Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Bloody Pages Book Reviews

Nightjar Press Autumn Chapbooks Review
Anthony Servante

Nightjar Press has just put out two new chapbooks, the Autumn Releases, one traditional horror, the other magical realism. Nightjar publishes signed limited edition chapbooks between 10 and 15 pages in length.

The latter story is called “Sullom Hill” (2011) Nightjar Press by Christopher Kenworthy, an Australian writer and film director.

It is a tale of a young boy who befriends two very different types of friends: Neil is a 16 year old boy with the mental capacity of an 8 year old; he also has a grotesque body, huge lips, abnormally curly hair, and an assumed hunchback, due to an accident at birth; John is a high-school aged boy who is socially deformed, a victim of beatings by an abusive father, and the typical ‘juvenile delinquent’ always looking for trouble. Our unnamed narrator, whom we learn about only from his actions and reactions to his two friends, tells the reader of the events leading up to the big denouement on Sullom Hill, where sunshine and storm, light and darkness meet, and Neil and John have a confrontation that is both surreal and enlightening. Kenworthy uses his skill as a film maker to set up the story with scenes similar to camera shots in a movie. One scene, in particular, that captures John’s anti-social behavior occurs in the classroom where he takes slap after slap from the teacher in an almost self-destructive attempt at defiance: “They were both standing at the front of the class, in front of the blackboard. It was May, hotter than usual, and the ancient mottled windows in room 31 polluted the light and made it look like the sun was setting. It gave the impression that the two of them were up on stage, the light picking them out against the black background, while their silent audience watched.” This ‘shot’ foreshadows the finale on Sullom Hill where light and darkness again set up the scene. The ‘supernatural’ element to the story, a form of ‘magical realism’ found in modern Latino writing, stems from the control John seems to exert over nature and the change Neil undergoes as a result of John’s manipulation. Sullom Hill is a worthwhile addition to the Psychological Horror genre, similar to that employed by Dennis Etchison and Trent Zelazny in their writings, without the element of gore, which Kenworhty replaces with the fantastical element. I look forward to more stories from Christopher Kenworthy as his writing style projects a subtle horror while capturing the dark moments of a teenaged troubled youth.

The second chapbook is “Remains” (2011) Nightjar Press by GA Pickin (aka Gerda Pickin), a storyteller and musician associated with ‘Luce Women’.

Her tale involves a lost hiker who gets caught by the night in a haunting hamlet. Using a combination of metaphors, similes and a poetic prose style that carries the story with a visual rhythm and timing usually reserved for eulogies and Victorian novels, the horror element creeps up on the reader just as the hiker in the story walks in on the barren church at dusk, where an old harmonium seems harmless in its silent rusty condition. Longing to find the cottage where his friends await (he hopes), the lost hiker senses something amiss within the natural surroundings he finds himself in by the quickening nightfall. The Gothic flair of the descriptions in the tale and the hiker’s predicament provide the reader with a pending sense of horror, an ominous swelling of mood and atmosphere. The narrator contrasts the ‘light’ thoughts of his friends and how they met with the dark solitude he finds himself lost in. He summarizes his predicament: “…he was filled with the peripheral glimpse of all the travellers caught by sudden mists, early sunsets, the disorientation that could lead a man round and round in circles. Travellers whose lanterns had guttered, whose provisions had proved inadequate, whose luck had run out.” Being lost in a dark hazardous place covered in late night mist is more frightening than any horror waiting in the darkness thanks to Ms. Pickin’s wondrous writing. The only hiccups I found here were with the conveniently ‘weak phone signal’ that has become typical in our technological times, and with the ‘weak batteries’ of the ‘torch’ (‘flashlight’ to us over here across the Pond), both new cliches, especially in horror yarns and movies (remember it used to be the telephone booth in the middle of nowhere whose phone was always out of order?). But these are minutiae in a bold telling of a strong story. The ending with the dirge-like siren’s call is subtle and in keeping with the poetic telling of the tale. I read this story twice just to re-appreciate the prose. I look forward to reading more from this talented writer and her prosaic style of horror.

Visit Nightjar Press's Website here: http://nightjarpress.wordpress.com/

--Anthony Servante