My real-time review continued from HERE.

The Sunken City
“What I read, I’m still not sure.”
This is a companion piece, it seems, to the previous one in the book, where the echoes of our policeman’s private life and misgivings mingle with an investigation where a figure who was filmed giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation turns out to be giving quite the opposite. I was reminded of Debussy’s ‘cathedrale engloutie’ when first reading the title and I also now feel I was on a correct, if slightly confused, track in my interpretation of the previous story in the light of this one. In the womb a child needs no air. But when is the exact astrological epochal moment when it needs to take its first breath? And we know that both victim and culprit, detective and suspect, mother and child, abortionist and aborted, could quite so easily become each other. The mockery of official and unofficial forces with just the same lack of relativity. And it was only the gift of a chance that each of us survived our own birth to tell our own story. Until the same chance took it away again from us – gratuitously, often suddenly – returning us into the Boschean sunken realms.


14 responses to “*

  1. Incry
    “I’ve always been claustrophobic, hated the idea of being locked in. A drunken friend of my wife once told me I’d joined the force to deny my fear by imprisoning others.”
    That’s almost a parallel description of deciding to become a Horror Writer? A quote I’ve decided to pick out from this short short upon this occasion of reading it. And, in the light of the previous story, to which it is related: “Can you hold your breath in your sleep?” A story that continues to groom the reader to read on along the thread of its leasehold policeman narrator. Leased by whom? I have read and reviewed this story before and below are the words I wrote HERE:

    [[ Incry by Joel Lane
    “But echoes of the toilet box death kept recurring for me.”
    In only 4 pages, this genuine Lane-like gem helps me piece together the book’s gestalt (in a similar way as I earlier pieced together ‘Water Buried’).  The dark “atonal” symphony with pent-up screams released as a chorus. Boxes (even an earlier character called Box and, elsewhere, even a Boxer!). Attic or celllar or rocket or within-own-body claustrophobia. Things being “trapped“, waiting for release. So perfect genius to say ‘incry’ not ‘outcry’… We don’t want this book to create an outcry, so much as a thoughtful Horror vision that really stings us into some sort of consciousness of the trapped self, perhaps? A sadness that prepares us for happy release? Or any other expression one can think of to describe these elements in one’s own personality.  However, this story may only be a way-station for a different gestalt to emerge when I read on in this book. I do not know as yet. (22 Jan 11) ]]

  2. The Last Witness
    “How can you kill yourself when you’re already dead?”
    I have just re-read this story, of a bent businessman who has a sort of tontine ‘protection’ threat against all the witnesses who witness his wrongdoings, but here the long-term prize is not necessarily a lurid death but an eternity of waiting, of witnessing nothing. This story now means more than it actually means, the story that stores up more and more meaning till the last reader has read it and been given its whole dark meaning. Another sunken city below the toxic water-table. The witness has gone. Or he has stayed and we have gone. My previous review of this story from HERE:

    [[ The Last Witness by Joel Lane
    “I couldn’t look away.”
    For me, Joel Lane is Birmingham.
    If only by titles alone, this should be the sequel to his acclaimed novella ‘The Witnesses Are Gone’. Chemical photos contrasting with the pencil sketches in ‘Summerhouse’… while the capitalist society’s desecration of property resonates with the misguided security of ’home’ hinted at in ‘So‘.  Almost a prose poem, this retrocausally memorable story is toxic in its own way, crystallising its own bitter succinctness by this writer’s unique alchemy of negative pain / grotesqueness and positive commitment. Through Lane, we ever learn to transcend nightmares of existence by sharing his dark visions and breathing in his oxymorons. The best medicine seems toxic. (16 June 10 – another 4 hours later)

  3. Dreams of Children
    “He was a serial witness.”
    As part of our narrator policeman continuing his path through his own serial investigation of dark, vision-witnessed crimes and his own serial dream-sleeping beside his wife Elaine, he dreams of himself as child amongst other children: among many who once intersected the past coordinates of his path. And, in his job, he has occasion to encounter a witness who seems frequently to default towards crime situations he witnesses, often suspected himself of committing them. There is something detached or flabbily passive about some of Lane’s characters as they themselves intersect the policeman’s path, characters often caught on CCTV, who might later fade off or become forgotten yet not REALLY forgotten. Always there.
    “My dreams were bad, but at least I didn’t remember them.”

