There is another world, but it is in this one.

Paul Eluard. Œuvres complètes, vol. 1, Gallimard, 1968.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Black autumn: The Orangefield Cycle by Al Sarrantonio

HORRORWEEN Book One of the Orangefield Series By Al Sarrantonio (2006)

HALLOWS EVE Book Two of the Orangefield Series By Al Sarrantonio (2004)

HALLOWEENLAND Book Three of the Orangefield Series By Al Sarrantonio (2007)

Sarrantonio has been known to me as an anthologist and a short story writer since the 1990s. His millennial anthology 999 is a keeper, not quite on the level of Dark Forces, but certainly shelf- worthy.

Since summer is ending, and the weather had turned autumnal last weekend (briefly), I decided to read the first Orangefield novel, Horrorween. It's a novel filled with small town and rural fall atmosphere. The plot is episodic, apparently a paste-up of short stories or novellas. But there is real emotional poignancy as notes of loss and existential confusion are struck. 

Orangefield, in bucolic upstate New York, is the world's pumpkin capitol. It is also home to seasonal "weird shit," as strange local events are termed by police detective Bill Grant. Grant becomes central to the trilogy, an older man at low ebb whose mad wife, drinking, and smoking are sending him to an early grave. 

The trilogy, in fact, is in addition to being a tale of apocalypse, a story of Grant's moral and physical reclamation. Grant is no Carnacki or John Silence; the breaks he gets come from doggedness, smarts, and the trust of people who become allies.

Samhain, the "Lord of the Dead" in Sarrantonio's theogony, finds his own brand of salvation in the course of the trilogy. It ultimately takes the form of a kind of self-forgetting. In Horrorween, Samhain is depicted as a local goblin, visiting misfortunes on the locals. By Hallows Eve he has become a pawn of a much darker entity.  In Halloweenland, he chooses to become a traitor to his annihilating overlord, throwing in his lot with humanity.

Sarrantonio employs doubling very effectively. Peter Kerlan in Horrorween is doomed to defeat by the dark forces threatening his sanity. In Hallows Eve, Corrie Phaeder fulfills the same role as protagonist, but achieves a more weighty apotheosis via self-sacrifice.

Doubling also provides mentors for Detective Bill Grant. In Hallows Eve it is pumpkin farmer and retired police chief Riley Gates, who steers Grant into alliance with Corrie Phaeder. In Halloweenland, the mentoring role is taken up by retired detective Tom Malone, now a resident of Ireland.

Librarian Kathy Marks assumes the scholars' role in the first two novels, though she also does her fair share of detecting. The role of local scholar, providing historical background to Orangefield's periods of "weird shit," is eventually taken over by Thomas Robert Reynolds, Jr., who also replaces his own father in the role.

Sarrantonio gives the reader plenty of gore to punctuate the thrills and mystery. There are also psychic children and possessed kids, as well as some grubby criminal catspaws as murderously effective stooges.

The Orangefield novel trilogy is a fitting pendant for the season. It is filled with moods of belatedness and personal vicissitude as the human characters confront exceptional eruptions of the supernatural into the unstable terrain of everyday carnage.

....Here on earth, all of the real supernatural occurrences, the ghost sightings, monsters, poltergeists— all of the things that Halloween has turned into a game— are the result of certain… minor overlaps between your world and mine. When something… supernatural happens here, it is because a momentary, and never permanent, crossing has taken place. We are the source of all your boogie men, detective Grant. Sometimes these crossings are benign, at other times they are less so. You must remember that everyone who dies on Earth crosses to this way station, the good and the bad."


14 September 2019

Friday, September 13, 2019

Arthur Christopher Benson: A sudden access of dread

....nothing that he could see would be so fearful as that which was unseen....

--The Red Camp

Arthur Christopher Benson (1862-1925) was the eldest of the three Benson brothers, sons of an Archbishop of Canterbury.  They made signal contributions as academic (A.C), cleric (R.H.) and writer (E.F.). All left books, including peerless and varied collections of supernatural fiction. Each took some inspiration from M.R. James, the genre's master prose stylist. Each wrote psychological and antiquarian tales, but also pieces we would today call folk horror. 

