by Simon Clark
Dust jacket by Dolly Nickel
Signed Limited Edition Hardcover - $50.00
Fine in fine dj; new and unread, direct from the publisher
OUT OF PRINT FROM THE PUBLISHER
Silver Salamander Press, Seattle, WA, 1998; 272 pp; limited to 300 signed numbered copies, of which this is copy 89.
'. . . A few crumbs for starters, the meat comes later – you know, the blood, the thing in the graveyard . . . yeah yeah, the horror. Patience . . .' ('Blood For Sex Bites').
There's an Old Mill House in rural Wales. The mill race runs beneath it, but it also disrupts temporal expectations by diverting there into an endless sub-mind of dark tunnels, viewed through the imaginative device set into the room above. So that when the narrator-voice sees a drowning woman trapped there, is he seeing a vision of the lost sister, or a premonition of what will happen to Anne with whom he's commencing an affair? The ring on her finger suggests as much. But we don't know.
This is part of only the second anthology of 'the short horror fiction of Simon Clark'. And the first since he broke on through into Waterstones and Ottakers. But thus consolidated, it becomes obvious that these are what Martin Amis calls 'voice-stories', each one carried by the natural contemporary authenticity of the narrative and the validity of its emotional truth. There's no pantheon of dark Lovecraftian gods. No Demonic rituals or Satanic incantations. Instead these are urban myths of phantom killer-cyclists and glimpses of moving corpses in crematorium ovens. Its new deities include Jimi Hendrix – with an ageing hippie Miss Faversham still waiting for the dead electric god to turn up for his rehab ('Howls From A Blinding Curve'), or the haunting bohemian romance of 'Eyes Like A Ghost' with its mysterious Nick Drake/ Syd Barrett fragments.
The evil, when it comes, comes through a kind of magical realism, often unexplained or inexplicable. Yet while the horror is horrible – it's also metaphorically beautiful in its precision. It arrives wrapped in parental love – as in 'Lifting The Lid', where the narrator-voice returns home to inform his parents that they are dead (while the stranger in his room hints that perhaps he, too, is dead). Or 'Gerassimos Flamotas' – set in Kefalonia, where a bitter bankrupt farmer 'sells' his mute daughter, only to rediscover her hideously reassembled into a surreal human collage – 'the arms to the hips, the legs to the shoulders. It gave it the appearance of a four-legged spider. A big fat white spider, belly up on the pebble beach with a head jutting out from its stomach'. But the real human horror lies in the guilt, remorse and self-recrimination when mute Rosa speaks 'Papa, I love you', and 'he would hear those words for ever'.
Elsewhere, in the title story itself, tattooed bikers with names like Spuggy and Viper are just saved from caricature 'Tom Thug' nastiness by Clark's narrative assurance, only to get their bizarre and largely unexplained comeuppance through the accumulating metaphor of a salt sea mist that gradually entombs them in 'gouts of white'. As he's transformed into 'a large white blob' resembling 'an insect pupa' the disturbed eighteen-year-old girl victim who also provides the story's sexual catalyst, momentarily reminds Viper of his own early childhood innocence. Perhaps the pupa symbolises his rebirth into new a life-form? Perhaps not.
Like 'Acorn, A Bitter Substitute For Olives' ('be afraid, be very afraid, because in Wales no-one can hear you scream!') it suggests more secrets than it reveals, leaving only the voice to carry its conviction. A voice that first convinces with throwaway profundities like 'I don't believe there's such a thing as a houseproud parent', then stuns with the chill poetry of a word circling in his head 'like a new moon caught by the gravity of a cold and lonely planet'.
Salt Snake . . . collects no less than twenty-five story-bites into 272 well-dressed pages, gathering pretty much all of Simon's previously scattered stuff (a radio play, a few poems, SFX book reviews and oddities excepted) from sources as diverse as Fear, Back Brain Recluse, and Dark Dreams – an impressive percentage of which went on to grace various 'Best of . . .' anthologies. Sometimes his narrator-voice glimpses a vision of paradise beyond death, but gets incinerated in his attempts to reach it ('The Burning Doorway'). Then a brutal Reservoir Dogs scenario gets switched on its head by a hideous metamorphosis from cringing victim-drunk to man-eating monster (in 'A Biter Bit'). For Simon Clark writes New Urban Mythologies hard where they need to be hard, but never less than accurate. He can do the 'blood, the thing in the graveyard . . . yeah, yeah, the horror' as visceral, as obscene and as nasty as the best of them. But there's so much more to his fiction than just Blood and Grit. There's poetry too. And there's truth.
Acorns – A Bitter Substitute for Olives
Gerassimos Flamotas: A Day in the Life
Lifting the Lid
Howls from a Blinding Curve
The Bike Ride Home
The Burning Doorway
A Biter Bit
Eyes Like a Ghost
Blood for Sex Bites
The Gravedigger's Tale
Front of Head
The Last Barnsley Werewolf
The Old Man at the Gate
Feed My Children
Expressed from the Wood
Portrait of a Girl in a Graveyard
Man in Danger – A Video Self-Portrait
Okay, Kiss Experience, But Don't Open Your Mouth
Hearts Lost in a Vacuum
Beside the Seaside, Beside the Sea
Swallowing a Dirty Seed