Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Cold to the Touch

I recently took delivery of Simon Strantzas' new collection, Cold to the Touch. So far it's pretty darn good, though I'm not sure how I'm going to review it.

Enigmatic stories that don't easily fit into any category (except for 'horror', which is a misnomer) aren't easy to write about. I suppose I could do some sort of puppet show... Or maybe semaphore signals? Oh well, the point is I'm wallowing in the misery of it all and enjoying the way Simon dishes out great dollops of misery and disaster to all and sundry characters. Even when somebody perfectly harmless has the good fortune to get laid it doesn't end well. Such is life.

I suppose I could describe this as 'the new realism'. One interesting thing about almost all horror writing (and most other genre fiction) is how rarely authors experiment with prose style, structure etcetera.

Future critics may remark on this conservatism and conclude that it provides a basic substratum of reassurance, so that nothing that happens in the stories is too disorientating. Other critics may say something else. That's critics for you.


strantzas said...

Thank you, David, for the mention.

As to your suggestion about classicism in genre writing, I imagine it has more to do with the topic of the fiction being so foreign to most readers that experimental styles would only further distance them from the work. Before the reader can be taken to a world that doesn't make sense, the author has to ground the reader in things that do, and then lead him/her away. The classic fiction acts as an anchor for the reader.

Speaking personally, I abhor trickery in writing. Short stories written like blogs, passages that need to be highlighted... these sorts of things rub me the wrong way. I'm sure the books that use them are exceptional, but I can't get my head around it. The most "non-traditional" I like my fiction is when the writer is a character in his/her own tale, but even then I don't want to see acrobatics on the page. It doesn't interest me.

valdemar said...

Thanks for following my blog! I think the points you make are excellent. Genre fiction is usually 'realistic' for the reason you give - you've got to establish some belief in the situation/character before suspension of disbelief can be achieved.

It would be interesting to do a survey of, say, stories included in 'Best Of' anthologies and see how many (or how few) deviate from the standard realist form.

Todd T said...

Simon, I think you have it right about the reason for sticking to the norm in style and structure. Good thinking.

I too am suspicious of gimmicks, but there are those times when it is rises above that and is central to the nature of the work. Outside the genre, but STAND ON ZANZIBAR, which prefigured how the internet douses us in information, comes to mind, as well as its ancestor USA by Dos Passos. Epistolary stories are a long-standing tradition, and hey they even have their own term (we must always categorize, mustn't we). I'm guessing HOUSE OF LEAVES is not high on your TBR pile.

strantzas said...

It's hard for me to explain where the line is for me in fiction. For instance, I still don't think I'd mind House of Leaves, and may even enjoy the games it plays, but as the kind of fiction I respond to most, I don't think I'd get a lot out of it.

I feel the need to state that the examples I gave are from the work of an American writer whom I've met and whose collection I bought and intend to read. Word on the street is very strong for his work, and I'm eager to read it. That said, the work of his that is a bit "flashier" (for lack of a better term) doesn't interest me. I've said it to him directly, so my feelings aren't a surprise, but just in case anyone stumbles by here and knows who I'm talking about, I want them to know I'm not disparaging the man or his work.

And, David, of course I follow the blog. It's always fascinating even if I don't have anything to say.

Todd T said...

I know the writer you refer to, I think, but don't worry; you were very clear that your remarks were focused on how you react to certain approaches, not about whether he has worthwhile things to offer.

Michael Kelly said...


I know the writer you refer to. He's very good, and has a lot to offer. Well worth your time. That said, I, too, dislike any kind of writing that relies on footnotes, deception, etc. Not my cup of tea, at all.

valdemar said...

Who is this writer? I demand to know! I'm sitting RIGHT HERE guys! Sheesh. Like being the dullest guy at the bar...