Not sure why I am so tardy in reading E.F. Benson's two brothers. ACB's stories, sampled this week in my new favorite anthology, The Big Book Of The Masters Of Horror, Weird And Supernatural Short Stories, are the opposite of E.F.'s: Arthur's protagonists rise to the challenge of vastation and fearlessly and consciously attend their respective appointments in Samarra. None have any curiosity about spiritualism or archaeology or winter sports. In fact, ACB's stories do not take place in the modern world at all. At best estimate, I would say the stories noted below take place before the Reformation. "The Temple of Death," seems to unfold before about 500 A.D., perhaps earlier.

As a point of personal taste, my favorite story is "The Red Camp." The reader will note some interesting contrasts to "A Warning to the Curious." In it, cash-poor and debt-ridden landowner uses a cursed hidden treasure to save the soul of its spectral guardian from earthly bondage.

I've been an atheist and a Marxist for almost four decades, and have never had much curiosity about Christianity or religion. I think some readers in our genre bring their own personal hang-ups about religion to it, which might be an obstacle to appreciating the depth of feeling and technical excellence of ACB's stories. If you think believers are fools, it can lead to a degree of aesthetic tone-deafness. Or perhaps I've recently read (and enjoyed!) too many essay collections by S.T. Joshi?

The Closed Window 

....the two young men drew near to the closed window; the shutters were tightly barred, and across the panels was scrawled in red, in an uncertain hand, the words CLAUDIT ET NEMO APERIT, which Mark explained was the Latin for the text, He shutteth and none openeth. And then Mark said that the story went that it was ill for the man that opened the window, and that shut it should remain for him.


One who has looked into the Unknown finds it hard to believe again in the outward shows of life....

The Gray Cat 

....Roderick had a strange dream; it seemed to him that he wandered over bare hillsides, and came at last to the pool; the peak rose sharp and clear, and the water was very black and still; while he gazed upon it, it seemed to be troubled; the water began to spin round and round, and bubbling waves rose and broke on the surface. Suddenly a hand emerged from the water, and then a head, bright and unwetted, as though the water had no power to touch it. Roderick saw that it was a man of youthful aspect and commanding mien; he waded out to the shore and stood for a moment looking round him; then he beckoned Roderick to approach, looking at him kindly, and spoke to him gently, saying that he had waited for him long. They walked together to the crag, and then, in some way that Roderick could not clearly see, the man opened a door into the mountain, and Roderick saw a glimmering passage within. The air came out laden with a rich and heavy fragrance, and there was a faint sound of distant music in the hill. The man turned and looked upon Roderick as though inviting him to enter; but Roderick shook his head and refused, saying that he was not ready; at which the man stepped inside with a smile, half of pity, and the door was shut.

The Hill of Trouble 

....he stepped back, and though he had a feeling that it would be wiser not to go, he put it aside and went boldly into the circle of stones. He stood there for a moment, and then feeling very weary, sate down on the turf, leaning his back against a stone; then came upon him a great drowsiness. He was haunted by a sense that it was not well to sleep there, and that the dreaming mind was an ill defence against the powers of the air — yet he put the thought aside with a certain shame and fell asleep.

Out of the Sea 

...."Come," said Father Thomas, turning upon him, "you speak thus of a thing, as you might speak of a dog — what is it like?" "Nay," said Henry, "I know not; I can never see it clearly; it is like a speck in the eye — it is never there when you look upon it — it glides away very secretly; it is most like a goat, I think. It seems to be horned, and hairy; but I have seen its eyes, and they were yellow, like a flame."

The Red Camp 

....The Holy Church hath power indeed over the spirits of evil, the devils that enter into men. But I have not heard that she hath power over the spirits of the dead, and least of all over those that lived and died outside the fold. It seems to me, though I but grope in darkness, that these poor spirits grudge the treasure that they fought and died for to the hands of a man who hath not fought for it.

