Mutant Grotesquerie: Richard Gavin’s Monstrous Vision

CaptureReading Richard Gavin’s new book, grotesquerie is like moving through the undergloom of some ancient Roman grotto, a journey into the monstrous carnival of appetite and inhuman pleasure, where flesh and beastial sensuality melt into darkest paradise. The notion of the grotesque has been associated if not equated with the bizarre, macabre, fantastic, weird, Gothic, and arabesque, each signaling a snapshot slice of this strange beast that leads us down into the undergloom. Richard is both a guide and psychopomp to the mysteries of these chambers of mind and flesh, guiding us through a series of darkened hollows where we will meet the denizens of the land of nightmare in ways only he can tell.

A master of primeval gnosis and a veritable treasure trove of lore and occult instruction his grimoire or manifesto of the magickal arts, The Benighted Path reveals a region of nocturnal wisdom; an eerie dimension, where sleep has delivered us onto the back of the charging Night-Mare, and recollections of these brief visitations survive in countless tales of terror and in the folklore of locales rumoured to be fey or cursed. Rare, however, is the individual who willingly pays the tariff and passes irretrievably through that twilight of existence in order to become Benighted. It’s in this domain of the uncharted regions and nameless zones of the monstrous that Richard Gavin’s tales guide the wary reader, exploring the hinterlands of psyche and the outer liminal essence of the hidden.

Richard Gavin is an acclaimed author whose work explores the realm where dread and the sublime conjoin. His supernatural tales have been published in five collections, including Sylvan Dread and At Fear’s Altar. In 2015 he co-edited (with Patricia Cram and Daniel A. Schulke) Penumbrae: An Occult Fiction Anthology. Richard’s works of esotericism have appeared in Starfire Journal, Clavis: Journal of Occult Arts, Letters and Experience, and The Luminous Stone. His nocturnal manifesto The Benighted Path: Primeval Gnosis and the Monstrous Soul was released by Theion Publishing in 2016.

The tales of grotesquerie are like a series of frescoes that carefully reveal only the most luxuriant and sensual aspects of an event that is never named, much less fully fleshed out. Vignettes more than stories, small minimalistic glances into the the frayed mind’s of men and women who for the most part have discovered themselves lost among the fragments of their own broken lives. One wants to ask whether the monstrous is something hiding among the liminal regions of outward manifestation, or is the effect of this loquacious inner world of most of these denizens self-made madness and sacred transgression; part of some ongoing revelation of the monstrum – a portent of something forever about to be that unbinds itself only in the very movement of consciousness itself.

I thought about delving into the tales themselves, but to do that would be to reveal too much, to sink into the gloom and monstrosity of each delicate weaving, unbind its carefully woven patterns and lead the wary reader into a region of being that is best left unsaid. In other words I’d spoil the very need for pleasure and jouissance – that pleasure-pain we all get from reading a well-crafted tale of horror, especially of the grotesque kind. All I can say is these are tales that will draw you into a labyrinth of liminal design where if you are not careful you will remain like a victim of some monstrous nightmare in which just as you awaken you feel the very touch of the beast upon your shoulder, and a whisper saying: “Come, my dear, we’ve been waiting for you so long! We have so much to show you, want you come now!”

You’ll find Richard’s work on both Amazon and Undertow Publications!

And visit Richard Gavin on his site: 

Michael Griffin: Armageddon House

“A complete series of cultural memories came to mind: the Egyptian masrabas, the Etruscan tombs, the Aztec structures . . . as if this piece of artillery fortification could be identified as a funeral ceremony…”

—Paul Virilio, Bunker Archaeology

“Nature has a master agenda we can only dimly know.”

—Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae

CaptureIn The Folly of Fools Robert Trivers reminds us that for our species “deceit and self-deception are two sides of the same coin”. Lying and the art of lying are as old as human kind, and our ability to deceive others as well as ourselves is a part of some deep rooted aspect of our survival mechanisms that in our late stage and civilizational decay have become neither healthy nor part of that age old propagation of survival tools that can keep us safe from the perversities and horrors of our own dark minds.

The bunker marks off a military space – that of the last war game, a game that all nations elaborated and perfected together in the course of the last century.

