Nemonymous (nemonymous) wrote,

The Far Side of the Lake – Steve Rasnic Tem

I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt. The first fiction EBOOK I’ve ever read, let alone reviewed. A sort of experiment, therefore, for me.

I purchased this story collection from Amazon UK and downloaded to my ipad (today: 10 Feb 12).

The Far Side of the Lake – Steve Rasnic Tem

Ash Tree Press : 2011 (originally published by the same publisher as a traditional book in 2001)

There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years.

CAVEAT (1): Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the book, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading it. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.

All my other real-time reviews are linked from here:


As is my custom with real-time reviews, I shall not be reading the book’s introduction or any other extraneous material until after I have completed this review.

At the Bureau

A briefly and darkly effective Ligottian pre-Temian corporate horror story or Temian pre-Ligottian corporate horror story, where, appropriately, for my first experience with reading a new-fangled ebook, the symbiosis of two Chandleresque protagonists mime mutual binoculars squinting at each other through each other’s ”frosted glass” of cold paranoiac prejudice (upon, as it happens, the coldest night of the UK winter so far), as if they can’t quite believe what they are seeing or if they are seeing it at all. Weeping, pleading, swearing, praying for something substantively “…lettered in bold, black characters.” (10 Feb 12 - 6.25 pm gmt)


“Everybody needs a crutch now…”

And this story is even colder. One for our age of austerities. Beautifully bleak. An obsession with crutches, some weak, some strong, perhaps some, I imagine, even scrimshaw. (Another ‘Tree Ring Anthology’?) Generations eking out a living in a time of quantitative uneasing – and a single hope at the end is out-stared, out-grinned through another window (or symbiotic screen?) - to the tap tap tap of someone’s keyboard (my thought, not the story’s thought originally, though it may be the story’s today). A story that I think I shall remember for a good while, if not forever, as disarmingly great. Glad I’ve been put on to this ‘book’. (10 Feb 12 – an hour later)

The Bad People

When real-time reviewing a physical book – normally armed with a pencil - there is the easier nailing of quotes, directions, journey’s journeys in linear or multi-directions - but with this ebook, the experience is quite different, indeed more difficult, difficult, perhaps, in a constructive sense? Here with this story – longer than the previous two – I felt an uncanny ‘uncertainty’ imparted by the words and the words’ ‘unreal’ vehicle, an uncertain journey through a hot Mexico, but mixed implicitly and explicitly with today’s cold images, a father and a boy, not a son, but yes, a son as well, another man who is that ‘father’s' alter ego, perhaps. And things always beyond the ‘page’, or ‘bad people’ always beyond the next village, a memory of a car accident just beyond the edge of memory, a Mexican history and climate merging into mythology and back again: an intriguing as well as uncertain journey, a journey, as ever, that changes simply because I always know (even if semi-consciously) that I am due to impart that same journey as part of itself (here, in public) — with added uncertainty by there being no paper for pages, no quotes to quote as no pencil in my fist to mark the text’s impervious ‘window’ or ’car-windscreen’: a glass between hot and cold, past and present, father and boy, father and self, scar and unscar, meaning and meaninglessness… A strange haunting story. A blend of odd contrasts and uncertainties. A memorable experience. I think it will be memorable, more like. (10 Feb – another 90 minutes later)


Another inter-generational male scenario, one that has just brought an ineluctable welling (leaking?) of tears to my aging eyes, almost literally as well as with full metaphorical force. The battle against entropy-through-structural-and-endemic-dampness by means of poignant human endeavour to maintain doing the small things for the benefit of one’s family, even if those small things amounted to nothing really significant or, perhaps, a great deal? One never knows. The rituals of conscientious living are portrayed here wonderfully, together with fiction’s creepiness of spiritual and material encroachment in a family house by the creek. [This story also evoked in me - within the context of this special review - a reminder of being myself likened to King Canute vis-a-vis my recent public pronouncements regarding ebooks seemingly encroaching upon traditional books and encouraging a culture of plagiarism/piracy and of published fiction authors losing their specialness (they can't so readily do live concerts that musicians do so as to buy bread for their family before it grows mouldy). Similar to the story's 'rituals', there have been decades of my own meticulous care and attention to books; of collecting; of writing; now of reviewing them and publishing/editing them: a semi-autistic series of well-meaning actions on my part today starting to seep away as the electronic creek draws even nearer? But, perhaps not. Surely the act of facing the situation out - with this story, possibly with this whole ebook once I've read it all - is the challenge, the sandpaper to the mould on the wall: just what I need to create a bridge across the generational parting of the Red Sea, across the two competing sides of Self, one increasingly aging, the other still the boy I once was. We shall see.] (11 Feb 12)