The Slype House 

….Between the candlesticks and behind the skull was an old and dark picture, at which he gazed for a time, holding his taper on high. The picture represented a man fleeing in a kind of furious haste from a wood, his hands spread wide, and his eyes staring out of the picture; behind him everywhere was the wood, above which was a star in the sky — and out of the wood leaned a strange pale horned thing, very dim. The horror in the man's face was skilfully painted, and Anthony felt a shudder pass through his veins. He knew not what the picture meant; it had been given to him by the old Italian, who had smiled a wicked smile when he gave it, and told him that it had a very great virtue. When Anthony had asked him of the subject of the picture, the old Italian had said, "Oh, it is as appears; he hath been where he ought not, and he hath seen somewhat he doth not like." When Anthony would fain have known more, and especially what the thing was that leaned out of the wood, the old Italian had smiled cruelly and said, "Know you not? Well, you will know some day when you have seen him;" and never a word more would he say.

The Temple of Death

....After the meal the man asked him to tell him something of the new faith, and Paullinus very willingly told him as simply as he could of the Way of Christ.

The man listened with a sort of gloomy attention. "So it is this," he said at last, "which is taking hold of the world! well, it is pretty enough — a good faith for such as live in ease and security, for women and children in fair houses; but it suits not with these forests. The god who made these great lonely woods, and who dwells in them, is very different," — he rose and made a strange obeisance as he talked. "He loves death and darkness, and the cries of strong and furious beasts. There is little peace here, for all that the woods are still — and as for love, it is of a brutish sort. Nay, stranger, the gods of these lands are very different; and they demand very different sacrifices. They delight in sharp woes and agonies, in grinding pains, in dripping blood and death-sweats and cries of despair. If these woods were all cut down, and the land ploughed up, and peaceful folk lived here in quiet fields and farms, then perhaps your simple, easy-going God might come and dwell with them — but now, if he came, he would flee in terror."

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge Matt Cowan's blog post about Arthur Christopher Benson 

at Horror Delve here.


13 September 2019

Monday, September 9, 2019

Robert Hugh Benson: Specters and grace

Father Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914) wrote much, but cannot escape the shadow of a better writer, his brother E.F.

Well, perhaps not better, but certainly more single-minded and accomplished in his artistry.

R.H.'s stories have their own aesthetic authority, and they are masterful in their modest sacerdotal seriousness.

"Consolatrix Afflictorum"

A young boy gets a visit from the spirit of his recently deceased mother.

....One night I was lying half dozing against my mother's breast, my head against her heart, and not, as I usually lay, with my head on her shoulder. As I lay there it seemed to me as if I heard a strange sound like the noise of the sea in a shell, but more melodious. It is difficult to describe it, but it was like the murmuring of a far-off crowd, overlaid with musical pulsations. I nestled closer to her and listened; and then I could distinguish, I thought, innumerable ripples of church bells pealing, as if from another world. Then I listened more intently to the other sound; there were words, but I could not distinguish them. Again and again a voice seemed to rise above the others, but I could hear no intelligible words. The voices cried in every sort of tone — passion, content, despair, monotony. And then as I listened I fell asleep. As I look back now, I have no doubt what voices those were that I heard....

Over the Gateway

An excellent example of what I refer to as Machenean perichoresis.

...."Did I ever tell you," he asked, "about what I saw out there in the garden? It looks ordinary enough now: yet I saw there what I suppose I shall never see again on this side of death, or at least not until I am in the very gate of death itself."

....Now I do not know how to explain myself, but I was conscious that across this material world of light and color there cut a plane of the spiritual world, and that where the planes crossed I could look through and see what was beyond. It was like smoke cutting across a sunbeam. Each made the other visible.

The Traveler

Superb antiquarian tale.

....The scientific view is that you are not justified in committing yourself one inch ahead of your intellectual evidence: the religious view is that in order to find out anything worth knowing your faith must always be a little in advance of your evidence; you must advance en échelon. There is the principle of our Lord's promises. 'Act as if it were true, and light will be given.' The scientist on the other hand says, 'Do not presume to commit yourself until light is given.'

