Avalon Brantley Carries the torch for American Decadence in “Descended Suns Resuscitate”

You may purchase Descended Suns Resuscitate here.

My dear unknown friend,

I’ve written previously of my love for Avalon Brantley’s writing. Knowing full well that she published with small presses, some being extremely niche with diminutive print runs that sell out rapidly I grew determined to obtain as many of these anthologies as I could. I write this of course to justify to my own self the price I paid for her collection of short stories, Descended Suns ResusciateIn writing the previous lines I just realized how easily I slipped into the role of the obsessive protagonist which populate classic weird tales. Such is the power of Mrs. Brantley’s writing.

Upon the volume’s prompt arrival from Germany all concerns of cost dissipated immediately. Descended Suns Resusciate is quite simply a work of art, an object whose form and function merge seamlessly and flawlessly, one into the other. The die-cut, textured cloth covers offer a beguiling glimpse of Jon Estwards’ exquisitely haunting endpaper photograph, the sewn-in black ribbon bookmark and the paper, my gods the paper on which this book is printed. The paper is so heavy that were it not so smooth and had a touch more tooth it would serve well as a medium for watercolors. Descended Suns Resusciate as a physical object alone would bear pride of place in any fin de siècle salon.

DSR-fern-2

I’ve been vocal of my love for Brantley’s writing and that love has only strengthened upon completion of Descended Suns Resusciate. In a recent interview to discuss his new book, Weird Fiction in Britain 1880–1939, James Machin made the illuminating statement, “Brian Stableford remarked somewhere that the Decadence of the 1890s never really died, it just moved to the U.S. with Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, etc.” I would be hard-pressed to find a stronger defense for this line of reasoning than Avalon Brantley’s wonderful collection of short stories we are now discussing.In the author’s own words, the stories within DSR;

“come from a different place: from a love of dead words and dust, of sun-faded photographs and the smell of old books. They come from the joy of exploring the works and thoughts and worlds of all those long-dead others before us, the populations of that foreign country where, as L.P. Hartley so perfectly observed, ‘…they do things differently…’. But to delve into their remnants, to fire them again with new passion—is like reanimating ashes, a sort of philologic necromancy. So many former ways of writing, thinking, speaking, singing, loving, being, may be lost to the world, transient as sunset, but I believe that something of their spirit can be stirred again.”

Brantley’s deep love of history shines in each and every one of these stories, from the dystopian apocalypse of Rome through the end cycles of the Kali Yuga itself. The headlong immersion required to pen these stories is nothing short of astonishing. “Regretting Pond” has haunted my days since I first read the tale, the poetics of its form well fitted to the underlying horror of a household item we take so for granted nowadays I had never given one second’s consideration to its construction. Now every time I pass my hands along said surface I pause in remembrance to key images from Mrs. Brantley’s tale and reflect. If art is the ability to make us see everyday objects in a new light then Mrs. Brantley’s “Regretting Pond” has exceeded on all levels.

The evocative “Hognissaga” takes its genesis from the Nibelungenlied, an ancient German epic which helped inspire Wagner’s ring cycle. In this venerated poem the warrior Hogni tells his men as they are trapped within a fire to save themselves from the heat and thirst of the flames to slake their thirst by drinking the blood of the fallen. Mrs. Brantley builds upon these few lines to construct a tale of a wandering bard that both charmed and thrilled me. Rules are meant to be broken and when done with such graceful élan as demonstrated here it is absolutely captivating to behold.

avalonbrantleyBy now dear heart you know I detest the blow-by-blow recounting that passes for contemporary book reviews so I’ll write of one more story within DSR as I feel “The Dunwich Cartharsis” would be of particular interest to readers of this site and gracefully embodies Mrs. Brantley’s love for the past. Building upon an incident recorded in passing within Dr. John Dee’s Spiritual Diaries, “The Dunwich Cartharsis” prepares the reader with all the signifiers they are well ensconced within one of the earliest forms of the weird tale before adroitly introducing unforeseen influences that cause one to physically pause and reconsider their preconceptions. Here Brantley’s immersion in the past is used brilliantly to breathe new life into an all too familiar historical figure, humanizing while allowing Dee to stand wholly within the constraints of his time.

During my time as a magician I witnessed countless performers that spent untold hours writing and talking of “evoking a sense of wonder,” instead conveying to their audience a  smug and smarmy sense of superiority. Eugene Burger has written at length on this topic, the need to know what others do not attracting a specific personality type while young that does not temper with age. As of late the contemporary weird fiction scene has followed magicians down this rabbit hole, collecting oddities and anomalies as cultural capital, talk of creating a “sense of wonder” laying exposed upon the page as mere fact-hoarding to be bartered like trading cards upon the playground. Avalon Brantley’s work is the shew stone which lays bare these fabrications, her delight in the sheer sense of other that comes from a deep immersion into humanity’s past epochs fuels her sense of strangeness. Rather than weaponizing her hard-won knowledge she fervently shared it with her audience. Avalon Brantley’s work is addictive because it is the combined result of a profound knowledge of humanity’s past, an exquisite prose style and a deep love for the act of storytelling. More than anything it is an all-consuming love of writing that lends its luminosity to Descended Suns Resuscitate. Goodbye Mrs. Brantley. I did not know you but something inside me moves every time my eyes fall upon your books.

Soundtrack for the review: 

You may purchase Descended Suns Resuscitate here.

Article’s featured image by Shadowlands85. You may view of their work here.

Review written by Acep Hale.

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