Still Reading Joel Lane…

Still reading Joel Lane’s tales… each of his stories is like wandering in a bleak and desolate inferno, an emptied world where even ghosts seem thinner and more ruinous. Late in life Lane joined the Socialist party with his mum, and his commitment to the poor and outcast shows in every story I’ve read so far. He lived in Birmingham England and seems to have enjoyed walking through this old city, and yet his view of it indicates a darkening world of late capitalism where broken lives of the poor and workers and outcasts pervade a world in ruins. Finishing the story called The Canal one is given over to this desolation as if he’d discovered the river Styx and was about to depart life for the realms of the dead:

“Someone moved behind him. Paul turned and saw thin figures emerging from the alcoves, on both sides of the tunnel. One of the canal people stepped closer and touched Paul’s injured arm. It was still bleeding, but the fluid that ran from it wasn’t blood. Paul could see the blue of his own tattered shirt; and flowing from the wounds in his arm, a dirty water that smelt like the canal. The man behind him ripped the sleeve from his own shirt, then tied it around Paul’s arm. The flow stopped, but the numbness remained. Paul looked back at the face of the child. Other people were drawing closer around him. He wanted to tell them that he didn’t need to be rescued, that this was where he belonged. But he couldn’t speak. They seemed to understand in any case. Some of them helped him to climb aboard the barge. When the barge started to move, Paul realised the sunlight had deceived him. This wasn’t a tunnel; nor, strictly speaking, a canal.”

—Joel Lane, THE EARTH WIRE and Other Stories. Christopher Roden/Ash-Tree Press.

Most of his tales leave you in that undecided state, wondering and speculating as to just what had happened. An understated tone that leaves you in a state of brokenness without any firm answer or solution to the mystery. But this is as it should be for our world remains unresolved, and there are no answers to the strangeness.

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