Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Monday, 25 July 2011

"Do not pass go" by Joel Lane (Nine Arches Press, 2011)

A fiction pamphlet, about the first I've seen. The pieces are described as crime stories, though the focus is psychological. Ben Wilkinson in the TLS recently reviewed The Autumn Myth, Lane's latest poetry collection, writing that it's "sometimes bleak for bleakness' sake". I don't feel that with this book, though Blues and blackness are never far away, and punishment is often self-inflicted, albeit indirectly. The text is fast-moving, atmospheric and strong-voiced with lots about music, pubs and clubs. There's view-point variety in the 5 stories - 1st person (potential victim); 1st person (criminal); 1st person (detective?); 3rd person (victim); 3rd person (criminal/victim). They have strong first paragraphs. Here's the start of "Blue Mirror"

The bedroom was cold when John woke up. It was nearly ten o'clock. Dave was lying wrapped in the stained blanket of his own dreams. A small trickle of saliva had escaped from one corner of his mouth. John could hear the faint wheezing sound of Dave's cigarette-laden breath. Even in sleep, he couldn't shut the fuck up.

As a poem might be held together by a sonic texture, so a story might be unified by interlocking symbolism. In "This Night Last Woman", the karaoke, the songs, and the middle-aged people's preoccupations help sustain the sense of nostalgia, of lost opportunity. The persona escapes being murdered because the mass murderer thought he was already dying. An opportunity or something to regret?

In "The Black Dog" there's a symbolic leitmotif too. A pile of tarmac "looked like a huge sleeping dog". Later, the murderer confesses that "The black dog won't leave me alone". It's not just depression; there's a body under the tarmac. At the end the tarmac dominates as the detective walks - "The road was covered with fresh tarmac ... I felt sick and cold, unable to move. I looked for some kind of mark in the fresh tarmac. What did I expect: feet running away, paws following? The surface was unblemished.".

"Rituals" is my favorite - it's about what to do with guilt, the risks one takes when trying to belong. 4 men (one of them Finlay, who's armed) are taking Dalton to a disused factory to teach him a lesson, but the place is double-booked - a gay porn film's being made. In the chaos Finlay kills an actor. Dalton escapes, beaten to death days later. Finlay, lying low, has trouble sleeping. He recalls as a child thinking that the city turns into a forest in the night. He remembers a folk-tale called 'Finlay the Hunter' where the lost hunter is eaten by man-wolves. Suddenly Finlay's in a gay bar where he finds his forest. In the final paragraph 4 young men who'd been waiting for him drive him away. "Probably they weren't even aware why they were going to do it. They were just beginners, keen to belong, to uphold the rituals".

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