PEEL BACK THE SKY – a collection of Stephen Bacon stories

Real-Time Review continued from HERE

PEEL BACK THE SKY by Stephen Bacon (trade paperback edition)

Gray Friar Press 2012


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) 




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