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Black Static

New Horror Fiction BLACK STATIC ISSUE 71 OUT NOW!

The Late Review: Damage

12th Aug, 2019

Author: Peter Tennant

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I reviewed Rosalie Parker's first collection The Old Knowledge in Black Static #21. Her second collection DAMAGE (PS Publishing hc, 220pp, £20) appeared in 2016, containing twenty stories, fourteen of which are previously unpublished.

Opening story 'Homecraft' originally appeared in the anthology Uncertainties Volume 2 edited by Brian J. Showers, which I reviewed in Black Static #56 and on that occasion I had this to say - "Rosalie Parker's 'Homecraft' has two runaway children sheltering in an abandoned house, and turning it into a protective deity of sorts. Again what makes the story is the characterisation of Sylvie and Jonathan, the subtlety of Parker's portrayal, and also what she doesn't say as regards the plot, the things the reader is left to infer regarding the behaviour and fate of Uncle Jack, and the nature of Jonathan's illness."

'Random Flight' is the story of Patrick, a conman whose tricks go astray when he tries to "kill" two birds with one stone and comes a cropper of a flight of crows. It's an easy going amiable story, one which seems to mark the gullibility of certain women to the kind of chancer personified by Patrick, but always with something more sinister going on in the background, a subtext that takes a rather grotesque turn in the story's end game. 'A Correspondence' reproduces verbatim the letters between Alice Jones and a person detained at Her Majesty's pleasure. Again there's the feel of something sinister going on in among all the talk about garden vacuum cleaners and books read, but here not quite as satisfactorily rendered, so that at the end I was left feeling vaguely dissatisfied and with a sense that I might have missed the point. The eponymous heroine of 'Beth-Harvest Home ' is trying to make her way in the world after losing her farm job through an indiscretion, only to realise that she was where she was always meant to be. It's a story that seems to be simply a chain of events and, while I enjoyed reading it, I wasn't left with the sense of anything notable or truly interesting having taken place.

'Walking Tour' is a tale of poltergeists and unrequited love, written with a little too much mundanity for my liking, at least in the plainness of the prose, with no real sense of emotional depth, that if you scratch the surface of these characters there will be something underneath, but the way in which the poltergeist is used, and suggestions as to its real nature, make the story interesting. Musicians on the make are the subject of 'Siren', a tale of tormented ambition and drug use that delivers its shocks to the system with real skill and aplomb, making us care about the characters and then showing their true faces. There's a similar trajectory to the plot in title story 'Damage', in which a plastic surgeon seeking political asylum is really not at all the way he initially seems. The reader moves from sympathy with the character to a kind of abhorrence, but at the same time we understand perfectly where the man is coming from and wonder what he could have done differently, if anything at all.

Legends and folklore are interwoven in the story of a relationship that crashed and burned in 'Selkie-A Scottish Idyll', but while I appreciated the intent the whole thing felt a little too superficial for my liking, the first draft of a story that needed a lot more content. 'A Life in Cars' reads like a soft impact version of Ballard's Crash, its protagonist relating how her whole life was shaped by an obsession with motor vehicles. There's an addictive feel to the reading process as we see how everything revolves round this idée fixe to the point where the woman begins to seem like a vehicle herself in this impressive tone of voice exercise. Grace in 'The Monument' leaves her partner to live with a man from her past, only to find that life isn't quite as rosy as she imagined and past terrors come back to haunt her. It's a strange story, and not entirely in a good way, with a plot that seems to ramble at times and characters who felt a bit clichéd to me, but its saved by a moment or two of notable horror.