Stone Head

It’s as if I’ve been waiting to read this stone vignette all my life: the self-eschatological imprint of words chiselled not only beyond this electronic text but also beyond that in traditional books with its seeping-surface ink…. A fiction (together with the poignantly morbid considerations evoked by ’Leaks’) that possibly explains for the first time my fascination – long term and my photos shorter-term here – with the philosophy of stone! (11 Feb 12 – two hours later)

Mirror Man

A substantial story – echoing the inter-generational matters heretofore: the blame or credit involved both ways in a sort of two-way-filter … and I can empathise fully, being a father of a daughter and son, myself. Here the book’s erstwhile glass or window or car-windscreen becomes a psychological rear-view mirror and — prior, I guess, to Sat Nav or GPS – almost a religion concerned with night driving, backdropped by a human-xenophobically nightmarish ’nativism’ (a new word to me in this connection): a Lovecraftian-in-the-loop of life-long-slow-motion Kafkaesque ‘metamorphosis’ into mutancy rather than a quick-change act overnight between sleeping (dreaming) and waking. I am devastated by this story. But strangely exhilarated, too, that a piece of fiction can so skilfully devastate me. (10 Feb 12 – another 2 hours later)

The Sky Come Down to Earth

“But … the weather, the sky! It’s all white and it’s come to the window!”

“…against the glass [...] the pane it would be ice cold...”

Even without a pencil, glad to nail those quotes. I am agog with this book’s resonances. This is one of those stories or fables that seems to have stayed with you for many years even though this is ostensibly the first time you’ve read it, one where the book’s erstwhile inter-generational two-way filter of security as well as lack of security, i.e. between child adoptees and adult adopters as well as between those blood-linked together (cf. the Mexico story), now comes together in a perfect pattern of intrinsic oxymoron: of a sensed ugliness and beauty: of fear and confidence: of relaxed comfort and alert sense of danger. The sky as metaphor seems to optimise such an oxymoron (oxygen as well as moraine?) – a sky simultaneously touched and untouchable, hot and cold, wet and dry on either side of the glass or window or crystal ball that one reads through or, rather, scries … but I cannot see exactly how it works. Enough that this author makes it work. Or allows it to do so almost volitionlessly. And with some readers not even consciously noticing but absorbing it into themselves nonetheless – a bit like being permeated and/or (psychologically) changed by the diurnal Wordsworthian, or pantheistic sky, itself changeable as filtered through those of us who sense its moods via our own moods. The art of fiction. (10 Feb 12 – another 90 minutes later)

Houses Creaking in the Wind

“…gazing out these windows, reading the dark before sleep,…”

Scrying the wind and the creaks, too. Another vignette, this time not of stone but, contrastively, “the spaces betweeen his thoughts“, and the inter-generational tragedies that time keeps within itself for our memory to exhume like ghosts or flies. If I said anyything further, I’d be more an accomplice than a reviewer! But I can say that the book, so far, certainly seems organic both as an Ariel and a Caliban. No mean feat. (10 Feb 12 – another 30 minutes later)

Grim Monkeys

“I sat silently as the funnel of static poured through my head, attempting to kindle some feeling, some thought, anything. I took no pride in my lack of feeling.”

Well, that says something quite innocently, I guess, about the new ways of publishing fiction. Meanwhile, one does not often encounter in one’s whole lifetime a perfect literary short story, as opposed to a perfect genre one, but this literary story comes as close as one can dare hope, blending Conrad, Lowry, Greene – even Lovecraft following this book’s earlier native or nativist or miscegenate considerations, here ‘grim monkeys’. A parental abduction, a tug of love, to the Venezuelan jungle, a ‘freeing’ of the protagonist’s daughter: and the blending (once positive) continues towards a negative outcome, as if being back-to-nature is the worst possible solution to a civilised problem. The relationships inferred, the accomplished language containing those inferences, are all, for me, pitch near-perfect. Why ‘near’-perfect? Well, because the context of this book (so far), its inter-generational backdrop, its encroachments of damp entropy, its ‘oxymoron’, its once uncluttered sky now a tropic-cluttered sky, is needed to make the story in-itself wholly perfect. So, effectively, the story in-itself, without that context, wouldn’t be perfect? It teeters on a brink of decontextualised imperfection - but the last sentence is quite wonderful and makes it perfect in hindsight, despite the negative outcomes that created such a last sentence. Only in inspired fiction can such eked-out, perhaps unintended, serendipities be distilled. A reaching-out towards a literary gestalt, that can only be reached by not reaching it? All blood is mixed but is perfect for the body it fuels. Paternal love, too. Shortcomings harnessed are stronger than strengths unused. (11 Feb 12 – another 4 hours later)


Aternatively continued here in three further parts:

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