  4. Waiting for the Thaw
    “…pretending that when the spoiled meat defrosts it will somehow smell fresh again.”
    This story of our policeman’s snowbound investigation of a man and boy found dead on a sofa together in innocent embrace and a notebook he then reads … Suddenly, at the end, following forensic evidence, it all falls into place, the perfect short short, one that, in the whole context not only of this particular story but also of the whole book so far, will resonate with you forever. Estrangement transcended. There’s something beautiful about sadness. There’s something sad about believing that.
    (In this context, I’d like to report that Joel often told me he liked my ‘Entries’ story and the reason it was included in my ‘Last Balcony’ collection was because of his suggestion that it should be included.)

  5. Stiff As Toys
    “The police were nothing more than half-sighted witnesses. As usual.”
    I see this story was first published in 1998 but it has incredible bearing on matters Ligottian that have been preoccupying me in recent days. Ligotti’s Corporate Horror side of things has long been a blood brother of Lane’s – urban factory-lands and the metaphor of, say, children’s dolls… Here this is the most disturbing example of that scenario I have ever read, where a dead ex-policeman and our current policeman come, I interpret, to some sort of undercover pact as cover to a series of brutal deaths in the area that make humanity seem more fragile than ever, like dolls… Another terribly haunting vision of self-destruction and simple passive coping. And dreams as personal loving re-enactments.
    For me, this book continues to develop exponentially — not chronologically by the dates of Lane’s literary output but, rather, in some paradoxical, yet logical, deep-structure path that now joins dotted lines that were variously set in motion willy nilly.
    “His department used to buy cheap dolls from Toys R Us in Union Street. Small ones, boxes of four.”

  6. The Victim Card
    “Philip Larkin said that what will survive of us is love.”
    Our policeman’s backstory of wife and daughter sadly develops and takes on life’s more typical defaults and turns of attrition or entropy just as the backstory of his latest case of a male murder victim is also complexly brought back to investigative life (so as to help find out who murdered him), brought back by connecting rumours, answer-phone recordings, interviews, observations of where he lived etc. As if we can pull strings or pliably manipulate our own image, limb by limb, thought by thought, glance by glance, even from beyond our own death. Retrocausally.
    “Don’t look for connections where there aren’t any.”

  7. Winter Journey
    “I had the feeling it was trying to recapitulate a much longer journey within this district, to tell me something.”
    …a Schubertian Winterreise that ends with the hurdy-gurdy man? Or just some strange way this author is leading the reader into paths that are not at first obvious by the natural grain of the text? This story is of an investigation by our policeman that involves passing of bodily fluids between investigator and the investigated (a runaway teenage boy who is passively feral) and a shape-changing fox that may have roamed the whole of Europe before reaching Birmingham. The policeman’s relationship with his wife Elaine: something he seems to hide from or hides her from the man he now is, as other irresistible yearnings take hold.
    This book has become a passive recurrency, almost a minimalist piece of music, with striking, often blurred, features on its landscape that mark your inevitable journey through relentlessly onward tides of darkness. Yet the hurdy-gurdy man may be reserving a special message for you once you arrive at destination’s end, a message that shapes hope from despair. I hope so.

  8. Slow Burn
    “People I know dying always knocks me off balance. You don’t get used to that.”
    Our policeman investigates a case of possibly yobbish arson in an area of derelict mines in a part of ragged countryside, possible sinkholes of toxic waste, with a housing estate close by, a place where he spent some time courting Elaine in the old days. (E-Lane … Oh, I have realised that resonance as I just this minute typed out his wife’s name!) — He meets an old ex-policeman who had been pensioned out early for reasons connected with investigating this area and a dark vision he can’t throw off, who now waits eternally, in slow burn, perhaps the last witness that this book’s policeman protagonist sees himself becoming – or already is? The one who ever only serves to stand and wait as in the Milton poem, I wonder … while the rest of us fade away. And like most, if not all, of this book’s cumulative stories, each ending with their own tantalising ‘dying fall’ or ‘chaconne’.

  9. The Receivers
    Our policeman’s marriage to Elaine withers on the vine and his daughter Julia leaves home, finally clinching the deal with family entropy, and we also clinch a similar deal with the community, the Birmingham metaphor, its black market in goods, shoplifters, racism, bent businessmen, and for me there is a clinching vision through his allotment fence, almost like a POW camp scenario from the war, with paper children but, more than that, the ultimate cumulative vision that started with newsprint etc earlier in the book: a paper grave, of paper money and what remained of whoever wanted to spend it after sucking it in. For me, the fact that some may be reading this story in E-Lane format rather than paper pages, as it should be read, makes me think… Just that.

