Nemonymous (nemonymous) wrote,

Peel Back The Sky – Stephen Bacon

I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt. A paperback book I purchased from the publisher.

PEEL BACK THE SKY – a collection of Stephen Bacon stories

Gray Friar Press 2012

Cover art by Les Edwards

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

CAVEAT: 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. Also I am the original publisher of three of the stories in this collection (The Toymaker of Bremen, The Devourer of Dreams and Cone Zero) … and, not to forsake the chance of a plug, Stephen Bacon’s story, The Ivory Teat, has more recently been published by me in The First Book of Classical Horror Stories.

My previous reviews of Gray Friar Press books:

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


This book (200 pages) is a neatly scrumptious pocket-sized tome – apparently the first of a series here entitled ‘New Blood 1′ - with my only reservation being the size of the print which, at my age, means peeling each eye as well as the sky!

Last Summer

It’s strange how a particular sight can remain nostalgic even though tiny changes might have occurred in the intervening years.”

I have read and reviewed this story before [i.e. as quoted from here: <<“Bricks bounce off the side.“ This is an effective evocation of the Miner’s Strike in Sheffield in the mid-Eighties (the bitterness and personal wars between strikers and scabs and their families) in parallel with the present day protagonist’s return to his childhood at that time and in that place, and an unforeseen redemption now seen-to-be-done by exposing its gory results in this story-as-memorial. Meanwhile, I, as reader of it, can imagine the mine structures – resonating, at least for me, with the structure in ‘Easter‘ above. That seems a right comparison to make, bearing in mind the passions and emotions of that time, of that place, with which I, as someone who only watched all this on the news at the time, can now more fully empathise …. paradoxically via the truth and immediacy of fiction when compared to the disputatious facts of history. “…we are standing on the grassy incline of the pit tip, looking down into the colliery.” (16 June 2010 – another 2 hours later).>>] If anything the story has gained even more power in the interim, and now represents the ’scab, scab, scab’ that needs to be picked or teased free from the book to find out what the rest will reveal. (10 Sep 2012 – 6.30 pm bst)

The Trauma Statement

“I scoured the small print, checked for watermarks, hunted for any address.”

A powerful story emerging from a clever idea, indeed powerful and hauntingly memorable even though the idea at first reminded me of a potential dilemma-type game for a future Big Brother reality TV show… but then, as reader, I dwelt on Big Brother being similar to this story’s ‘insane God’. So, yes, a very telling, naggingly truthful fable of guilt and regret in a 30 year old marriage, a relationship cross-sectioned — in the same way as the previous story, ‘Last Summer’, is cross-sectioned — by Time and Time’s retrocausal conundrums. (10 Sep 12 – 8.20 pm bst)

The Strangled Garden

“In the weeks following these events, reality was almost irrevocably lost.”

There is often something delightfully naive, yet deceptively or scarily meaningful, I’ve noticed about Bacon stories when they are ostensibly plain horror stories — here told to ‘gentlemen’ as a story of Time’s past events concerning a lost dog, a country house and a garden at times called Strangled at others Sunken, as if we are to be strangled by its dug-over memories as well as its vegetation. The ending is pure creaturified horror of the Bacon sort, radiating back towards an earlier withdrawal of narrative omniscience as if we as readers have agreed to be collusive with the narrator so as to wreak as much suspense paradoxically from the coolly old-fashioned “hysteria coursing through…“- as if absorbed in the spooky stories that the characters themselves earlier shared, for real, through books. An escape through fiction … Or strangled by it? (10 Sep 12 – 9.20 pm bst)

Catch Me If I Fall

“He was determined he wouldn’t be found to be so naive.”

A disarmingly brilliant anecdote – dealing with a married couple in the Autumn of their years (cf: me and my wife!) – their touching gullibility at renewed hope, plus a study in the cruel Art of Gratuitousness as based on games and Chance in life: not a million miles from the dilemma conceit in the Trauma Statement and, dare I say, Big Brother. So much conveyed skilfully in a relatively short simple textual space: authorially self-naive in an extremely creative and touching way. One’s whole past life re-cast retrocausally without realising that retrocausality can only apply in fiction, not here in real life… (11 Sep 12 – 11.50 am bst)

Persistence of Vision

As I negotiated the steep unfamiliar stairs, I could smell bacon cooking. Dad was at the hob, the air thick with smoke from the pan, crackles and spits from the fat adding to my feeling of fragility.”

This story is as if deliberately positioned here – tapping the book’s erstwhile self-naivety via cross-sections of ‘fiction’, cross-sections here of Time and of Towns in the developing audit trail of the protagonist’s life …to produce a fiction so unnaive, so utterly sophisticated, laced with ambiguity, a mistily understood dread, bereavement, the waving at taxis of transport-fated repositioning when approaching the “peeling front door”, the “unsettled nostalgia“, the food that is “lifeless and apologetic” as the boy-to-man’s destiny itself is lifeless and apologetic, all force-fed by a most skilfully prose-conveyed recurrency of child abuse that he suffered…still suffers? The ambiguity makes it work. The ambiguity makes me understand. (11 Sep 12 – 12.50 pm bst)

Girl Afraid

“…it is best to eat something called revenge when it is cold.”

