Read This: Mamatas & McMahon

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September 13, 2013 by Laird

A couple of reviews unearthed from ye old site:

Pieces of Midnight by Gary McMahon

There are several Canadian and U.K. authors I’m excited about right now. From the Great White North: Barbara Roden, Gemma Files, Ian Rogers, Simon Strantzas and Richard Gavin; and from the U.K.: Steve Duffy, Simon Bestwick, Simon Kurt Unsworth, Allyson Bird, and Gary McMahon. I happen to have a manuscript copy of Gary’s Pieces of Midnight and it’s terrific, old school (at heart) horror and weird fiction.

I’ve followed Gary’s fiction for a couple of years now and have to say this prolific author is growing stronger with every story. From what I gather, PoM is front-loaded with some of his older fiction, and I have to admit a couple of the pieces seemed weaker toward the end, but are great reading nonetheless. This stuff is nicely atmospheric and the influence of M.R. James is not only evident, but occasionally presented with a knowing wink. While some of the characters present to me as types, Gary possesses a knack for the wry insight or unexpected tic that engenders them with vitality.

His strength is the interpretation and contemporary rendering of classic ghost story tropes, a strength he shares with Barbara Roden in particular, and I think his fascination with relationships between human beings serves him well, appearing as it does as a reinforcing theme. He’s not a flashy prose stylist, but not precisely workmanlike, either. I’d classify the prose as mid-to above average as it pertains to literary dazzle and special effects, but the language works as the atmosphere, the ubiquitous aura of lurking danger, is expertly manifested and requires scant adornment. I’m not always convinced by his endings, but that’s admittedly subjective, and the ones that do work for me are dynamite.

His novelette “The Sand King” is a first class homage to James and is a standout in the collection. He takes the cliched married couple who’ve gone to a seaside retreat to repair their damaged relationship and deforms the trope in a way that is ghastly and fearful, yet brilliant in its melancholic effect. Pieces of Midnight is a must-buy for the horror/weird tale maven and there is no doubt that Gary is going to be extraordinarily successful.

You Might Sleep… by Nick Mamatas

I’ve spent several weeks working through You Might Sleep…but you will never dream, a new collection by Nick Mamatas. It’s a fine looking book, but the beauty is skin deep. What lies between the covers is unadorned and mean. It could be personified as a large, feral dog with a choke collar chained to a fence, and growling in its dreams of biting the hell out of the mailman. Mamatas writes as if he’d as soon take your hand off as look at you.

And so, yes, I’ve taken my time between stories, which are uniformly lean, but uniformly brutal and provocative. McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, Nic Pizzolatto’s  From Here to the Yellow Sea, and Paul Tremblay’s as yet uncollected recent tales affect me in a similar fashion, although the authors’ styles and subjects bear scant resemblance to one another. Nonetheless, these gentlemen all write in the eat-or-be-eaten mode. I’ll leave the comparisons there — Mamatas occasionally edges into the territory of classical authors, but his style isn’t readily pinned down except to say its pervasive wryness, its acidic commentary, sets him apart from just about everybody in the field.

You Might Sleep…collects twenty-two pieces of fiction that run the gamut of science fiction, fantasy, metafiction, horror, generic lit, to the realms of the effectively unclassifiable. Mamatas plays with form and structure, although he favors a stark, blunt prose style. Intellectually, as evidenced by his LJ essays, he’s one of the sharper knives in the drawer, and that keenness is on display in this collection. And a merciless display it is. He’s got a developed sense of humor, but the trick is to figure out when he’s laughing with you or at you.

Do I recommend You Might Sleep…? Without hesitation. This is upper echelon writing from sentence level outward. However, it’s not for the weak-kneed or the casual reader. Mamatas is going to challenge you, implicate you in his brutal and perverse scenario-making. He’s going to hit you where it hurts. And laugh.

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