These six are favourites of the thirteen, only the half-formed 'Red Rabbit' leaving me unmoved. A superb debut then and, despite the inevitable commercial pull of the novel, I hope we don’t lose Mauro too soon as a short tale aficionado.
Simon Jacobs is from Dayton, Ohio, and currently lives in New York City. This, his second collection. He is the author of the novel Palaces (Two Dollar Radio, 2018), and Saturn (Spork Press, 2016), his debut collection of David Bowie stories.
Masterworks narratives‘ depracating wit are well balanced with a sense of impending jeopardy and disaster; one very much pertinent to our times. 'Let Me Take You To Olive Garden' sees couples upon the brink of coupling, so rudely interrupted by an unforseeable fate. In 'The Histories' two generations collide as a daughter reaching adulthood discovers – through the destritus of her parent’s past - the transient self-interest that informed her absent father’s own. Re-evaluation of past youth continues in 'Secret Message' as an image of one who died young is recalled by a grieving parent in darker terms. 'Partners' is as short and sweet as the second and third tales where, as with the first, cataclysmic fate arrives to deliver something otherwise closer to orgasm.
'Masterworks' sees an actorly couple – Priam and Nell - re-create famous works of art from makeshift materials with themselves as characters. First up sees Priam as Jacques-Louis David’s Death of Marat, head towel-wrapped and reclining as if deceased in a bath. The tone swiftly turns comedic as both recreate a small portion of Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights with Priam as Oedipus and Nell (alongside her cat) as the Sphinx. You get the idea. A further dozen classic paintings are reproduced and reflected upon in the form of their personal journals. These 'entries' are entertaining, with a wit just the right side of ribald, intimating an unholy alliance of Reggie Oliver with Michael Frayn.
'Land' sees the narrator recount an increasingly metaphysical journey from a lakeside mountain cabin he’s been hired to act as temporary caretaker for, by a friend who’s offered him a roof in exchange for maintaining his two pet huskies. When one, which is ill, absconds, the narrator fears for its fate – and his own - as his attention is increasingly drawn to the lake itself inhabited by the 'group of narrow, pale shapes floating in the water' and the unseen world beneath its surface. (A serendipitous echo of Laura Mauro’s 'Obsidian' here). Increasingly Hope-Hodgsonesque in feel, this turns out to be an exemplary novella, a journey upon which I was glad to act as companion. Jacobs has a good comedic voice, bordering absurdist, while never descending to farce. 'Land' also shows him more than competent at the terror tale.
Pareidolia, a term I was unfamiliar with, is defined on the back cover as 'the phenomenon where the mind perceives shapes, or hears voices, where none apparently exist.' What, I asked myself, could be a better definition of the uncanny? I’m less a fan of anthologies too contrived or proscriptive in their editors‘demand than I am of those – like here - with a broader mandate.
'I don’t know whether it was Thea who changed the house or the house who changed Thea, but I noticed the house first. The way the woodgrain noticed us back – a thousand faces staring out from narrow panels that warped away from the cabin walls. And when the wind slammed the side of the house, the place would rock and rock and rock and boards would bob and nod. Yes, they said, yes yes yes. Though I hadn’t been aware of asking any questions. Not at the time.'
Sure enough, Sarah Read’s 'Into The Wood' opens the book with real promise. I, too, said 'yes' on reading what could be defined as a prime example of the sub-genre, the reference to the house as a 'who,' a neatly unexpected touch.
Eliza Chan, according to her website, likes 'to collect folk tales and modernise them with a twist,' and 'Joss Papers For Porcelain Ghosts' well utilises the East-Asian source of the former and setting of the latter. A generation gap is widened by the intimated presence of a familial ghost as a flesh, paper and porcelain observer of events, encroaching from the sidelines. The way the visions impinge upon the domestic scene are almost incidental and pleasingly credible. GV Anderson’s Jamesian 'The Butchery Tree' is an English-type folktale in a more traditional setting where 'legend (had) it the last warriors standing after a great battle met their deaths beneath the boughs. It grew in clay and in summer blossomed red.' In Charlotte Bond’s 'The Lens Of Dying,' a sick old man with a terrible hidden past linked to a warped sense of beauty’s transience, pays the ultimate price for his undiscovered worldview. Andrew David Barker’s 'House Of Faces' is, by just a nose, my favourite tale, featuring the last man on Earth; a classic apocalyptic subject where an increasing madness somehow morphs into a new normalcy at the last address shared with his (lost or deceased) wife.
So far, this has been my favourite of Black Shuck’s multi-author anthologies, featuring – Chan’s surprising contribution aside – a traditional feel, suited to my own tastes, which never descends to the reactionary or overused.