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Weirdmonger
D.F. Lewis
Prime paperback $19.95

review by Gary Couzens

Screenwriter and director Paul Schrader tells a story of the time when made a promo video for Bob Dylan. Schrader spoke to Dylan about their different writing approaches. Schrader was a linear thinker, he said (his thought processes went 1, 2, 3, 4, a, b, c, d) while Dylan's mind was clearly associative (1, 5, d, r, apple, orange, 4, 3... or something like that). Dylan disagreed: to him his imagery made perfect sense.

A D.F. Lewis story at its best is like that. Many of them are very short: often under 1,500 words, some under 1,000, with certain longer stories (The Weirdmonger itself, for example) really a series of related short-shorts. Many of these stories more akin to prose poems than actual stories, full of a rich way with language, sometimes too rich, and imagery that you can't always decode but at some level deep down, in ways you can't always verbalise, somehow makes sense. Lewis has been nothing if not prolific, publishing over 1500 of them (including a large number of collaborations) since his first appearance in print in 1989, producing at his peak as many as five stories a week. For many reasons, Lewis' productivity coincides with what looks like a golden age in small press genre publishing, seven or eight years between the general availability of desktop publishing and the rise of the Internet. Look through the list of previous publications in this book and you will see names of magazines long gone, some highly regarded and some extremely obscure. Lewis' position as a key figure in the small press (in Britain, the USA and elsewhere) isn't in doubt, but he has also made forays into professional markets: he was a regular in Karl Edward Wagner's Year's Best Horror Stories, to name but one.

Weirdmonger is subtitled 'The Nemonicon, Synchronised Shafts Of Random Truth & Fiction'. It collects 67 stories, three of them original. Of the reprinted stories, some have made more than one previous appearance, some in a previous and much smaller retrospective, The Best Of D.F. Lewis (Tal Publications, 1993). I'll declare a vested interest here: I've written two collaborations with Lewis and was involved in the publication of one of the stories (The Chaise Longue) collected in the present volume.

Because many of these stories have such a dense, even impacted, use of language, I would suggest this is a book to be read one story at a time. Despite their brevity, trying to take in more than a couple at a time would be too much. Most people's standouts will differ, with some stories entirely lucid and others tantalisingly oblique if not opaque. The aforementioned The Chaise Longue shows us two bickering couples exchanging barbed, if stylised, Ivy Compton-Bennettesque, dialogue, and a scenario that takes on chilling overtones in a climactic dream sequence. The Christmas Angel is a nicely poignant seasonal story that says all it needs to in two pages. Always In Dim Shadow echoes with the uneasy aftermath of an unexplained but undoubtedly sinister situation (the title gives a clue), while Jack-In-The-Box comes up a novel twist on the title image. Lewis is a very English writer, with a slightly old-fashioned feel and atmosphere and reference, a 1950s' style ambience with reticence in conflict with release, and decorousness of language coexisting with scatology. In his field he's close to being unique: although his antecedents and his influence on other writers can be discerned, there's ultimately no-one quite like him writing in the horror genre today.
Weirdmonger

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