Phantasmagoria

Joel Lane’s tales are more phantasmagoria than horror, there’s this all pervading sense of doom hanging over each story hinting at terrible truths forever about to be revealed. His pessimism is of the type that implies something has gone terribly wrong with the universe rather than slapping your face with some monstrous effect. It’s as if one had just stepped out of a movie theatre into someone else’s life, a life that has been there in the sidereal sidelines all along inhabiting the blank spaces of our world and through no fault of our own we’ve suddenly entered the gap between these realms with no way back…

As in this fragment:

“Following the sound, Helen and Claire soon came to the shooting gallery. An excited group of stunted or deformed people were firing on a cage full of helpless figures. Claire stared for a long time—not at those shooting, but at their targets.

The lightning seemed to have brought the machines to life. The whole place was crowded now; though the passers-by walked not just through mud, but on sheets of water. Helen remembered the patches of deep flame she had seen from the wheel; they must have been submerged further, driven under the ground. It seemed as though the rain itself held light; falling, it made sharp near-vertical wires. Crossing these lines, between the stalls, were stretched horizontal barbed wires that looked ragged with shreds of torn cloth. Helen glimpsed a figure dancing close by. It was someone trapped in the machinery under the big wheel, jerking in pain as it spun round empty. There was no sound other than the creak and screech of metal, and the sharp cracks of air-rifles. The fairground resembled a battlefield.”

—Joel Lane, THE EARTH WIRE and Other Stories

1 thought on “Phantasmagoria

  1. I’m reading Lane’s The Lost District right now. I’ve wanted to return to his work ever since I read his collection Where Furnaces Burn about 4 years ago. You’re right, his work is so dark it’s like stepping into another world where the “actually horrific” is secondary to the common, everyday misery which itself takes on a sort of supernatural force.
    The weird and supernatural elements of this collection are often quite subtle. I find his work a real pleasure to read, grim as it is, it goes down like candy, the prose is “effortless” to wade through.

    Liked by 1 person

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