A 9 year old girl – with a boring date for her birthday – keeps a diary for us, although she promised the Polish lady who gave her the blank diary not to show it to anyone. It is as if the book’s ‘self-naïveté’ theme has now reached optimum – or pessimum? Imbued with the alter ego of this young soul, the words ring true, processed by our own art of inference via some of the deliberate clumsy phrasing, but admirable spelling for one so young. It is like an inverse pass-the-parcel game or single-handed chain of metaphorical water-pails not to douse a fire but to feed it (our bodies being mostly water) – and, as sophisticated readers, we shudderingly infer the sheer horror of what is really being passed along into our own overheated furnaces of imagination… alongside an ending with a ‘dying fall’ as to the girl’s future life’s normality (or so we infer, even if we hope she retains her own naïveté, her own welcome inability to infer truth from truth …forever). (11 Sep 12 - 3.15 pm bst)

The Other Side of Silence

“How else could he accept these events with such calm clarity?”

In many ways we have crossed through some kind of a book’s ‘way station’ to reach this SF post-holocaust (post virus) scenario – feeling our way (temporarily?) from blindness and deafness (like the protagonists in ‘Facial Justice’ by L.P. Hartley) to see and hear our erstwhile London and motorways in post-history and our ‘Last Summer’ family home from this book’s “unsettled nostalgia” – mixed with a desperate emotional flirtation with future’s nurse or carer followed by a final reckoning with ‘irrevocable reality’. This is a classic substantive story (with characters ‘building castles’ like those in George Eliot’s ‘Middlemarch’), a story that may or may not represent a watershed or new direction for readers to negotiate via-a-vis this (so far) notable debut book collection of a potentially great new writer. From naïveté to original sin? (11 Sep 12 – 7.05 pm bst)

A Solace of Winter Rain

“…sometimes a steam of hot water danced like a wraith in an otherwise cool bathroom.”

Ostensibly a ‘comfortable’ interlude where ‘gentlemen’ are again addressed by being told an old-fashioned tale of a haunting. Yet a comfortableness that often threatens to constrict like strangulation… You may have laughed at my earlier mentions in this review of retrocausality. Well, laugh away! Little good will it do you as literal retrocausality sure comes home to roost here. Also my earlier mention of ‘disarming brilliance’…  (11 Sep 12 – 8.05 pm bst)

[I forgot to make it clear earlier in this review that - as is normal with all my real-time reviews since 2008 - I am reviewing only the book's fiction and I am not reading the Introduction by Nicholas Royle or what I perceive to be the author's 'story notes' and acknowledgements at the end of the book until after I have finished this review. However, human nature being what it is, I have already glanced at the three 'story notes' of the stories I originally published in 'Nemonymous' books!] (12 Sep 12 - 7.55 am bst)

The House of Constant Shadow

His life had become a series of petty games trivial in their execution,…”

[I have read and reviewed this excellent story before: quoted from here: <<“He also raised the index finger, creating an obscene V, and waved that in front of her face, ‘ – bacon and eggs.’ " - A football stadium here, almost gratuitously, acts as an intangible metaphor – as the [for me, Cern Zoo image] lion did in the previous story. This is a very sad story. One where human beings (like animals in a random zoo) wreak pleasure and vengeance by turns, susceptible to all the mishaps of life – the temptations, the comparisons, the crude bodily outlets, bodily misalignments, all of which are so inextricably mixed with a desperate need for love as well as escapism – in an English terraced ’inner-city’ scenario where Skegness is the only break-point. This is not a Horror Story. It is an effective human story, and that means it is also a horror story beyond any genre. (22 Mar 11 – another 4 hours later)>>] —– Except that the story has grown even more powerful in this book’s state of being wholly “embraced by the sizzling bacon“!  The petty games, the earlier Big Brother thoughts of mine , here the wife watching ‘Jerry Springer’, the state of “men leading lives of quiet desperation“, dreams of that earlier ”unsettled nostalgia”, an inverse version (yet significantly similar to make that inversion even more painful) of the married couple in ‘Catch Me If I Fall’, with, yes, the hopeless retrocausal spoiler of cancer itself. An inversion of that lottery jackpot, another petty game of last ditch voyeurism… (12 Sep 12 – 9.50 am bst)

With Black Foreboding Eyed

“‘Tom, it’s 1900, man — not the dark ages!’”

…which reminds us, aptly, in this book, that whatever the period in which the characters live they do not regard their present to be the dark ages of the future – which in turn sheds a new light on ‘unsettled nostalgia’. Meanwhile, this is a honest horror story of the pulp tradition, evocatively crafted in what I consider to be the ‘horror’ style: about lighthousemen and the accretive tentacular threat upon them: at least a bit like the snow building up piecemeal on the lighthouse window here, and the equally accretive near-vertical journey of parcels earlier conducted by a small girl in her diary. (12 Sep 12 – 12.25 pm bst)

Daddy Giggles

“The back garden is surprisingly mature, almost unrecognisable from the version in his memories.”

Again a cross-section through time to the same ‘home’ town from ‘Last Summer’ – aptly called Renfield? Here the power of inference returns through another ‘persistence of vision’: evoking the horror and hates involved with a remembered childhood, with an objective-correlative like a hand puppet, yes, a hand puppet. Inference and ambiguity conveyed in such effective prose makes me understand as well as feel-for-real life’s horror much more forcefully than if I had been thought condescendingly to be a reader who needs spoon-feeding by direct narration, step by step, about the past as a future’s ‘real-time’ today. Another single-handed fire-feed like that in the earlier girl’s diary… “Trips up and down the stairs again. Dumping the past.” (12 Sep 12 – 1.40 pm bst)


Alternatively continued here:


  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.