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SONGS FOR THE LOST
By ALEXANDER ZELENYJ (Eibonvale; 2014)

A most fascinating and evocative collection of hallucinatory fiction by an irrepressible talent. Be advised, though, that SONGS FOR THE LOST is first and foremost extremely long, consisting of 34 stories and running 510 pages. Some stories, obviously, are stronger than others, but there’s nary a clunker in the bunch.

In the Brian A. Dixon penned forward the name Ray Bradbury is prominently evoked, and these tales certainly have a very Bradbury-esque sense of melancholy nostalgia, coupled with burnished prose that’s likewise very reminiscent of the work of Ray B. (it’s not for nothing that one story is titled “On Tour with the Deathray Bradburys,” who incidentally are also credited with “Black Lash of Lucifer,” the book’s fourth-to-last piece). The stories take place more often than not in desolate, and desolately rustic, settings, with eccentric romance and fraught father-son relationships being constants.

     In addition to Bradbury, these tales are spiced with the slip-streamy sensibilities of more contemporary writers like Michael Cisco and D.P. Watt. There’s some very un-Ray Bradbury-like grotesquerie to be found in “God-Eater,” which features throat ripping, strangulation and a vile shape-shifting worm, and “Thank You, Baby-Stabber,” about a serial killer who mutilates infants. As should be evident already, Alexander Zelenyj also has a gift for evocative titles, further examples of which include “Dying Days of Treasure Spiders Everywhere,” “Forevermore Yours, the Hated Chord” and “Chux and Bux and The Quest for Brussels Sprouts.”

     “The Fire That We Deserve” begins the book. Like many of the succeeding stories, it’s a highly atmospheric mood-piece, with a brother and sister--the latter identified as “the quintessential her”--pondering the onset of some unspecified catastrophe. Here, as in most of these tales, the desolate imagery, tinged with a sense of languid despair, takes precedence over traditional storytelling. Yet there are some plot-driven entries to be found, such as “A Roman Plague,” about Roman soldiers confronting a deadly sorceress.

     “Always an Angelwitch Over Suicide Hill” involves a disturbed war veteran and an imaginary witch who turns out to be all too real. In “Or the Loneliness of Another Million Years” an old man and a young boy are confronted by an otherworldly door on a sweltering summer day, while in “Squeeze the Sun: Storm Days Brew” an estranged couple are forced to face up to their strained relationship amid an approaching tornado.

     Among the book’s more overtly experimental offerings is “But One Day All of This Will be Gone,” consisting largely of ruminations that take the form of an extended prose poem describing a life lived in the shadow of a monstrous father. Equally outré is “An Angela Named Vengeance,” about what occurs when a prostitute named Angela takes in a john covered in fur and sporting a tail--who also happens to be named Angela. “Far Beneath Incomplete Constellations” is the book’s longest and most resonant piece, an impressively sustained evocation of erotic delirium experienced by a college professor in love with an eccentric young woman.

     Not too many other writers could pull off such an amazing compendium of imaginative richness spread out over such an expansive canvas, but Alexander Zelenyj, obviously, can. Again though, that 500-plus page length is a definite annoyance. 

     

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