"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

Sunday, March 20, 2022

My review of Supernatural Tales 49

I have purchased more issues of Supernatural Tales than I have read. Each issue has at least one story by an author I enjoy, and the ebook price is always right. Issue 49 is the first issue of ST I have read cover to cover. 

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"The Woofle Dust" by Steve Duffy is a wonderful evocation of UK end-of-the-pier entertainment in late August 1939. Regular readers will not be surprised at Duffy's skill here. In stories as varied in setting and historical period as "The Vanishing Hitchhiker," "The Oram County Whoosit," and "The Clay Party," Duffy has displayed superb skill in the short story and novella modes.

"The Woofle Dust" is a trap for the unwary, both the reader and the story's protagonist. It has a sunset mood: the shadow of impending imperialist war skews each human act and interaction.

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Hardy's sublime story "The Withered Arm" came to mind repeatedly as I read "Godless" by Sam Dawson. It has a historically indeterminate rural village setting, and Dawson does a skilful job conveying a pre-industrial era.

By any means necessary, protagonist Ruth Darnell works to ensure her son, hung for murder, ends up buried in consecrated ground. Dawson is at his best in the story when delineating this struggle: a woman against men and against a man's world.

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"All Talk" by Rosalie Parker is a carefully observed timeslip story. The narrator tells us about her employee Gregory, a successful young family man who, for a  while, lives two lives in two different years. Ultimately, one life must win over the other, and one does.

Est enim magnum chaos.

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"Another One To Love Them" by David Buchan

She wondered where they had learnt the game that they were playing. It certainly couldn't have come from their aunt. The woman had seemed too self-absorbed to teach something like that to the children, something that was....

Gwendolyn shepherds three siblings around a stately home, once the site of a terrible crime. The children, working class and normally unruly, surprise her by seeming to rise to the occasion.

In the end they are happy to sit on the lawn, playing together with something that "had the texture and colour of aged leather, and what might have been strands of hair that sprouted from one edge."

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"Candler's Ceremony" by Sam Hicks describes urban disorientation in the early Covid period: empty streets, few and different faces. 

"I wanted, hoping all this would only happen once, to go somewhere where I could really see the change," our narrator says. So he heads to London's City, and wandering the emptiness meets Candler. Is Candler simply another person unmoored by the pandemic's dissolution of routine? Or an altogether different order of guide?

This is the first Sam Hicks story I have read; its brevity lends an almost molecular weight to each sentence. The sense of "last things and last people" is palpable.

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"Not That Kind of Place" by James Everington starts out as a search for two runaway daughters. It ends atomization into contingency and uncertainty, conveyed with the confusions and unreason of dream. 

Stories that refuse to make conventional sense, or tell their stories in a conventional way, have always challenged me. (And by challenged, I mean annoyed). When a writer gets it right in this game, the case for their method is irrefutable. Everington's story falls short, but the world he builds is initially compelling.

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James Machin's use in "Cave Canem'' of skewed perspectives and intentional lacunae recall de la Mare and Aickman here, but also the queerly suggestive landscapes of Buchan and Ramsey Campbell. Repressed motivations and apparently arbitrary clueing are in play, but action is sharply grounded for all the strange-making procedures afoot.

In a way, the story's skewed assignments and god-building are objective correlatives for the protagonist Mark's developmental prosopagnosia.

These rhetorical wire-modelings aside, "Cave Canem" is a compelling story about the risk of calling up that which cannot be put down again. 

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"Four Vignettes" by Jane Jakeman is a bravura collection of short-short stories. They display real skill at deftly renewing different historical periods and horror clich├ęs.

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19 March 2022

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