....I know this is a great platitude, but I never can look at a piece of old furniture without a curious thrill at a thing that has been so much saturated with human emotion....

....The church stood only a few steps away, for the garden and churchyard adjoined one another. As I went down carrying the lantern that Parker had lighted for me, I remember hearing far away to the south, beyond the village, the beat of a horse's hoofs. The horse seemed to be in a gallop, but presently the noise died away behind a ridge. 

The Watcher

The first story I read by RHB. Several decades ago it brought tears to my eyes. Sublime.

....the ready tears of old age.

....The scientific view is that you are not justified in committing yourself one inch ahead of your intellectual evidence: the religious view is that in order to find out anything worth knowing your faith must always be a little in advance of your evidence; you must advance en échelon. There is the principle of our Lord's promises. 'Act as if it were true, and light will be given.' The scientist on the other hand says, 'Do not presume to commit yourself until light is given.'

The Blood-Eagle

Antiquarian, Machenean, sui generis.

...."Then we heard a scuffling in front of us and a grunting, and some big creature came hurrying down the path. As it passed us I looked, almost terrified out of my mind, and saw that it was a huge pig; but the thing that held me breathless and sick was that there ran nearly the whole length of its back a deep wound, from which the blood dripped. The creature, grunting heavily, tore down the path towards the cottage, and presently the sound of it died away. As I leaned against Jack, I could feel his arm trembling as it held the tree.

"'Oh!' he said in a moment, 'we must get out of this. Which way, which way?'

"But I had been still listening, and held him quiet.

"'Wait,' I said, 'there is something else.'

"Out of the wood in front of us there came a panting, and the soft sounds of hobbling steps along the path. We crouched lower and watched. Presently the figure of a bent old man came in sight, making his way quickly along the path. He seemed startled and out of breath. His mouth was moving, and he was talking to himself in a low voice in a complaining tone, but his eyes searched the wood from side to side.

"As he came quite close to us, as we lay hardly daring to breathe, I saw one of his hands that hung in front of him, opening and shutting; and that it was stained with what looked black in the moonlight. He did not see us, as by now we were hidden by a great bramble bush, and he passed on down the path; and then all was silent again....


9 September 2019

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Strange crossroads: the weird and the Fortean

The intersection of spectral literature and Forteana always interests me. The 2019 book Weird Wires: Strange Reports from the Past by Samuel Fort is a good example. Readers of Lovecraft's "The Horror at Red Hook," with its underground worship chambers and catacombs, will be struck by Fort's chapter "The Harlem Ruins."

Fans of Laird Barron (among whom S.T. Joshi is apparently no longer counting himself) will appreciate this chapter of logging lore, as I did:

The Abandoned Camp

As reported by the Pittsburgh Press, September 7, 1900:

Canadian Linemen Found a Complete Plant Long Deserted

The steamer Boscowitz, the last arrive from the north, brings details of one of the strangest mysteries connected with the exploration and development of Alaska, says a special to the Chicago Record from Seattle. For several months the Canadian government has had laborers at work surveying and putting in a telegraph line from Vancouver to Dawson. A few days ago, while working near the old Juneau trail, in a dense forest, about 100 miles from the coast, where it was thought white men had never been before, the surveying party, that was several days ahead of the pole and wiremen, made a strange and ghastly discovery.

As they were making their way through the forest, they came to a heavily timbered marsh, and near the center of this marsh, they suddenly came upon a tract of several acres on which all the timber had been cut. Near one side of the clearing was a sawmill, still in a good state of preservation. The machinery had evidently not been disturbed since the premises were vacated by the operators.

With the exception of a little rust on some of the bearings, the engine seemed to be ready to tire up and start at a moment's notice. The boiler was in good condition, and in different parts of the mill crosscut saws, cant hooks, axes, beetles, wedges, a blacksmith's forge with all appurtenances, a kit of carpenter's tools, and other implements used around a completely equipped sawmill. The lumber of the mill itself had evidently been cut on the spot, and there were several thousand feet of lumber which, to all appearances, had been cut about three years.

