Gary McMahon: A Collage Review
In Black Static #30 I review Gary McMahon's latest collection, Tales of the Weak & The Wounded (DRP pb, 223pp, $16.95), which contains seven stories that I've reviewed previously. With space in the magazine limited, rather than go over old ground I decided to reprise the McMahon extracts from the original reviews on this blog.
'Diving Deep' previously published in the End of the Line anthology from Solaris and reviewed in Black Static #22:-
Gary McMahon does without trains altogether for 'Diving Deep', in which a man who is detached from his life finds an egress into the universe through a smooth tunnel found at the Pole, the story rich with hints of the Cthulhuesque and a cosmic sense of awe, but given a human dimension by the writer's portrayal of his detached protagonist.
'Those Damned Kids' previously published in The Bitten Word anthology from NewCon Press and reviewed in Black Static #19:-
'Those Damned Kids' is the one thoroughly modern story in the anthology, and is typical of Gary McMahon's oeuvre, delivering up a bleak and repellent depiction of urban blight, with communities dying on their feet, and the hoodie clad teens who personify this decay, only to then turn the tables on reader and renegades alike. There's a grittiness to the language, an underlying awareness of social substrata and the very real horrors that give us all sleepless nights, the whole mulched up in a welter of blood and tears, and with an ending where only the monsters can offer hope.
'Strange Scenes From An Unfinished Film' previously published in Cern Zoo: Nemonymous 9 anthology from Megazanthus Press and reviewed in Black Static #13:-
'Strange Scenes From An Unfinished Film' has a movie buff learning rather more than he wants to about the methodology of the largely unknown director he is obsessed with, in a disturbing story with a strong atmosphere of nihilism at its core.
'The Ghost of Rain' previously published in the Dark Minds anthology from Dark Minds Press and reviewed in Black Static #22:-
There are twelve stories, most by writers largely unknown to me, with a couple of 'famous' names to sweeten the pot. The cover with its tag line - 'including an original story by Gary McMahon' - leaves you with no doubt as to the selling point. It's a heavy burden to place on McMahon's shoulders, but he carries it off effortlessly with 'The Ghost of Rain', the story of an insomniac who finds the key to falling asleep when he downloads a recording of rain from a dodgy internet site, but with McMahon nothing is ever that simple and at back of it all is the memory of a crime buried deep in the narrator's subconscious. As ever McMahon is excellent at showing disjointed lives, the ways in which failing to connect undermines us all, with an unhappy marriage and an unhappy childhood throwing a man's life out of kilter, and revelations that ultimately cause his reality to fall apart.
The story 'Teen Spirit' was previously published in Black Static #14, and was discussed at some length on my personal blog, as per the link below.
'What They Hear in the Dark' previously published by Spectral Press as a chapbook and reviewed in Black Static #22:-
WHAT THEY HEAR IN THE DARK (Spectral Press paperback, 21pp, £3.50) by Gary McMahon is the first release from a new publisher seeking to emulate Nightjar's chapbook-centric business model, and it's an impressive debut.
Rob and Becky are renovating an old house, but hanging over every aspect of their life together is the memory of son Eddie, brutally tortured and murdered by three young thugs. They discover a hidden room in the bowels of the house, a room in which there appears to be no sound. For Becky this is a place of peace and tranquillity, somewhere that she can go to be close to Eddie, whose ghost she thinks lives in the room (as a baby Eddie made no noise for the first two weeks of his life). To Rob though, there is something sinister about the room. In a dream he sees three demonic figures, with the possibility that it's not actually a dream at all, and then at the climax of this chapbook, he encounters these creatures again in a scene whose language apes that of the dream.
Quiet is the leit motif of this narrative - the silence of the room, Eddie's lack of speech for the first two weeks of his life, and the things that Rob and Becky do not say to each other, the black hole at the centre of their lives that sucks in all sound and all meaning, all hope of any genuine communication about the pain they are each going through. What seems to be at the heart of this story are the different ways in which these two characters deal with grief. Becky finds peace of a kind, through accepting that the law has been exercised, if not justice; it's the nearest she can come to closure. But for Rob, who plays out the death of their child on a closed loop inside his mind, it is impossible to believe in or accept such a level of evil as purely human, and for him there can be no peace. The room appears to manifest what each of them is feeling.
While he is not in the story Eddie dominates everything, is the catalyst for all that takes place. The cracks in the relationship of these two people are as transparent as those in the walls of the house, and in one sense it is their own marriage they are trying to repair, though it seems to have been dealt a death blow and all that is left for them and us to discover is how hopeless things are. They do not work together, they have different ideas, and though it doesn't have to be that way it means they are doomed to fall apart. Becky can accept all that has happened, but for Rob Eddie's death is given an outward form in the demonic figures draped in human flesh that he bears witness to at the story's climax, fiends that threaten to tear his soul to shreds.
This was a strange and moving story, McMahon's skill at blending past and present, capturing the stress lines of fractured relationships and damaged people, causing the reader to identify totally with the characters and feel for their loss, with an outré aspect that makes concrete the menace they deal with, the macabre and naturalistic elements of the story playing off of and reinforcing each other.
'Survivor Guilt' previously published in The British Fantasy Society Yearbook and reviewed in a previous Case Notes blog post:-
Marcus Kane is a typical Gary McMahon protagonist, haunted by his past, finding release from grief in alcohol, or at least distraction. Everything in his life becomes focused on finding the Bakerloo Angel, a Samaritan he believes comforted his wife as she lay dying after the 7/7 terror attacks on London, but of course nothing is quite what it seems. It's a gripping story, McMahon as good as ever at painting bleakness and despair in colours most of us can identify with. The resolution does somewhat undercut what has gone before, substituting a twist ending for genuine emotion, but at the same time perhaps that is the point, that what consumes us has an entirely different value to someone else. In some ways I found it derivative, McMahon's originality vested in the 7/7 connection rather than any plot development. Regardless, the story worked and rather well.
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