Thursday, January 8, 2015

about as dark as it gets, folks...Songs for the Lost, by Alexander Zelenyj

Eibonvale Press, 2014
510 pp


my copy provided by the publisher -- a very huge and very grateful thanks!

Once again Eibonvale has scored really big on the anthology scale, this time with its collection of short stories Songs for the Lost by author Alexander Zelenyj.  There is no way to pigeonhole these tales in terms of genre or style, so the term "dark fiction" or my new favorite phrase "literary darkness" (thank you, RD) will just have to do for the moment. David Rix, "who first launched the good ship Eibonvale,"  notes in the book's introduction no less than twenty genres, which "suggests a diverse range of styles" including "surrrealism", "weird western," "weird war fiction," "children's fiction," "urban fantasy," "weird erotica," "pulp," "noir," and then his final category, "as well as other less defined things." It is certainly one of the most diverse collections I've ever read -- one minute you're reading about the horrors found in the jungles of Vietnam or Laos and the next thing you know you're in the middle of a suicide cult's final moments -- but even with the wide range of styles on offer here, thematically they all tie together perfectly.  Turning once more to the book's introduction, Songs for the Lost deals with "Human pain on a level that is very real," the kind of pain that brings with it a "parallel need for escape, and with it a kind hope."

There are a total of 34 stories and poems in this collection so it is a huge, all but impossible task to talk about each one on an individual basis and to give each the detailed attention and it deserves.  This is a book inhabited by the lonely, the damaged, the lost, the emotionally tortured;  their collective pain an undercurrent that runs through the entire volume,  their collective desires for deliverance made manifest in several different forms.  For example: a soldier whose mind is broken because he carried out orders. A brother and sister standing on a beach waiting for the inevitable. Two adventurers who stumble into an unknown civilization, one of them guided by fame, the other by wonder. A rock group which rises to cult status and fame after they simply vanish  along with hundreds of fans in an "exodus" tied to the twin stars of Sirius.   And many, many more lost souls to be examined.

I have several favorites from this volume -- "The Dying Days of Treasure Spiders Everywhere," about a troubled boy and his grandfather; "Maria, Here Come the Death Angels," which made me want to cry; "Or the Loneliness of Another Million Years," about a man who meets up with a boy who hears about a special door on a toy radio; "On Tour With the Deathray Bradburys;" "Roaring Dream of the Weeping Spider-Men," which emotionally floored me solely because of its subject matter, and then there's "Far Beneath Incomplete Constellations," one of the best stories in this collection, about a man who uses and abuses a young girl he meets who somehow finds it within her to love him even though he admits her body is just a vehicle for him (to what I won't say).  This story alone, probably the best written in the entire book, combines erotica, fantasy, and magical realism to examine a man who is quite frankly dead inside.

 To unashamedly borrow from the book's foreword  written by Brian A. Dixon, once you step into Songs For the Lost  "you will find yourself among lost souls touring abandoned hopes and forbidden dreams at the edge of an impossible paradise."   And it is exactly the author's ability to place the reader at that edge that  is Zelenyj's special gift.   It is a dark place to be sure, and there were times while reading that I wanted out, but I was just not ready to pack up and leave until the last word appeared on the last page.

Songs for the Lost is that perfect, excellent blend of literary and dark that I am always looking for and in my opinion, it is an absolute must-read for anyone who loves dark fiction.  Highly recommended but not just for anyone. Prepare to be gut punched, and do not read this book while you're depressed. Once again, it's a small press that proves that literary and dark can indeed go hand in hand -- cheers.

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