Near the sawmill was a shed that had evidently been used for horses, and at intervals of a few feet around the shed were the skeletons of 12 horses, most of them, judging from the bones, being large animals. The bones were entirely free from flesh, indicating that they had been there almost two summers. They were lying in such positions as to show that had never been disturbed by man. Lying beside the skeletons were weather-beaten ropes and straps, the remains of the pack blankets, and a quantity of half-decayed flour and other provisions that had rolled from the backs of the horses.

Near the mill were three small cabins constructed of lops and sawed lumber, and carefully stored away was a quantity of provisions, canned goods, bacon and flour. The bunks on the wall contained a small quantity of bedding and a grindstone, and several pairs of overalls were found In one corner of one of them.

A search was made, but no human skeletons were found. The discovery was made about 40 miles off the old Juneau Indian trail, and all conditions point to the conclusion that the clearing was made three years ago, and the horses perished the latter part of the same season. The trees were blazed on four sides, indicating that the party in some mysterious way had separated, and were unable to get together again.

The members of the surviving party think that if the forest were searched, the skeletons of the former owners of the camp could be found. The theory of murder by the Indians is not entertained, for In that case the provisions and tools would surely have been taken.

It is estimated that the engine, boiler, circular saw and the rest of the mill outfit, when new, must have cost at least $3,000.


7 September 2019

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Stranger West by John E Olsen (2019)

Stranger West by John E Olsen (2019)

John Olsen's three books of strange stories from the U.S. West take the reader to rugged landscapes and towns of Utah, Nevada, and Idaho. They are modest and brief books based upon face-to-face interviews with the experiencers themselves, working class women and men whose lives, for a few hours, once took an odd turn. Olsen's witnesses are outdoor people: campers, hikers, hunters, and people whose jobs put them at a lonely gas station or video store at 3am.

Some accounts are more compelling than others. Outdoor encounters in mountains and lonely valleys for me trump eerie houses or black-eyed children. Olsen is one of those today showing wild and open country still has its power to overmaster and breed panic. Readers of Blackwood and Machen will find much to appreciate in Stranger West.

Below are excerpts from some of Olsen's chapters. 

The Cloaked Vision

....I had almost finished my lunch when something caught my eye to the right side of my Jeep. Something I couldn't explain was running down the hillside towards me. The best way to describe it was that it looked almost cloaked like I was looking at it through a heat mirage. I got the distinct feeling that I was looking at Native American running down the trail at me, but as though he was partially hidden in a cloaked haze. The figure ran past the front of my Jeep, not more than a few feet away. Then he crossed the road in front of me and continued down the path on my left and disappeared. I sat in stunned silence, waiting for it to return.

Shadowed in Yellowstone

....I sat still and continued looking around to try and see what was going on. Some movement in front of me caught my eye and turned my head to look at it. Walking towards me between two big trees was a massive, human -like figure that was entirely black. Its head, body, and limbs all appeared to be stretched out, making the character look very tall. The head wasn't round, but more like a long oblong shape. I froze as it started walking towards me. It reached a spot between the two trees and stopped. It was so tall!

     As best I could tell, it appeared to be 8 or 9 feet tall, and it was solid black. If it's even possible, I would describe it as blacker than the night. With the moon being full, I could only make out its outline. Where I should have seen a face or clothes, I only saw jet black. I flipped on my flashlight and shined it towards the creature. When I did it completely disappeared from my view. I stood up and shined my light around entire area, but it was gone.

     I noticed then that the whispers had stopped too. I stood with the flashlight for a few moments in the quiet woods. The only sound I could hear was the pounding of my heart in my ears. I was just about to turn and head towards the campfire when I listened to the whispers start up again. I heard footsteps again, right where the creature had been walking before. At this point, I didn't wait to see it again, I turned on my heels and bolted back to camp at full speed....

Sierra Wendigo

....I remember waking up to an odd sound. It sounded like someone was walking and dragging something. I listened intently hoping it was just a small animal, but as it got closer, I could tell whatever it was it was on 2 feet. I heard it shuffle into our camping area then stop. My heart was pounding so hard it felt like my chest was going to explode.

