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Almost Insentient, Almost Divine Paperback – May 17, 2016
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Then I began to read, and found the contents to be equally, if not more, artistic and stunning. Now, I do review a lot of (and I say this with affection) schlock, grossness, nastiness, and trash … but I can also very much appreciate the literary delicacies, the fine and intricate examples of the craft. That’s what you get in ‘almost insentient, almost divine.’
The writing simultaneously has an old-fashioned feel and a modern freshness. It’s clean and clear and gorgeous, the kind of thing that in another author’s hands might come off as cloying or pretentious but here is satin-smooth. I read with equal parts fascination and admiration, with touches of “ooh I wish I’d done that” envy.
The stories themselves span several eras, with subtle undertones and interconnections particularly in the form of a disturbing puppet-figure. Some are hauntingly poetic, some the kind of nightmares in which you can’t say for sure just what was the scary part but the overall effect is deeply chilling.
I am not a fan of the term ‘literary horror,’ and calling it ‘highbrow horror’ seems even worse. But this is the kind of horror I could see someone really elegant and classy – my idol Dame Maggie, for instance – enjoying with her tea.
So, yes, top kudos to d.p. watt and everyone at Undertow for putting together a truly exquisite, breathtaking piece of work.
Not all of the stories, effective or not, involve an explicitly theatrical treatment of the difficulties of being caught in the space separating the divine and the insentient, gods and puppets. Appearing to be at least an intensely-described series of vignettes darkly evoking life in an obscure seaside village, "A Hive of Pain", by its climax, elevates the villagers' general world-weariness to a moment of searing world-empathy in which a single man seems to take on the global suffering of the 20th century's first half.
Displaying Watt's clear understanding of the use and value of absurdism, still relevant at least to the Weird, "The Man We All Imagined I Might Have Been" follows the ramifications of a man whose enlightenment, regarding the artificiality of identity--and perhaps even selfhood--leads him to constantly reinvent his appearance and mannerisms, often to darkly hilarious results. A trio of paragraphs, each one being a brief meditation on the nonlinearity of past, present and future, bring a deeply stimulating end to this equally entertaining and profound tale.
As is typical for the more daring practitioners of the Weird, Watt's less successful works often lack a developed sense of the internal logic necessary to engage the reader's belief; "At the Sign of the Burning Leaf", "Myself/Thyself" and "The Pornographer's Calendar" are probably the most glaringly flawed in this regard. However, at his best, Watt combines a nearly-Nabokovian mastery of narrative skill and prose styling with an often unnervingly perceptive treatment of all the concepts and themes we've come to expect from the more philosophically-inclined pathways of dark fiction.