'The Thames' is the story of a child prostitute in London during WW2 who acquires a strange protector in the figure of the suggestively named Cally. Underlying the surface narrative is a subtext about fate and the indifference of nature to mankind's comings and goings, a feel of the ineffable that makes the story rise above its ostensible subject matter. Rivalry among the twitching set is at the heart of 'Boom Bird', with humans taking on avian aspects in a story that had potential but just doesn't do enough with it to feel like anything more than an exercise in the random. The next story I reviewed in Black Static #35 when it appeared in Dark World: Ghost Stories edited by Timothy Parker Russell, and I had this to say - "Keenly felt emotions drive the narrative of Rosalie Parker's 'Oracle', the tale of Martin, a boy who is resentful of his separated parents, this feeling made even more intense when he is sent to the countryside during the Battle of Britain, and then encounters a young, blind woman who tells him of his own character. On the surface this is a delicately painted picture of the psyche of a bitter child contrasted with the wartime mood of the nation, but the hint of the supernatural introduces a uniquely unsettling element, so that we feel threatened even though there is nothing to prompt that sensation."

Next story 'Drama Queen' is told from the viewpoint of a thespian telling us of his friendship with an actress who seems to drive certain men to suicide. It's told in a matter of fact tone of voice that makes the events seem entirely credible, and there is a neat end twist. The 'Next Door Neighbours' are from another planet, but seem just as down to earth as the couple who live next to them. It's a story that plays games with the reputed British love of eccentricity, our addiction to sensational journalism, and underneath all that poses some very pointed questions about the nature of immigration through taking things to an absurdist extreme. In 'Northern Light' science clashes with local legend, as a scientist studying lichen is presented with things he simply can't explain. Like several other stories here, this is one that seems to give us intriguing ideas but simply doesn't have anything interesting to do with them beyond the presentation.

'Planning Permission' enthralled and irritated me in equal measure. Planning Enforcement Officer Michelle visits a labyrinth which has been erected in the grounds of Netterton Manor without permission. On the negative side, I found the plot rather aimless and couldn't credit the rather blasé acceptance of a holographic double by Michelle, but on the plus side there are unsettling aspects to the story, such as the fairy tale dioramas in the labyrinth and the attitude of its creator. On balance I liked it rather more than not, but would have liked it a whole lot more if Michelle had demonstrated the incredulity of a real person. Fact and fiction overlap in 'The Steppe', as Pavlo hides out in a remote dacha to write his film script while Russian troops pass through. There's a sense of the alien nature of this remote location in the story, but little else to commend it, unless the intention, contained in the final lines, is for Pavlo to retreat from reality into his own imagination.

In 'Carbon Footprint' a woman keeps at bay the ravages of time through heat in a story that intrigues, giving us both a novel supernatural element and a parable on the nature of global warming and our reasons for conspicuous consumption. There's a metafictional feel to 'Untouchable' as a park ranger discovers the tatters of a dress in a dry stone wall and constructs an elaborate fantasy to explain how it got there. However there is the suggestion that the story is genuine, a discovery made by protagonist James, with the two strands overlapping to ensnare and beguile the reader, but at the same time as with so many other of these stories not quite delivering the necessary payoff to satisfy.

I liked this collection rather less than I did The Old Knowledge. As I recall those stories were rich in atmosphere, which would appear to be the author's strong suit. The best stories here reflect that virtue, but most lean towards the plot driven and that doesn't always pan out, with Parker excellent at setting up intriguing situations, but in five or six of the stories she simply leaves them dangling rather than providing an elegant and fitting denouement. There's no real feel of closure in those stories. Or perhaps the reviewer is simply too obtuse to grasp what's happening; that too is a possibility. Either way, it's a fine collection with far more here to reward the reader than not, and with even the less successful stories offering the reader something to mull over. It's just that subsequent to The Old Knowledge I had different/higher expectations.

The Old Knowledge was released by Swan River Press in 2010 and they published a third collection by Parker in 2018, Sparks from the Fire, so you could position Damage as the PS filling in a Swan River sandwich, if that was something you felt like doing.

In addition to their standard hardcover, PS are also offering readers and collectors a signed jacketed hardcover limited to 100 copies for £30, and both editions appear to still be available on their website.

 

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