—Paul Virilio, Bunker Archaeology

Armageddon House. Already the name beckons us toward doomsday, toward some strange apocalyptic world of deadly consequence. Four adults, two men, two women: buried alive in what all assume is a Test. A test for what? As one of the members of this motley crew, Polly, in Michael Griffin’s new horror novel tells us

 “We’re like a simulation of the big test they’ll do later, somewhere farther away. Isn’t that right? Like, a test for a test. I mean, humanity is just a trial run anyway. Preliminary, that’s the word. Preliminary test. Each test is practice for another test, and that’s practice for the next one. Only, how many? Like, which one is this?”1

af190d929775ce05b478fecccf0333beOne is reminded of those elite bunkers for the rich, doomsday escape holes in the middle of nowhere, underground caves like those reviewed on Forbes: Billionaire Bunkers. Except in the novel the personnell seem more like unwilling participants in a private hell for beleagured denizens of some forgotten nightmare. In this grotesquirie each of the four must willingly or not submit to clean up, a biological disposal project of clearing this enclosed world of its human detritus. One of the members:

“…uses tweezers to gather organic detritus from each work stand into the larger stainless-steel tray atop the roll cart. Tiny snips of detached skin, unwanted eyelids, lobes and appendages, discarded trimmed nails, hairs and eyelashes pulled out by roots, all the flesh scattered amidst blood smears and spatters. Every day, the shedding of these parts leaves behind more waste than all the days before. This avalanche of decay, a kind of incremental death, is necessary for the renewal it brings.”

The morbidity of this sequence adds to an already strange and paradoxical stage set. As if we were watching some old Outer Limits or Twilight Zone parable of our late modernity, of the collapse of civilization into a purified world of decadent enclosure where the minutiae of physical being becomes the last parade of sensual delight under duress. Using an incinerator to sterilize the environment one member lifts the days remains into a wall-mounted oven: ” Inside is yesterday’s tray, now cool, bearing only a trace of sterile ash, easily rinsed away. He removes the clean pan and replaces it with today’s, which bears the last, unwanted remnants of who they were until this morning, and never will be again.” It’s as if each day the groups identity is erased and renewed through this act of ritualized incineration. As he closes the air-tight mechanism and turns on the fire the day’s participant Mark ” is certain he smells life burning away.” One wonders what is being released, what is being renewed. Are the participants slowly shedding not only their skins but their humanity as well.

Each day the four are set with certain routines that have up to now kept them adjusted to the insanity of their situation. But on the occasion of our entry into the novel the routine is disrupted by one of the member’s Polly who has for a while been in search of certain meds she believes lie hidden in one of the out of bounds chambers in this labyrinthine bunker world. As if one had entered one of those Ballardian speculative scenarios in which personalities begin to clash in some psycho ward style dysfunctionalism we begin to see the characters perversities rising to the surface. A hidden tension of subdued violence pervades the various innuendos of conversation until the most physical of the group Greyson as if on que suddenly burst the civil decorum of their secure world and manhandles Mark to the ground over some ape like territorial infraction between himself and his partner Polly. The tone of the work begins to go south from there…

Polly vanishes into the darkness of the immense bunker world. The others follow. They discover a great crack in the walls, a tree root that must reach down from some enormous tree far above the complex, a door in the furthest reaches of some forgotten region with a plaque which states in simple letters “Utgard”. It’s as if we’ve suddenly entered some mythical time and world where the ancient Norse World-Tree and the doorway to the giants – the out world of Jotunheim is situated. Closed off, locked, bound in darkness and unreachable. Even as the shock of this takes hold, they all feel a change in the atmosphere, something has changed, a new sense of things to come; and, Jenna – the most sensible one up till now, seems to awaken from some dream throwing her head back and spouting like an ancient Völuspá:  “The wolf won’t cry forever,” Jenna says, voice high and keening. “Someday he’ll climb out, he’ll ride, he’ll rear up and devour god. Then who’ll be crying?”

Ultimately this is a novel of memory, of lost time, of fragments of lives lost amid disasters and ruins, of picking up the pieces here and there in bits of conversation, remembering what one was and is: the quick and the dead. Most of all the novel is seen through Mark’s eyes and mind, and he seems to have lost something long ago, a part of his mind, life, memories in an alternate past or future – one that each of the others understands and keeps repeating in strange and disquieting ways like the trickle of water against darkness and hopelessness. A knowing, a world refreshing and dying to itself each day, a gun in hand, a darkness turning to light in a glow of blue nihil… a shock.

Visit Michael on his site: GriffinWords
Buy Michael’s book on Undertow Publications or

  1. Griffin, Michael. Armageddon House. Undertow Publications (May 12, 2020)


S.P. Miskowski: The Worst Is Yet To Come

Death was the motif; it had perhaps been the motif all along. Death and the way of handling it—that was the motif of the story…

—V. S. Naipaul, The enigma of arrival

CaptureEnigma, from the Latin “riddle”, a tale of woven threads, a strange whirl of slow moving images that cocoon like trap us in a labyrinth of deceit and self-deception. On finishing S.P. Miskowski’s novel The Worst Is Yet To Come I feel like one of those creatures stung, caught in-between two worlds – one world familiar and canny, a place I know because I’ve instilled it with a lifetime of meaning and emotions; the other, a world of uncanny strangeness, a realm in which my mind is trapped as in a spider’s web, a victim of some nightmare master of riddles.

