THE BIG HEADED PEOPLE by D. F. Lewis, Eibonvale, P/b £6.00, https://www.eibonvalepress.co.uk/
Reviewed by Gary Budgen
When the history of a certain sort of uncertain fiction is written much will be said of Robert Aickman and Thomas Ligotti, and surely D.F. Lewis will also have a place. Back in 1991 the special issue of Exuberance magazine focusing on Lewis ran a bibliography that listed over a hundred stories. There are many more now. In this latest, from Eibonvale’s attractive chapbook series, we welcome another five.
We slip neatly into dreams with their sometimes cartoon logic, where big-headed people are just that, ludicrous, unable to move because of the weight of their heads or requiring neck braces to keep those heads firmly on the top of their necks. The narrator of the title story of this collection finds himself going through a dream portal with his previously non-existent brother into an allegorical landscape but one without a symbolic language we might comfortably recognise. Here the pilgrim progresses through a world without God, or rather a world without a God who is any way recognisable, the church is subject to “mis-consecration, perhaps rather than a formal de-consecration.” All that is left is guilt dissolved of its object by amnesia, guilt shifted onto a baffling crime, and judgement made by those who might have once offered redemption.
In “A Halo of Drizzle around an Orange Street Lamp” batty old Aunt Alma decides to host a picnic. And what could be more homely than that? But Alma wants to host the picnic at night, creating a unique event to record in the journal pages of the Family Bible, something truly worth remembering. The shift to night has consequences that would indeed be memorable if they could ever be recorded, if they could ever be deciphered.
The circus is coming to town in “Thoughts and Themes.” John and the unnamed narrator take shifts and watch from the window of their house. But nothing is certain in this tale, are those clowns they are looking at or the long banished animals? Why are they watching at all except that in some way their activity seems to mediate the relationship between the two, if indeed they are separate entities at all?
The self-aware story of the meta-fictional “Origami Shadows” is worried that its chief protagonist Terry might disappear into some corner of the house he now hardly ever leaves. A retired man who needs a hobby that is, on the surface, harmless, Terry unleashes something unsettling, possibly libidinal from the darkness of the eaves cupboard. This conscious story is startled that “it could create such utter truth from such utter fantasy. “
The final story, “The Soft Tread”, concerns a relationship that has started in that amorphous period usually covered by the vague term middle age but here dubbed the age at the edge. Tom is now with Jill who has been worn into someone haunted by all the usual ghosts of her past life, husband, children and the oddly situated house that was a monument to the petty squabbles of her marriage. This is a fitting end to the book, a story that admits that it can’t end in silence, that there is always something that lingers.