     The moon was almost full, and so there was a lot of light shining down on our tent. Suddenly the steps slowly started again, this time towards our tent. I could just barely make out the silhouette of a figure on the wall of our tent. It had the shape of a man, but it was stretched upwards. It seemed tall and very skinny. It took a few more steps towards the tent and paused. I could hear raspy, almost sickly breathing coming from the creature. Each breath in sounded wheezy and strained. I slowly reached for the flashlight on my left side between my sleeping bag and the wall of the tent. When I grabbed it, I hit my water bottle with a loud clank. The deep breathing stopped . The sound must have scared it because the creature quickly jogged towards the trees....

Little Foot if we'd done something to scare it, it leaped into the pine tree and scrambled to the top in a flash. I was amazed at how fast it climbed. It seemed to fly up to the top. It was huddled in the upper branches, and I could see that it was still staring at us. We watched it for a few more minutes as it started to get dark. We decided we didn't want to be around when it tried to come down.

Uinta UFO

....The Uinta Mountains are a place of wonder . Whether it's UFO 's, Bigfoot, Ghosts, or Skinwalkers, there are many paranormal stories to be found about this area.

Black Eyes at the Station

....It was a tranquil and cool night. As I looked over my drink choices, I got a strange feeling I was being watched. I looked up and just to the other side of the road to my left; I could see two small figures standing just off the road. They were just out of the range of the street lights so I couldn't see their faces or what they were doing. They just seemed to be standing there watching me. I quickly bought my pop and walked back to my car. I looked, but I couldn't see the figures from where I was pumping my gas.

Little Green Man

....He looked a little annoyed at me. He jumped up and quietly shut the door, pulling on the knob to make sure it was shut. Then walked close to me and whispered, "Aaron, don't you remember the little man? The promise you made not to tell anyone?" He then pointed at the window sill where the little man had been sitting.

Stairway to Nowhere

....I had been hiking for about 2 hours. And the sun had started to dip low in the west. I was contemplating how long I wanted to hike and decided to I'd hit a few more ridges before heading back. I came around a small peak when I noticed something extraordinary in front of me. There on the hillside was a set of stone steps. I walked over to them and found they were made out of rock. They were cut out of what looked like granite. I was perplexed. I was nowhere near a road or building, and they seemed to come out of a thick patch of brush and then up the slope above me. They were worn, but still very recognizably stairs.

Black Eyes at 4am

....I took a sip of my coffee and walked to my car. I had to turn my back to him as I opened the car door to get in. I knew I had been quick to do it but was shocked to look up and see him now standing 5 feet from my car, facing me. His head was still down, and his hair was still in his face. The level of fear I had bubbling up inside me was something I had never experienced before.

Uinta Watchers

....My first day out was uneventful, and I ate dinner then watched the fire before going to bed. I fell into a heavy sleep. I woke in the middle of the night. I'd had a disturbing dream that I was at camp and someone was yelling at me to leave! I was the distinct feeling I wasn't wanted there. It was an alarming and vivid dream that stayed with me all through the night. I slept after the dream, but restlessly. At 5 am, just as it was starting to break light, I decided to get up and make my breakfast. The feeling of the dream was still lingering with me.

     ....Every time I heard something or saw something flash through the trees, it wasn't real. Every time I checked, I found nothing. As I sat by the fire, all my senses were on edge . I blocked the firelight from my eyes (firelight kills your night vision), so I could try and see what was going on around me. After what felt like an hour or so I started to hear sounds. It sounded like people were talking among the trees. I strained to listen to what they were saying , but it was in a language I couldn't understand. However, I was reasonably sure it was a Native American language.

Witch Hecida

….As it came around the last little bend and cleared a big tree about 30 yards from me, it was no longer just a ball of light. A person in a cloak stood next to the tree. It wasn't big, in fact, I'd guess it was no more than 5 feet tall, but its presence was ominous. The dark cloaked figure was illuminated by the orb of light. Now that it was closer , I could clearly see that it was a woman, holding the orb in her right hand at about shoulder height. It looked almost as though she was holding a fireball.


