THE ART OF VENTRILOQUISM by A.J. Kirby – A Crime Fiction Collection
Solstice Publishing 2012
The continuation from HERE of my real-time review, taking place in the comment stream below as and when I read each story:-
Survival of the Fittest
“Who has the right to stop me from being comfortable while I smoke?”
I already knew, from my own admittedly limited experience of this author, that he is good, really good. But this book is, for me, genuinely a revelation. I’m very surprised it has not made more of a profile in the world of fiction than its seems to have done so far. Maybe it is true after all that the Internet and ebooks and self-publishing &c. have inundated all of us and we can no longer see the needle from the haystack or the wood from the trees whence books should be made. We should indeed depend on the survival of the fittest…
This story is a stunning treatment of cutthroat business life, team building, motivational training, expecting your customer to be as greedy as you – a situation of which I have had experience during my 65 years on this planet – and I recognise many such neat references in this horror story, yes, this crime fiction, this ball-peen hammer of human injustice. The Jim Trainers and Will Barrows of this world are the true monsters. But we are all victims, even them.
There can indeed be horror without victims, because all of us, this zoo of existence, are tantamount to being the horrors ourselves, each horror facing another horror, neither a victim of the other. A symbiosis that is the real crime.
Although this book is strictly a collection of crime fiction, I have by now surrendered the need to fix its rationale within the normal expectations or parameters of any genre of literature, surrendered, too, the need to identify its gestalt, even the leitmotifs that build a gestalt. It is what it is unto itself.
What got Garry Gorman’s Goat?
“He removed his chauffeur’s cap and immediately felt better about everything.”
This is ostensibly a bizarre story upon which I have so far not managed to get a ratiocinative handle. Yet, that does not seem to matter. I have already given up any need to encapsulate the fiction in this book, like getting rid of my own chauffeur’s cap after having driven along its audit trail up to this point in the journey.
Garry is a limo driver for hen parties, and there is a brilliant description of the group of girls who make up this night’s particular hen party and of their treatment of Garry, a tribe of wild female warriors preparing for domination of future’s reality zoo, I guess. But Garry also has trouble with the man who got him a dodgy license to drive such a limo. And there are hints of a killer dog. I won’t spoil the rest of it with an impossible neat summary. Just think of Churchill and Hitler playing a rock, paper, scissors game. I’ll get my cap.
Overnight, I had a waking dream of a concept concerning a werecat that had nine lives, and a werewolf that had its lives capped at one.
The Burned Man – pages 127 – 159
“A few fat men wearing fat headsets looked up from equally fat computer systems…”
This is of novella length. I am currently about halfway through reading it and I am literally enthralled and I seem to have reached a critical point in its plot as my normal life outside the book intervened. A phone call for me. Which seems somehow appropriate.
This work, I sense, is Kirby writing at full throttle, a compelling tale of a first person narrative by a female extensively evoking her life from teenage years onward until she gets a job at a radio station as a phone-in call-sifter. But that tells you nothing about the sheer silky flow of the text and its images, concepts, idioms, similes, emotions, nuances, poignancies and so forth, as if she has a ghost writer telling the story like a ventriloquist through you the reader, but that, at least, was what I felt.
We are in the head of this girl-to-woman, a strong character riddled with weaknesses, and her relations with her mom, her brother, her arranged relationship, the machinations of getting her out of her rut into a job, the essential waiting for the ultimate phone call, maybe from her missing Dad, maybe something quite else, and it is ironic that she becomes a phone-in sifter (a phone-in show called ‘Get Your Goat’) — and the horror image I have so far been left with is now transcending the sunshine poster of an ostensibly idyllic life with sunbeams like straight epaulette cuts of the mower in a perfect lawn, lines fanning around the perfect family, until that phone call. Or until something else.
I have only scratched the surface of the ‘effects’ of this major work. But I have not finished it yet myself. And, as with you, the only real way is to read it. Top of my ‘to do’ list, with rabbit ears.
“…and then I let him do that thing where he took hold of my cellphone without asking, and dialed his own number into it and started calling.”
(Meanwhile, I wonder why curtains throughout ‘The Art of Ventriloquism’ are called drapes and why the book is labelled, off-puttingly, at least for me, as crime fiction.)
Des, I can’t thank you enough for this. Some brilliant stuff here. I started reading the book myself last night for the first time in order to be ‘there’ with you when you read it… The ‘drapes’ thing kinda grated with me too, I must admit. My editor here insisted upon it, but I’m not sure it works really, because it’s fairly obvious the stories are UK-based…
As to the crime fiction label… That’s exactly what it is, a label. There is a crime in every story, but I think what they truly are is morality tales. (Same with my longer stuff such as The Magpie Trap, which is basically a critique of greed, and Paint this town Red, which is about the darker side of alcoholism – with rabid, other, multiversal creatures thrown in – and Sharkways, which is about coping with guilt, Bully which is about the self-defeating nature of revenge, and Perfect World which I’m told is my most moral work.)
I think the problem with work which is difficult to categorise is that it sometimes slips through the net, and you’re left shouting into an empty cave… So I thank you again for rolling aside that boulder and allowing some of these stories to feel the sun on their skin for a while at least.
This review now continues HERE
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