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Coming soon: The Very Best of Steve Carr

There's a new release from Clarendon House coming out soon, the first hardback volume published by Clarendon: The Very Best of Steve Carr. I thought you might like to see the Foreword, written especially for it:

A black hole, in modern physics, is defined as a region of spacetime exhibiting gravitational acceleration so strong that nothing—no particles or even electromagnetic radiation such as light—can escape from it. Anything falling into the gravitational field around such a thing is drawn deeper and deeper into it.

Something similar happens in great fiction: the reader falls into orbit around an emptiness, a perceived gap, a hollowness which is recognised consciously or unconsciously, until he or she is held in a spell not dissimilar to the effect of gravity upon a stone — seized, gripped, ensnared, caught and, if the writing is of good enough quality, drawn through relentlessly to an end. The end can be full of a light which pervades the created chasm until glows with fulfilment, or the end can hang suspended, leaving the reader in an eternal ‘event horizon’, dangling over a void forever. What keeps the reader enthralled is a combination of a writer’s skill with words, imagery and archetypes and a reader’s inborn desire to contribute, to permeate and suffuse any emptiness that he or she detects.

Thus we feel in a story like ‘The Tale of the Costume Maker’ an aching void which gets deeper and darker until any hope of fulfilment is shattered; and, at the other end of the spectrum, we sense in ‘Flowersong’, the yearning desire for its characters to find comfort and ease brought to a numinous conclusion, full of light and warmth that spills over into tangible emotion.

Steve Carr’s writing has been called ‘cinematographic’. Look carefully, and you will find that a great part of its power lies in his meticulous description of external physical events, the tiny minutiae of a character’s actions, the comment-free outlining of something moving forward, which leaves the subjective, the inner, the emotional, largely undescribed. The effect is phenomenal: the immense nothingness, emptiness, hanuting vacuity within the tale, and especially within many characters, acts with tremendous gravitational force to pull in our attention as readers. Look at the opening to ‘The Citrus Thief’:

Rain fell on the tin roof sending metallic pings inside the garage where Rosa lived with her four-year-old son, Manuel. She sat on a plastic lawn chair and peeled a navel orange with her teeth, sucking on the exposed juicy pulp as she tore away each section of peeling. Juice dribbled down her chin and dripped onto her floral-patterned cotton shift. The juice of the orange was sweet and Rosa closed her eyes in delight savoring the flavor.

The only hint of subjectivity here is the ‘delight’ Rosa feels in the flavour of the orange. That is quickly contrasted with the grim emptiness of the rest of her life:

She shuffled the right foot back and forth on the floor. Her left foot she barely moved at all, it being turned outward at the ankle, a deformity since birth. She could walk, but preferred to sit, especially when in the garage, a one-room shack she rented from Mr. Travers who owned the trailer park where the garage was located.

A lesser author might have delved deeper into Rosa’s inner emotions; Carr does the opposite, with more effect. By describing the outer world, the inner is brought into sharp relief:

There was one lamp that lit the entire room. It was late at night and the lamp was on. Manuel was sound asleep on the twin bed he shared with his mother under a quilt that Rosa had sewn together. Other than the sound of the rain hitting the tin roof, there was silence.

This pattern is found throughout Carr’s work. In ‘The Festival of the Cull’, we are introduced to a starkly amoral world with no authorial comment. The inhumanity of the dystopian society that Carr creates is the aching void of this tale, evoked in brushstrokes —mention of a ‘cull’, a relationship that has decayed into artificiality, human beings who have become callous, two-dimensional shells; by the time we approach the end of the narrative, Carr has given us no clues, no glimpse of warmth or awareness — all the characters have been cold ciphers of human beings, brutal, icy. And then it comes: Shamina’s decision twists the whole story back on itself and there is an emotional rush as the void is filled.

Carr can go from conjuring up a whole world of wonder, as in ‘When Wizards Sing’, where the entire history of the globe is thrown into a new, magical perspective, to a brutal horror story like ‘Strange Water’ which leaves us with no explanations and only visceral revulsion; he can show us strained marriages in ‘Hummingbird’ or ‘The Snow Mother’, where magical realism is not used as a thing in itself but as a tool to intensify emotional impact, and then whisk us into space to experience psychological terror in ‘The Dissociative Effect’. At one point, we smile at the light good humour of ‘Clyde and the Pickle Jar’ or chuckle at the parodies contained in ‘A Murder in Rabbit Town’, only to find ourselves gripped by the harsh realism and heart-pounding tension of ‘Countdown’.

You’re in the hands of a Master of the Abyss, by which I mean an author who can apparently without effort bring into being chasms, gulfs and pits into which you will fall, sometimes almost forever; you’re entering the many worlds engendered by an imagination that defies easy parameters. I can hope you’re prepared — I doubt you will be.

You'll be able to get a copy of the book as soon as it is released here.

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