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Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Review: The Immeasurable Corpse of Nature by Christopher Slatsky

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The Immeasurable Corpse of Nature is horror writer Christopher Slatsky’s new collection, due out at the end of January 2020. It is his eagerly awaited followup to his cult favorite first collection Alectryomancer and Other Weird Tales. Alectryomancer was an astonishing debut, featuring a new distinct voice and some incredible work. His story from that collection, A Plague of Naked Movie Stars, still unsettles me every time I think about it. What an incredibly bizarre work. Upon news of this next book, the question was, can Slatsky deliver on the promise of his first book? Will it show an author maturing and refining their work? I can confidently say that the answer is yes, this new collection takes what was so amazing about his first book and furthers the themes and sharpens his prose. 

The stories in The Immeasurable Corpse of Nature are mainly these extremely interior explorations of tragedy and ruin, and of the beauty that can be found within the horrific. Slatsky’s universe is one where a loved one, a sibling, a parent, can be lost, suddenly, into something that is unexplainable, some hole in reality or perception. But also, everyday life can be just as bad, or in some cases, even more horrible, then the darkest imaginings of a horror writer, which is a theme that is just as strong in his work. Many stories actually combine the two themes, the nightmarish and the everyday tragic, to horrifying effect. In our lives, there are mysterious forces at work that devour our loved ones, and take them into some outer darkness, some of these forces you can name monster, and some are named illness or accident. Is there really that much of a difference between some otherworldly horror and cancer? In Slatsky’s work, he takes these moments of breakdown, and perverts them, makes them into this kind of strange walking poetry, a misbegotten thing, a hymn to what destroys us. What his characters have lost are transformed, horrifically changed in ways that stager understanding, and brought back to bring a strange revelation or a final devastation. His narrators come to realize, their eyes now open, to the fact that the entire universe has been changed into the image of a horrific transformation, a horrible loss. The universe has become a monstrous mirror to the narrator's most private hurts. The world, a reflection of the most inner wounds. They come to realize there is no “outside” there is only inside, and everything inside is corrupt. His stories like Engines of the Ocean, The Figurine, or The Immeasurable Corpse of Nature, are these mood poems, views into the darkest parts of the authors being, the rotten and corrupt thoughts made real. 

In the best of Slatsky’s work, his stories delve deep into very personal fears and anxieties. The loss of children is a huge theme for him. At the center of a lot of his stories are these surreal and troubling images, these images born out of some deep sunless part of Slatsky’s mind. These images are chimeras of both his fears and this paradoxical nightmarish beauty and are genuinely disturbing and beautifully malignant, like poisoned candy or diseased sex. After reading stories like Phantom Airfields or The Carcass of the Lion, which to me are some of the best horror fiction currently being written, you have to put the book down, kind of let what you just experienced soak in, come to terms with what you just read and try to understand the strange feelings you just had overwhelm you. But be warned, when one of Slatsky’s walking terrors enters your psyche, it burrows so deep that it will be with you for the rest of your days.

Slatsky has two modes of writing, the confidant intellectual writer exploring some newfound interest, and the artist lost in his own obsessions, trying desperately to record down in prose his more taboo and disturbing thoughts. Slatsky is one of the only true surrealists working today in the horror field. He takes two disparate ideas, say the love for a young child, and the cold terrors of outer space, and combines them into a unique new form. Slatsky also may be the greatest visual stylist that horror fiction has ever known. He creates these perfect paragraphs, these incredible tableaus, of just mind-shattering power. He reminds me, in turns, of Magritte, of Witkin, of Lynch. His prose is akin to the new wave 1970’s science fiction writers, and then out of nowhere, it’s like Slatsky channels say, Lautreamont or Francis Bacon, and just attacks with some scene or image that shakes you, that challenges you, that unnerves you. 

In terms of criticism, there are a couple. I do think the collection suffers from the current trend of publishers kind of just putting every story a writer has recently written into the book to make the biggest collection possible. I think the book would have benefitted from maybe 3 or 4 of the weaker stories being trimmed. Also, there is one nonfiction essay, and one kind of metafiction/nonfiction essay, I feel if you are gonna have a blend of fiction and nonfiction in a collection, then there should be at least a couple nonfiction works in it. Just having one feels a bit off to this reader. I think maybe to the already established fan of Slatsky’s work, this criticism is not so much of a big deal, the more the merrier. But to the new reader of his work, a more focused, more tight collection would come off better, allowing the author to showcase his best works. But all in all, these are slight problems. The Immeasurable Corpse of Nature is sure to be one of the most important horror collections of 2020. Christopher Slatsky is one of the most important names in contemporary horror and I am truly excited to see what he does next. 

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