  10. Wake Up In Moloch
    “There are so many machines around us that we don’t know how to be afraid of them.”
    I sense our leasehold policeman is now put on a personal case by his freehold author, where, after a bizarre machine in a garden seems to kill the man mowing the lawn next door, we enter a world of disturbing extrapolation from Absurdist SF. And a self-harming sect deriving from the author’s didactic message about carelessness with today’s machines, and cannibalising machines, doctoring them. Almost a cult of purposeful transcendence of health and safety. But didacticism can work both ways? Like filters, I guess. I sense, too, that this book is heading towards angry visions of visions, rather than the visions themselves. Something even more disturbing than the deliberate conscious disturbing by the author’s ‘fiction’ heretofore. This book is an undoubted great one, almost in spite of itself. Or, rather, because of its liberating itself from the author’s control, where even or especially the police can’t help bring it into check?

  11. Point of Departure
    “At the back of New Street Station, a concrete block holds a staircase leading down to one of the nearby streets.”
    Possibly as an aside, maybe not, I ought to report, in the light of this story and the previous one, that my wife and I was at Birmingham mainline New Street Station a month or two ago. Mid-morning, we were travelling up a moving escalator behind what turned out to be a man with a heavy suitcase. Strangely, my wife was standing on the right, while, a step or two behind her, I was standing on the left; the man suddenly unbalanced backwards, my wife managing to save his case from falling further, and I spontaneously and with much difficulty, without over-balancing myself, managed to save him and myself and the rest of the escalator full of people behind me from what would have been a concertina catastrophe. If we hadn’t been positioned thus, it would have been a major incident. I am not necessarily claiming to be an unsung hero, but as Joel Lane now takes me in this story explicitly into a Jungian multi-dream nightmare about a New Street Station stairway, I thought I would mention it. One that was going to be worse than I imagined? One that has taken hold of me as a full leasehold reader within the book, having followed hereto the book’s own stairway or relentless gestalt of visions… Or maybe your sense of the common dream is different from mine.
    “‘There won’t be anything a bunch of coppers can do.’ He smiled nervously. ‘You can’t arrest human nature.'”

  12. Blind Circles
    “At night all cats are grey.”
    This story, where our policeman is dispatched to replace another policeman on sick leave in Kingstanding, Northern Birmingham, seems to be a more obviously didactic tract about racism, and on that level it’s confused and not my favourite story in this book – but when it is finally taken to some Absurdist ‘I am Spartacus’ extreme, even some human people are white throughout and inside their bodies…The Joel-Dolls as an image of another Flashmob or Gathering with pale passivity (harbouring such extreme issues) is a haunting one. And one that may, in time, make this story have a long-term aftertaste that will outlast its mere filler status here.

  13. Facing the Wall
    “The process had a momentum of its own.”
    i.e. the process of the book’s relentless night-grey minimalism, a minimalism paradoxically inspiring as well as soul-draining, the art of this writer transcending his own inner demons and reconciling the realist with the Crime Fiction writer and with the dark witness and with the angry righter of wrongs and with the puckish humourist and with the sensitive poet and with the Weird Fiction writer and with the literary critic as well as his negotiating of the masochistic ‘Maze’ (as this story calls it) of the rest of us, you and me, the flashmobs and other strangely calm gatherings, the closing in of pallid forces plus the memorable visionary landmarks amid that night-grey minimalism. And the momentum has also been our nemonymous policeman’s own process as a family man now reaching its inevitable culmination following dark hints earlier, the man who killed a god or a ‘doll’ that was ‘joll’, but at first I thought this story made a combined didactic coda with the previous story, here taking a swipe at the Iraq War in 2003, possibly one of the author’s major bugbears judging by evidence outside of this book. And indeed, I PREFER these two final stories to form that cool coda, with ‘Point of Departure’ being the story that REALLY ends this book, his point of departure, where he personally embraces me and hopefully you with similar uncanny serendipity. A great great book. RIP Joel Lane.

  14. Having completed the above review a few days ago, I re-read and re-reviewed THE SLEEP MASK here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2013/12/24/the-sleep-mask/

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