210 pages, Dark Regions Press
Review by S.P. Miskowski
Everybody’s talking about Simon Strantzas. Okay, not everybody, but plenty of writers and editors are talking about Nightingale Songs, released in November. After years of publication in fine magazines and anthologies–earning that rare reputation among his peers as a writer’s writer, an artist whose desire for popularity has not tainted his aesthetic principles–Strantzas has suddenly hit the ground running with his third collection of short fiction.
Delightfully somber and full of doomed characters making dreadful decisions (in other words, painfully true to human experience) Nightingale Songs does not overshadow the author’s subtle and quietly disruptive previous collections, Beneath the Surface and Cold to the Touch. Instead it represents a natural evolution in the voice and preoccupations of a unique talent in modern fiction.
Beneath the Surface suffered from the unexpected demise of its first publisher, but was recently republished by Dark Regions. The second collection, beautiful in every respect, is now out of print and difficult to find. I hope Tartarus Press makes Cold to the Touch available as an ebook in the near future.
I want more readers to get their hands on Strantzas, but he’s one of those writers you can’t sell with a tag line, or even a review. You have to read his prose and allow yourself to be swept away by the obsessions of his characters, to appreciate his art. The devil is in the details, in the nuances, in the perfect choice of words and the illuminating juxtaposition of images. Like Nabokov, he doesn’t give you a theme and a cookie and a pat on the head. You have to read and think for yourself, and then you get it or you don’t. These days, how many writers have the nerve to send their work out into the world without explaining it to death?
In that spirit, I will not attempt to explicate these stories. It’s enough to know that they range in setting from a universally recognizable suburbia to the remote and ruined beaches of an oil disaster site to some strangely malevolent back roads at night. These landscapes are a projection of the characters’ state of mind but also a catalyst, provoking irrational and often desperate acts.
Sometimes the action of a Strantzas story is inaction, or a character’s inability to move from condition to action. The results range from a dreamy or hallucinatory tone to a sense of impermanence that all but overwhelms the reader. Nothing is certain, and nature is not on our side. Our most important plans are feeble against the vast, mysterious cosmos. Our purpose, if we serve one, is either unknowable or constantly changing. The message may be bleak, but the writing is thrilling.
Influenced by H.P. Lovecraft, Robert Aickman, and Ramsey Campbell, the author has been moving for some time toward a thoroughly independent worldview. With Nightingale Songs he offers that view without apology. Yes, it is dark, but it is recognizable too, containing the black-edged beauty of life as well as unavoidable horrors and intimations of mortality. If you love good writing that challenges, enthralls, and offers no easy escape, read Simon Strantzas.
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