They Had Goat Heads by D. Harlan Wilson
A collection of short stories published in 2010 by Atlatl Press
Poetic prose in a hallucinogenic kind of way.
Reviewed by Geoff Nelder
Some anthologies are soothing tales, quaint, charming and help you pass the time waiting in an airport, or to assist your head to drift off to the land of nod at bedtime. This book is NOTHING LIKE THAT! Each story is a unique coruscating mind adventure. It’s not possible to take it all in and be embroiled in each intrigue in one go. While bizarro stories seem to be meaningless and an injection of lateral-thinking hilarity, there’s more to them than that. When you hammer a banana, and a bee buzzes a window cleaner outside the plane on a clockwork bowl of custard… well, your head is either messed up, or it begins to think in a different way, loosening the cobwebs in there.
Listen to the beginning of ‘Beneath a Pink Sun’:
“Conflict is an illusion without which apes and begonias would shrivel in the wind. The grill, however, is covered with steaks. Tenderloins. They sizzle in the back yard beneath a pink sun. Somebody turns on a bugzapper. Music of tiny deaths…”
Laugh at a line in Chimpanzee where ‘I’ is in a bad situation, calls 911 and finds the operator “sounds attractive”. Unfortunately, ‘I’ is badly mistreated by the arriving police – beaten, pistol-whipped, kicked and thrown into a cell. All outrageous and illegal. He’s allowed the proverbial single phone call, so calls 911. Brilliant.
In many ways the tales have a message, however deeply buried then working upwards into your subconscious. They’re apparent nonsense maybe not so – in the ilk of the sufi homilies of Idries Shah, for example in his The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrudin. In particular the stories: Cape Crusade, Turns, and The Womb. I’m not saying they are the same style exactly – both Shah and D. Harlan Wilson are unique, but that if you enjoy one you are likely to relish the other.
Another writer’s work triggered by the style of these stories are the alternate reality ones by Ira Nayman – eg in his Alternate Reality Ain’t What It Used To Be.
The funniest gory story I’ve ever read is in this book – The Arrest. I tease you with a few lines from the beginning:
A man said, “You are under arrest.”
Another man said, “No, you are under arrest.”
“No,” said the first man. “It’s the other way around. You are the one who is under arrest.”
“I’m not under arrest,” said the second man. “You are.”
“I’m going to arrest you now,” said the first man, taking the second man by the elbow.
“No. Now I will arrest you”
… and so it goes on hilariously involving more men, more arrests, fights, fatalities. Several of the stories have this kind of self-referential effect, and I’ve always been drawn to literary recursion.
Lines I wish I’d written include ‘The clouds fell into the horizon’ – in the story, Monk Splitter. ‘Time is the splash of a raindrop on a cornflake.’
For readers of graphic stories, there is one, The Sister, illustrated horrifically by Skye Thorstenson. It’s a dark story summed up by the opening line: ‘And the moment I finished sewing up my little sister…’ It is hellically [sic] recursive.
Some of the stories leave me cold, but there are a total of 39 stories, most of which are semi-precious with a sprinkling of gems.
D. Harlan Wilson has won awards for his writing winning novelist, and is a literarycritic, and English professor. Visit him at www.dharlanwilson.com.