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Book Review: Black Static, Issue 58

“There is more than enough contained within this particular issue—and, indeed, the magazine as an ongoing enterprise—to satisfy any who seek well-written, literary works of a dark bent.”

Halfway through the year and it’s time for another review of Black Static, that purveyor of dark, literary fiction, insightful columns, and reviews/interviews. In this issue there are three novelettes and two shorter stories, alongside the articles and other material.

Let’s delve straight in.

Lynda E. Rucker writes about the use of females in horror fiction, specifically that trope of the ‘lost girl’. She begins her piece with references to such fare as Twin Peaks and Picnic at Hanging Rock, before focussing in detail on two films; Strangerland and Honeymoon. A fascinating article. This is followed by Ralph Robert Moore’s supposition that horror is better served by an opening in which the horror is yet to happen, citing Audition and Scream as examples of this. He then opens his heart about his wife Mary’s stroke, and their slow return to some semblance of normality. It is both matter of fact and deeply moving, illustrating the ‘power’ of out-of-the-blue tragedy. It is also a very brave thing to write.

And so to the fiction.

Mark Morris opens the prose offerings with a novelette, ‘Holiday Romance’, which sees its hero adrift in the seaside holiday resort of childhood holidays as he flees a failing marriage. Whilst there, he encounters mysterious woman, is beset by memories of his parents, and meets a police detective who has his own mystery to solve. It builds its atmosphere subtly, weaving in off-kilter imagery without overwhelming, pushing on to the inevitable—but almost unforeseen—conclusion. In many ways, it harks back to those classic episodes on such shows as Tales of the Unexpected, while also bringing in a darker, modern aspect, and deft elements of unsure narrative footing.

The second story, ‘The Process of Chuddar’ by Tim Casson, attempts to create an atmosphere of unsettling strangeness utilising the remoteness of the bleak, wilds of Scotland’s west coast. And there are moments of disquiet; a corpse playing host to a body of black fungi-like growths, the descent and search of a lightless underground cavern. Unfortunately, it’s all delivered in a rambling, almost stream-of-consciousness manner which may not work for all readers. There are interesting concepts here—warring, clandestine multi-national corporations, a mysterious artist whose work seems to hint at deeper meaning—but it’s mostly buried in extraneous and unnecessary detail.

A similar issue affects the next work, ‘Nonesuch’ by Joe Pitkin, in which a man travelling to a friend’s wedding gets lost in a strange, anachronistic-seeming town and ends up buying a house for a knock-down price there. He proceeds to fix up this place, including its expansive orchard, resulting in long paragraphs describing much of this work and the multiple varieties of different apple trees along with cider-making processes. Though there are a couple of short scenes which lie squarely in the realms of The Weird, these feel too far apart and mostly unconnected to really give impact. A shame, for there feels like a very strong rustic horror story buried within the text, yet what is here feels subjectively far too long for its objectively short length.

Helen Marshall delivers what seems like an adrenaline injection with ‘Survival Strategies’, a story which is simultaneously a love letter to horror writing/publishing—especially its ‘classic’ era of the 70s and 80s—an attempt to deal with recent political upheavals, and a very personal portrayal of loss and pain. That it walks all of these themes and paths without feeling as though it short-changes any of them indicates the high skill of the writer. The prose is crisp and detailed, and the nods to a certain famous horror writer—here named Barron St. John, with some of that other writer’s more famous works re-imagined—will bring smiles to certain readers’ faces, while the increasingly detailed hints of personal pain of the protagonist will cut deep. And all of it shrouded in a subtly drawn atmosphere of a near (imminent?) future police state, a reaction to the worst of possibilities in the current political and social climate. Wonderful, if heavy and important stuff.

Finally we have ‘Songs to Help You Cope When Your Mom Won’t Stop Haunting You and Your Friends’ by Gwendolyn Kiste. This, as has been said by others elsewhere, is almost worth the price of admission alone. Split into ‘chapters’ which jump off from various songs—each of which has a resonance in the text—this second person narrative is, by turns, emotive, bleak, and cathartic. It pulls off a difficult narrative perspective with ease, and provides a wealth of character and scenic detail which many full-size novels might struggle to deliver. Deeply emotional and quietly harrowing, this is, along with ‘Survival Strategies’, an absolute highlight of this issue of Black Static.

After this smorgasbord of fiction, there are the ubiquitous reviews: Film by Gary Couzens, who has some interesting movies under his microscope; and books by Peter Tennant, focussing on graphic novels, European works, and books by Richard Chizmar, who is also interviewed at length.

All in all, a little of a mixed bag this time, though as always, ‘your mileage may vary’. What doesn’t work for one reader, may well work for another, and part of the joy of a periodical like this is expanding one’s horizons, seeking new writers and pushing the boundaries of one’s reading habits. There is more than enough contained within this particular issue—and, indeed, the magazine as an ongoing enterprise—to satisfy any who seek well-written, literary works of a dark bent. Long may that enterprise continue.

PAUL MICHAELS

Publisher: TTA Press.
Paperback: (96 pp)
Release Date: 18 May 2017

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