I still do not know what happened, what transpired. I’m baffled. And, yet, I’m haunted by this tale, left in a state of enigmatic quandary without any sense of resolution. Some tales are like that, untidy, leaving you to pursue your own solution to the enigma, the author like some stage magician leading you up to the dénouement then enclosing you in a void behind a curtain of darkness from which you will slowly drift off into sleep unknowing of the one thought, the one word that might release you from your bondage, free you to penetrate the secrets of the riddle.

We know this much: this is a tale with no absolute ending, a tale that weaves its silent mysteries like so many strands of a cottonwood around our lives. Two families, two young girls, a riddle of horror woven of fatality and accident. But are there ever really any accidents? Are we not all puppets being guided by dark and hidden strings of some infernal riddle master whose sole joy is in seeing us twisted in a mesh of pain and misery. Or, is it simpler than that? Maybe the truth is there is no plot, no narrative behind the enigma of our lives, just a vicious circle of unresolved riddles without answers.

Miskowski’s tale places each of the characters in a web of accident and mayhem. A father whose drug habit leads to the disappearance of a daughter. A newlywed’s momentary decision of madness will lead to a revenge play in which Death is the only one who holds all the keys. And the lives of two young girls whose identities like all enigmas is never completely revealed. This is the kind of tale in which you as the Reader, the riddle-master’s assistant will be led down the path of broken dreams where any hope of solution becomes an enigma itself.

Skillute, WA – the city of nightmares and dreams, a place that seems to act like a magnet drawing the world’s children of darkness into its web of deceit. Like Lovecraft or Faulkner, S.P. Miskowski has discovered in the notion of genius loci – the elemental drift of imaginative need a “spirit of place” as old as time itself. It’s a site that is neither in or out of time’s dark vale, a place where strangeness makes its home and habitation. A place where the dead and the living situate themselves on the edge of the never never. It’s here in this strange land of the American Nightmare of agony where all our social ills are on display, refined by a skewed vision, a warped parallax of dread and terror. A place that on the surface is just another normal redneck town situated in Bigotsville U.S.A.; and yet under the tinsel city façade is another world, a hidden world of horror that thrives on murder and mayhem. It’s this darker world that peaks out from time to time in Miskowski’s narrative revealing its serpent’s head; and, yet, not stepping into the full light of time, but rather like a murky backwater wrapped in the flakes of cottonwood webs pulling us down into a deeper enigma from which there is neither escape nor redemption. This is Skillute’s riddle and enigma: a place where only death reigns supreme.

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S.P. Miskowski is a recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships. Her stories have been published in Supernatural Tales, Black Static, Identity Theory, Strange Aeons and Eyedolon Magazine as well as in the anthologies Haunted Nights, The Madness of Dr. Caligari, October Dreams 2, Autumn Cthulhu, Cassilda’s Song, The Hyde Hotel, Darker Companions: Celebrating 50 Years of Ramsey Campbell, Tales from a Talking Board, Looming Low and The Best Horror of the Year Volume Ten. Her second novel, I Wish I Was Like You, was named This Is Horror 2017 Novel of the Year. Her books have received three Shirley Jackson Award nominations and a Bram Stoker Award® nomination. Her M.F.A. is from the University of Washington. Her novels and novellas have been published by Omnium Gatherum, Dim Shores, Dunhams Manor Press and JournalStone/Trepidatio. She is represented by Danielle Svetcov at Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary Agency.

All the Things We Never See by Michael Kelly


Along with other collections I also began reading Michael Kelly’s All Things We Never See. Mark Fisher speaks of the eerie as an enigma of agency, a sense of that shadowy gap between presence and absence as if something should be there that isn’t; or that something that is there shouldn’t be. Michael’s first tale falls into that feeling of the enigma and eerily awakens in me a sense of both real and unreal happenings. On one hand it’s a tale of death, the death of a relationship: a couple trying for a moment to recapture a sense of something they both know has been lost, a knowing of some unknown gap that has opened up between them; an emptiness and absence that will never be filled again. And, yet, like many of us we continue to go through the motions, continue to try to make things work, try to fill that gap with false dreams and memories. It never works, it always fails. Yet, what happens now… what do we do with this failure? Ultimately it’s this enigma of a failing relationship that is confronted in a way that is both eerie and weird. It’s this transition between the two that keeps us reading the tale, not that it will be resolved, but that it will linger like all enigmas do in our mind like a lure pulling us toward the unknown and the darkness.