....All around, there were bright white balls of light hanging in mid-air. They were so bright, it was hard to look directly at them. They varied in size. Some were the size of a tennis ball and there a few as large as a basketball. We gasped in awe as we walked into the clearing. There was no sound coming from the orbs, but you could feel an electrical surge in the air.

The Book

....Books are a strange thing, people become very attached to them. Both collectors and everyday people can have unique connections to a book. I've had a few books over time that I felt had a strange aura around them. I never told anyone about it because I thought they might think I was crazy. To be 100% honest, I wasn't sure it was even possible. That is until I got The Beasts of Tarzan book.

Enchanted Choir

....Finally, I had everything locked up, and it was now 10: 15. I had hoped the choir would have stopped on their own, but they hadn't. I walked down to the door near the front of the chapel. The choir was singing "How Great Thou Art." I decided I would wait until they finished the song then let them know it was time to go. As I stood outside the door, the song sounded beautiful. I stood patiently and waited. Just as the song finished, I opened the door and walked in. I was met with a dark room and complete silence. I was baffled. I walked over and flipped on the lights next to the first pew. The chapel lit up, and to my shock, it was empty.

Ghost, Spirit, or Divine Intervention?

....Once in the tiny vehicle, I was squished between the two massive guys in the front seat. I was wedged pretty tightly between them. As I looked around, I noticed a red rose on the visor of the passenger side. Making conversation, I asked where they got the beautiful red rose from. They told me it was from the funeral of the person they killed.

The Paper Route

....One house on my route always gave me the creeps. It was an older home , and the old man that lived there would always run in the house or hide behind the curtains when I came by to hang the paper. I didn't know who he was. This was especially strange because I thought I knew everyone in town. I asked my dad one night what was wrong with him. My Dad explained he was a World War II Veteran. When he got home from the war, he had never been the same. He worked as a janitor, but no one could get him to talk. In fact, no one had heard him speak since before the war.

My reviews of Olsen's two previous collections can be read here and here.


3 September 2019

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Poe: Pym

Poe the theoretician of tales is most famous as an opponent of extended length in works of literary art. His composition guidelines are clear: a work should be read in a single sitting. Novels need not apply.

These precepts were on my mind last week as I settled in to read The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838). It took me three days, and I enjoyed every moment, eagerly resuming the story at lunch and in the evening after work. "MS. Found in a Bottle" (1833) might be a single-sitting emotional gloss of similar material, but Pym more satisfies the reader of tales in me.

The novel accordions through several striking stories of vicissitude. It opens with the drunken misadventure on Ariel; continues with the voyage of Grampus, where Pym the stowaway finds himself buried-alive inside the ship; mutiny is followed by cannibalism and the encounter with a Dutch ship crewed by corpses; rescue of Pym and fellow seaman Dirk Peters by the Jane Guy leads to the island of Tsalal, where trouble really begins.

Readers of Verne's The Mysterious Island will appreciate its adumbration here: a similar toing-and-froing over shifting and precarious ground, though without the time for discussion and practical action Verne could afford for his band.

Does Pym end? Not in the way we have been taught a tale should end. It breaks off; perhaps Poe lost his appetite for answers to mysteries presented on Tsalal. Perhaps the addition of a Man Friday character (the islander Pym and Peters kidnap in their escape) presented too many dramatic contradictions, for which Poe realized he did not have the authorial stamina or patience?

In his sublime novel The Purple Cloud (1901), M.P. Shiel wisely put his Artic and open-ocean chapters up front. Lovecraft, in his Antarctic novel (all vicissitudes and longueurs), has his narrator survive to warn the world. Pym only survives his return to the U.S. a month before dying in an accident, leaving his memoir unfinished. What kind of accident? We are not told; perhaps he was jostled by a Tsalalian stevedore on the waterfront?

The narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket that we are left with will have to suffice. It amounts to a ghost at the feast of two centuries of U.S. novel-writing.


1 September 2019