This post is by Acep Hale.
Before we begin I have a few confessions to make, just to clear the table. First, Alectryomancer and Other Weird Tales was hands down my favorite collection of 2015. So while I have been very outspoken in my desire for reviews that would dampen the hyperbole so often seen with reviews of weird fiction, here I sit, gladly engaging in that very same practice. This collection deserves it. I’d gladly eat three plates of crow for Mr. Slatsky’s delightfully engaging prose.
Second, weird fiction as of late reminds me of the comic book craze of the mid-nineties. Comic book buyers of that time had access to The Comics Journal, and their clear and thought provoking reviews, essays, and articles to help guide buyers through the morass of product cluttering the shelves towards those comics that were truly stretching the boundaries, pushing conventions, and generally redefining what was meant by the term comics. Weird fiction today still largely exists within a feedback loop of praise heaped upon praise which while I’m sure is great for the egos of the writers involved, does little to help those coming from outside of the circle trying to decide where to spend their hard earned ducats.
It was only upon writing the above that I realized this may explain the “one star phenomenon” of Amazon’s rankings. Weird fiction writers tend to take this as a badge of honor, telling one another, “You’ve arrived!” when their books receive such a rating and while yes, in a great many cases one never goes broke betting on the general stupidity of the public at large, I do wonder how many of those one star reviews may have been a reader looking at a book they just bought and read, a book with five stars across the board and reviews containing lines such as “redefines the meaning of horror,” or “every sentence viciously lacerates the reader with willful intent to harm,” and thinking to themselves, “Are you guys kidding me?” Nothing spurs a knee jerk reaction quite like the feeling of having been conned out of one’s hard earned money or the self-righteousness of being the one to proclaim, “The emperor has no clothes!” Sometimes they may simply be right.
So just as with comic books, I will usually wait until all of the stories have been gathered into a collection, the graphic novel if you will, before I plunk my money down. When a collection is usually ten or more stories for $15 versus one story for $8, well, it’s not hard to get a sense of scale.
Thanks to Lovecraft eZine, I had read one of Mr. Slatsky’s stories before, so I was more than willing to buy his book. (This is my third confession, my dear unknown friend. When I originally posted this as part of my ‘Best of 2015’ I included the sentence “…and let me take a second to quietly applaud the work that Davis and crew put into exposing such a large amount of great writing to such a large audience.” I debated whether or not keep that when Mr. Davis asked me to place this on Lovecraft eZine. I certainly don’t want to be accused of being a brown-noser but you know what? Just a few of my idols are Bataille, Genet, and Emma Goldman. Those are large shoes to fill. Three plates of crow and a touch of brown-nosing wouldn’t earn a sneer from that crew so laissez les bons temps rouler.)
Slatsky delivers the weird with a sure and steady hand. One thing among the many I love about his work is his sense of resolution. Too often with writers of weird fiction I feel as if they are taking ambiguity as a license for laziness. I appreciate ambiguity, Aickman was a master of its application. Yet too many stories I’ve read as of late seem to lack any sense of internal logic, presented instead as a series of ‘weird vignettes’ and let the pieces fall where they may. Slatsky’s stories work because while you and I may have no clue as to what is going on we never doubt for a second that he himself knows exactly what is going on and why it is happening. The meaning behind it may be as messy as a soup sandwich, but it’s there alright, dripping on the pavement.
Read Slatsky at night. When you have the house to yourself. With one of the artists from Ghost Box Records on the stereo. Or Broadcast. You will see the world differently afterwards. Everything will be slightly askew. In a very beautiful way. I’ve got to tell you I’ve read this collection four or five times and every time I walk away swearing a new tale is my favorite but when they’re as exceptional while at the same time as varied as ‘The Ocean is Eating Our Graves’ (the title alone of that piece could spawn such a beautiful internal movie), ‘No One is Sleeping in This World’, or ‘This Fragmented Body’ what do you have to fear? This is not a hardship. I’ll stop there because in truth I’d just go through the entire table of contents listing every story, afraid of leaving a single one out. This slim volume is a calling card that quietly announces the arrival of a powerhouse, the quiet erudite cat who’s going to smash caves at the dinner table conversation and you can’t help but simultaneously love and hate him for it.
Before I leave, Dunhams Manor Press. The 4AD of micropresses. In case you don’t know 4AD once ruled the roost as far as independent record labels go. Cocteau Twins, Bauhaus, Birthday Party, This Mortal Coil, Lonely is an Eyesore, the list goes on forever. Thanks to the design work of Vaughan Oliver 4AD releases enjoyed a distinctive style so they could be identified from across the store. It did not matter what it was, if it came out on 4AD, I snatched it up immediately. If 4AD released it, it was going to be worth the money. Simple. That’s the same way I currently feel about Dunhams. They defy what I said above about individual chapbooks because they put out work of such consistently high quality. Gaze upon their design work and despair. That’s cats with day jobs and responsibilities just like you and I. That is the underground, and it is beautiful.