“Spies smile with fresh eggs held out in one hand, a pistol in the other.
Genre is created and sustained with careful choice of images: cues, views, intertextual nods. Yet the fiendishly talented Helen McClory toys with our constructed boundaries in this six paragraph story: her ‘hard-boiled’ detective narrator (“take a drink. It ain’t tea in that cup”) dropped into rural countryside to create an air-punchingly perfect ‘folk noir’.
“There was code here. It said always close the gate behind you. It said don’t trust anyone but yourself”.
McClory takes the symbols of stone and gates and fen and darkness and imbues them with a sly deviance, heavy with threat and guile. The final image focusses our threat into the danger of a liminal locale: “And nothing in this places flickers like a match struck”.
In Mayhem & Death, 404Ink, 2018
This is in the collection Mayhem & Death, McClory’s second story collection. What I love about this whole book is the use of titles as more than a part of the story, but somehow a proposition that can live and stimulate ideas all by itself. This particular story is only a page and a half long, but the feeling of following the camera into this vast, unknowable darkness is utterly captivating. McClory’s audacious use of scale is one of her most effective and dazzling tools. She can throw mountains along the bottom of your street, put a dungeon under the bed and force you to see an entire universe on the other side of an unattended television screen.
First published in Mayhem & Death, 404 Ink, 2018
Apocalypse stories are everywhere, they always are in times of crisis and uncertainty (that feels like now right?) and it can be hard to read about impending doom when it already feels so close to home. McClory’s flash fiction is a list story, a form I love, and unlike many apocalypse stories didn’t leave me with a deep sense of despair after reading it. It’s darkly comic in its banal bleakness at the end of the world, “Almost all that we have ever done as a species has caused harm to the earth and ourselves. Nothing special, everything so.” The narrator’s deep love for the world it what shines through, endings comes to us all, large and small. This piece of fiction reads to me like truth.
Published by Split Lip Magazine, 2018. Read online here
I will ready anything by Helen McClory and so should you. One of the things I love about using Twitter is the writing it’s brought to me, that I may have missed had I never joined.
Helen does things differently. Her stories are written like poetry, are funny, are bright, are complete and vivid and make you think. She deconstructs old ideas and makes them new. She is a proper artist. I loved her first collection On the Edges of Vision, and her novel Flesh of the Peach.
And this story, from this collection, got me right from the very beginning.
Muggy air. Plum in up to the wrists. Picking rinds from the stopped waste disposal. He’s pulled the machinery out so nothing can get you. But you know there are so many ways in which you can be gnawed upon. It scares you into effrontery, into brittle spectacle. No roses, you say, no damn chocolate, like thin poise is going to help you live intact.
It’s a story about physicality, and memory, and damage. It’s about who owns you (and who you own), and for how long and in in what ways. It’s about the body and the mind and how they are separate and the same, and how they tell stories, together and by themselves. It’s about escape and power and the nearness and farness away of everything. Reading it always takes my breath away, and I can’t articulate why, really.
It’s very short, and it’s dazzling.
from Mayhem and Death, 404 Ink, 2018