My review of this Gray Friar Press book of Seasidal Stories (continued from HERE) will take place in the comment stream below as and when I read each of the remaining works of fiction:-
Before reading the last seven of the fourteen stories in this book, I instinctively sensed some form of tidal watershed taking place…
At this stage, too, I thought I should mention that between each story in this book there is a non-fiction essay about terrors at the seaside all of which I shall read for the first time after I have finished reviewing solely its fiction, as is common in such situations with all my gestalt real-time reviews since 2008.
Brighthelmstone by R.B.Russell
“…and I felt that some kind of milestone had been passed.”
A story of a seaside boarding house, a young boy with his recently widowed mother. The boy’s emotions are believably and poignantly painted as he plays amusements on the pier while his mother plays bingo. [I, too, when I was 5 to 7 years old in the 1950s, was often in this situation, my mother, father and myself living at that time in the seaside resort of Walton-on-the-Naze: and my Mum met me from school each afternoon and we quite regularly went on the pier and I played the now old-fashioned amusements whilst she played bottle-top bingo and won the odd trashy prize from the bingo-caller. Incredible that this story should evoke such memories.]
However, this story turns its own milestone, with a vivid ‘Brighton Rock’ scenario of criminality upon the boy and effectively upon his mother and her set of lotions and unguents back in the boarding-house. The ending is a perfect ‘dying fall’, in its musical sense as well as its literal one.
“Under the pier it stank of rotting stuff, but on the pier it was more enjoyable.”
Men With False Faces by Robert Spalding
“The pier shrieked out its electronic ‘come hither’, the claw games, two penny pushers and fruit machines all jangling their enticements.”
I genuinely read most of this story in my dentist’s waiting room in Clacton-on-Sea (a town not completely dissimilar to Bognor or a lot of other seaside towns in this book, I guess) and I wonder whether any of my fellow torture-waiters saw the front cover with its words ‘Terror Tales of the Seaside’ or read my mind reading it, but their faces were indeed a picture…
This Spalding tale of terror is a honest-to-goodness horror story that, like the Reggieman’s, gave me a paradoxical sort of comfort as a result. In fact there is a connection of masks between these stories. But it is a comfort which does not absolve me from visualising with some degree of disturbing premonition my future nightmares or from re-igniting memories of my past nightmares that had otherwise left my conscious mind. The town’s clown convention posters, that whistling of a recurrent tune reminding me of Stone’s ‘elevated white noise’ and of a story by John Howard in ‘The First Book of Classical Horror Stories’, the whole genius loci of Bognor conjured from the point of finding those etched words on the stone of the sea wall, and the recurrent whistle indeed betokening some rationale of the fast-recurring accretion of horrors piling up remorselessly (like the absurdist horror images in the Ramsey Campbell story similarly accreted and recurred) until we reach the scene of the undersides of the pier which I somehow predicted with my photo above before I had read this story – all these things and more work in effective brutalist synergy. I also realised that we are all subject to that synergy, migrants and natives alike.
I left the dentist with my face disfigured – hopefully until it returns to normal after the numbness wears off?
“…and then presented him with a wilting blue flower before dancing back into the parade.”
PS: I have many photos of my home’s seaside area scattered throughout my blog over a few years, here: http://www.nemonymous.com
GG LUVS PA by Gary Fry
“He was a logical man, always had been, and went about his job like a ruthless machine.”
A protagonist a bit like Gary in the previous story in a run of the mill seaside job, cautious, logical, but subject to seaside side-lining and not without infiltration from effects of the pale-faced, melancholy sea, and both protagonists find letters etched into that seaside at the beginning of each story. There the similarity diverges, with this story – by the publisher of the book – that I am pleased, now having read it, was included as part of the gestalt. It is a low-key, gentle even, story about left letters in the sand, and the two (possibly three!) divergent possibilities of the climax provide a satisfying ending. But gentle does not mean it fails to disturb the reader. It does with some strange inchoate knack.
It also has a concept, surrounding whoever is writing in tidal-proof letters in the sand but receiving ephemeral ones in return, a concept that seems to sum up the whole book so far, a sense of ‘tenuous duty’, two explicit words left here on the page, words with which the reader is gifted by the inferred author who either hates the reader or loves the reader. Maybe who is hated or loved by the reader, instead. The reader that is you. Or me.
Writ upon Unsworth’s shifting terrain by Freeman’s pining depletions. Or even writ from below the sand by Volk or trick. The Flotsam of Fiction.
