Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Tel Aviv Dossier

by Lavie Tidhar & Nir Yaniv

6797849What does it mean to be an Israeli, what does it mean to be a Jew? What does the 'Jewish God' look like, what are His goals? Is Tel Aviv a godless city? What does 'godless' even mean? What should a city do in a time of gods and of monsters? What should a documentarian, an historian, a government agent, a rabbinical student, a fireman do in a time of gods and monsters? Is a holy monster still a holy thing - or is it merely a monster? Does the idea of transcendence differ between belief systems? What happens when we transcend? Do we go to other worlds, other dimensions? And hey, does being devoured by a gigantic invisible monster while still somehow retaining your consciousness count as transcendence? All of these questions and more are available for your personal contemplation right between the pages of The Tel Aviv Dossier.

So the above may make it sound like the book is a bit heavy. It is not! Although the story is about the end of a city, people driven mad and people massacred (including an unpleasantly graphic depiction of a child being slaughtered, ugh), and although it has a lot of very interesting and even profound things to consider about religion and belief and transcendence... the book is rather a light, fun, and briskly paced joyride. A short, punchy rollercoaster that is equal parts brutal monster novel, post-apocalyptic what if? scenario, bizarre postmodern pastiche, stylized farce, and sneakily ironic tale of worlds beyond worlds.

Here's a synopsis: godlike aliens invade Tel Aviv, devour people, cause a gigantic mountain that is a gateway between dimensions to burst up from the middle of the city, and create an unholy avatar in the person of a psychotic fireman; one year later, the surviving residents are practically insane and divided into warring factions. two outsiders who really know how to handle business fling themselves into the midst of this madness.

And that synopsis may sound like The Tel Aviv Dossier is pure genre novel. It is not! The feeling of the whole endeavor reminded me quite a lot of various Monty Python films, of my favorite film Brazil, and of the cerebral wackiness of writers like John Barth and Robert Coover. The authors are playing with genre forms that they don't seem to quite believe in. The farcical artificiality transforms all of the potential heaviness into something quite light; likewise, all of the genre trappings become a costume that is worn with sarcastic distance. This is one of the oddest novels I've read in a while. It was also completely enjoyable. I highly recommend it to people who can handle this sort of strange, strongly-laced cup of tea.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Pyx

by John Buell

The Pyx - John BuellThe Pyx is the story of Elizabeth Lucy, a high-end call girl who dies on the first page. The novel has many flavors: pulp noir, mystery and crime story, character study, tragedy, with some Satanism tossed in to make things even more spicy. The tale is told in alternating perspectives: 'The Present' features soul-deadened detective Henderson searching for clues and 'The Past' features soul-deadened Elizabeth, slowly moving towards her terminal destination but trying to do one last good thing. Her ending is one that she fears but somehow craves as well.
The language has the brutal beauty of the best of pulp crime fiction. Hard-boiled and poetic in equal amounts, full of terse dialogue, barely understood longings, bleakly sardonic commentary on the smallness of lives, bottomless despair and monstrous cruelty conveyed in brief and ambiguous turns of phrase, paragraphs that describe the living breathing bustling world that suddenly end with an off-hand sentence describing bloodstains on a sidewalk. It is a beautiful novel and Elizabeth Lucy is one of the more memorable examples of the hardened prostitute with a heart of gold that I've read. The book is the same: deeply cynical and angrily pessimistic but allowing many characters - Elizabeth, Henderson, a sensitively rendered gay friend, a mourning father, an alcoholic priest, and several others - to show their souls in ways that are genuinely moving. The Pyx is a surprisingly soulful book, and I loved it for that.
It has a very an off-putting final chapter that reveals the mystery of the pyx and the motivations of the primary villain. It appears to be written by another person entirely - "Daniel Mannix" - but I don't know if that is true or not. The style is certainly different than anything that came before, so I'm inclined to believe it. The ending reminded me a lot of the ending of the film Psycho: that smarmy psychologist, attempting to render all of the strangeness and ambiguity that have come before his scene into something that is logical, even prosaic, an uncomfortable but still easily digestible set of formulaic motivations. And as with Psycho, the memory of all the strange ambiguity that came before renders The Pyx's final chapter as nothing more than a footnote. Or perhaps even just a wink to the reader, much as Hitchcock was winking to Psycho's audience. Sure, things can be explained, things that are horrible or beautiful or full of pathos or just unnervingly and threateningly weird. But can you ever truly explain away such things? And why would you want to? They defy explanation.

Worther or Mrs. Latimer would want the body, but alive, alive to peddle it, to feed it heroin, to dress it up, to make it entertain lechers who had nothing but money and erotic energy, to make it stop belonging to a human being, to make it wind up here with a long jump, or a long push.

She felt, not cut off, but far away from what was happening, the people existed just like a radio you've forgotten was on, and her walking was motion that she wanted to stop soon.

She said very quietly, "Coffee, please," and sat down at a table. A while ago, perhaps years, she would have noticed his action and smiled, enjoying the effect she had. She might even be pleased a little. But now, she couldn't be pleased or flattered by her beauty; it wasn't part of her consciousness; it was just a fact, a thing that was part of her life, something others thought she was lucky enough to have, something others wanted. She had no mental picture of herself as an outwardly visible person; she had only an inner vision of...

"Here's your coffee, miss."

Monday, November 4, 2013


by Douglas Clegg

Iris Villiers loves her brother Harvey, perhaps too well. unfortunately for them, they now live at Belarion Hall, in Cornwall - an estate much whispered about, old sinister tales, people transformed, the dead called back... can such things be true? the pair shall soon find out. but first, some time in a play. their roles: Isis and Osiris...


Clegg paints a story just right. the tale is highly atmospheric and the prose is often quite lovely. I found myself lost in dreamy contemplation of a haunted Cornish coast, sheltered youths wandering throughout a Gothic mansion, dark and windy nights, playing blindsman's bluff to conjure the dead, overgrown gardens and subterranean burial chambers. this is the sort of story where I hold its brevity against it - I wanted to live in this world so much longer than I did. although I did not care for the ending and the description of heaven was equal parts enchanting and eye-rolling, this is still a supernatural tale that I would recommend to all fans of the more classic style of horror.

the illustrations are wonderful. kudos to the artist Glenn Chadbourne!

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