Reading the stories one is reminded “What is it we really see when we see?” These stories move beyond meaning, beyond the linguistic traps we set for ourselves, the deceptions of language and thought, and send us down into that realm of affective darkness where the churning impulses of will and drive, anxiety and terror sing to us without meaning and bring to us only the inner turmoil of emotions and deliriums. Each tale seems more like a dream sequence in some diary of secret desires, vignettes that are meant to trigger certain emotions and not others. I’ve not yet finished the book but feel its movements hollowing out a space in my inner being releasing spiders of memory and emotions that seem more like channeling rhythms of some deep ritualized world of ancient stars and alien aspirations.

On Stephen King

Read an article not favorable to Stephen King… (I want link it, not worth the effort… sorry.)

But I beg to differ…

King touches the mediocrity in us all. The bottom line is he is able to fathom the surface not depths of the American psyche, and what he found was its banal horror, its quiet modes of desperation and fear; that hauntings of the untutored mind. The truth is that the vast majority of Americans are not great readers, and for the most part fear intellectuals – the anti-intellectualist tradition and all that blather etc. But hey he has the genius to touch that dark corner of our society with an acumen that few before or since can duplicate. Maybe his banal horror is the true genius of the American psyche rather than all our hypercritical elitism put together…

I don’t read King because he brings us the latest philosophical fad, nor that he intellectualizes over the world’s pain, but rather because he is able to bring to the fore the lost souls of the American psyche, to put them on a page as banal as they are and make them live, love, dread, kill, maim, horrify, etc. It’s the ugly ducklings that cannot represent themselves that King lifts up and exposes to the mesh of his fevered mind. King has no pretenses to literature, but is and has always favored the pulp traditions of our country. Too many of our supposed cultural elite seem to see in this something beneath their reading habits. So be it. For me King brings to us the haunted inscapes of the real America exposed in the frying pan of pulp. And, yet, those who love the noir narratives of the great detective and crime fictions of the last century can understand King as one of theirs… even Lovecraft and Jim Thompson would have accepted this latter day pulpist against all the literati in history.

New Interview with Matt Cardin

New interview with Matt Cardin, author of ‘To Rouse Leviathan’ with Laura Kemmerer is out on Sublime Horror.

LC: What would you say are the core underpinning themes and ideas in your work?

MC: The horror of consciousness, and more specifically, self-awareness. Intimations or suspicions of something fundamentally grotesque and nightmarish at the core of existence itself. The inescapable sense of being drawn to find a metanarrative, a pattern, a God’ s-eye view and understanding of one’s experience and the world at large, and then of being horrified at the revelation that this overall pattern and meaning are actually hideous and unbearable. That life isn’t meaningless, it’s meaningful – and the meaning is awful. The fear that God by whatever name, under whatever cultural guise, may be monstrous. The sense not only of horror but of unbearable loss, grief, and despair that accompanies such a sense of things. The related fear or possibility that artistic and intellectual creativity carry profound dangers because they serve as portals to and for that nightmarish primal ontological reality to communicate itself and corrupt or destroy the artist.

I might pause to add that in my actual everyday existence I’m a living embodiment of Flaubert’s famous advice to “be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”


Nicole Cushing: A Sick Gray Laugh

When I started writing this book, I vowed to keep my madness out of it.

—Nicole Cushing,  A Sick Gray Laugh

CaptureNicole Cushing is the Bram Stoker Award® winning author of Mr. Suicide and a two-time nominee for the Shirley Jackson Award.

Various reviewers have described her work as “brutal”, “cerebral”, “transgressive”, “taboo”, “groundbreaking” and “mind-bending”.

Rue Morgue magazine recently included Nicole in its list of 13 Wicked Women to Watch, praising her as an “an intense and uncompromising literary voice”. She has also garnered praise from Jack Ketchum, Thomas Ligotti, and Poppy Z. Brite (aka, Billy Martin).

Her second novel, A Sick Gray Laugh, has been released August 27, 2019 by Word Horde. A stand-alone novella, The Half-Freaks (published by Grimscribe Press) will also appear in 2019.

I just started reading Nicole’s latest work and am delighted to say it is well worth the praise it’s garnering so far… I’ll update with a review later this week, but for now you should check out her blog Litggressive for more information about Nicole Cushing and her fabulous work.

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