Or writ by nobody, with barely nemonymous footprints…
The Incident at North Shore by Paul Finch
“This was the sort of seedy district that the holiday programmes rarely focused on.”
And by contrast to the publisher’s ‘gentle’ story, this one by the editor is a suspenseful, page-turning piss-take. But If I told you this story is a piss-take, you would be thinking I was the one doing the piss-taking. Or I am effectively divulging a spoiler that would end up pissing you off.
It’s not my sort of story, but it’s the sort of story that I don’t normally like which has been done here very very well indeed that I actually like it. I won’t bother you with the backstory, but this is a policewoman facing an incredibly benighted atmospheric derelict funfair at a rundown seaside area with every excuse to deploy all the nostalgic fairground artefacts (now ‘depleted’) of such a scenario to the optimum of tense, nail-biting, sometimes gory effect. It has even got the rogue Laws seagull from earlier on. And Spalding’s clowns. I genuinely enjoyed it, even though I had the piss taken and you won’t know what I mean till you read it. Get this book, if for this rollercoaster experience alone!
Shells by Paul Kane.
“Then there, down along the beach — a couple by the edge of the water, holding hands and skimming stones into the sea.”
A story of another marriage faced by its coming ‘Flowers of the Sea’ moment, as we all are faced by it eventually: a deadpan naivety told as an accretive zombie story through the young son of this couple who — while on holiday that is meant to break the circle, to save the family from such a slow motion dulling by fate — befriends a local boy by the sea …. But that friend’s gathered seashells when held to the ear, perhaps like those ears affixed to the stone arch in the Spalding story, sound out to us Stone’s ‘elevated white noise’ or Spalding’s whistling – revealing, I sense, the encroachment of the central crux of this book: the ‘tenuous duty’, the depletion of self as an attempt to defeat those who would deplete us first. The pale-faced, melancholy side of the sea that we all should take into our soul even as we give back to it something of our own soul. It now seems fateful to me that this author had a story in the first Nemonymous a number of years ago, partly by which means, for me, this whole parthenogenetic process started.
The Sands Are Magic by Kate Farrell
“‘The sea,’ he promised, ‘is every shade of blue you care to imagine,…'”
Many beautifully conveyed pastel shades of the seaside come together in the promise of their minds as the significantly ‘backstoried’ couple and the two children leave the grimy city for a deserved break at the coast… A break indeed toward a sentinel ‘French Lieutenant’s Woman’ type who is waiting for those who spent 13 days with sure feet on Unsworth’s vision of otherwise shifting sands… And the place is indeed idyllic. It is not a spoiler, however, in the context of this book and its title, to warn you that joys always deplete…stoically, even hopefully waiting or not. You would not be reading a type of book like this, otherwise, yourself sure of your own turn at waiting, guilt-ridden or not… A short story that nicely conveys this renewal of Fry’s ‘tenuous duty’ and more.
My wife’s latest quilt. The invisible flowers of the sea in waiting or kept at bay…
Broken Summer by Christopher Harman
“He should prevent his imaginings running off like a roller coaster.”
This author should do so, too, but it all fits in with the remorseless recurrence of the Finch and the Spalding and the Campbell, a machine gun of seaside images, here, I infer, in Blackpool, with all the skills of sublimely Harmanesque story-telling. I can give you no hint as to how this works on the reader, other than to say it’s about a spliff-smoking student waiting for his exam results, looking for a job in Finch’s derelict funfair, except it’s not derelict any more; it throbs and hopefully thrives. There is a TS Eliotian fortune-teller, a ‘Brighton Rock’ gazette figure to ‘accost’ for a prize, a redolent seaside boarding-house with a gap in the sash window and something in the wardrobe, and shale gas fracking that besets that coast, I guess, and this reminds me of my then wild interpretation of fracking in this author’s ‘Sleepers’ masterpiece. And there is a Hitchcockian ending up the Tower where King Cole and fracking come home to roost together. There’s even the rogue gull making a guest appearance from the Laws and the Finch… And perhaps the Finch wasn’t a pisstake after all as the Harman’s ‘tide organ’ gives off bubbles…
And Fry’s ‘tenuous duty’ has strengthened into tenebrous tenacity, explicitly.
This is a fitting (with Kane’s double-meaning of ‘fitting’) climax as well as coda to this superlatively seasidal book. A pre-depletion treat of relentless ‘objective correlatives’ contrasting with the gentler moments of the sea that it has more often than not. A seaside with all colours and moods, yet prevailingly pale-faced and melancholy, though it often seems more than this, Stone’s ‘drunk on storm’, or even less.
A photo taken this very morning in honour of this book.
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