Tuesday, September 3, 2013

This New & Poisonous Air: Review

Adam McOmber's This New & Poisonous Air is my first installment in the R.I.P. Reading "Challenge" and he starts me out with a strong four-star outing.  McOmber's stories are not strictly scary, but they do have a very unsettling, Gothic feel.  The atmosphere ranges from the dark and unusual to the enigmatic and uncomfortable.  McOmber takes us from the beginnings of Madame Toussauds wax museum to the days of the Black Plague.  He also uses everyday settings--from a movie theater to the threshing floor of an old barn--to give us a case of shivers.  The variety of these stories is delightful--and it is easy to see influences by Poe, Shirley Jackson, and Isak Dinesen in many of the tales.This is a thoroughly enjoyable collection--more atmospheric and psychological than down-right scary--and even the weakest stories are quite, quite good.  My favorites are "The Automatic Garden," "Fall Orpheum," and "Beneath Us."

"The Automatic Garden" is about a man who creates a mechanical garden full of "automatic" animals, plants, and even people.  Ostensibly, it has been designed to delight the public--but there behind this creation there is the love story between Francini, the creator, and a dancer named Cornazzano.  The love affair is long over, but Francini invites his old love to see the tribute he has created--with unexpected results.

In "Fall Orpheum" we have a normal small town--normal except for the occasional missing person.  When David and Kitty (brother & sister) visit the Orpheum movie theater, Kitty disappears through a door in the theater and David realizes that the Orpheum has been the source of all the disappearances.

"Beneath Us" follows the researches of a British woman who has been employed to map the forgotten graveyards of Britain--graveyards that have through fires or other means become disconnected from their sponsoring churches.  The effect these researches have on her is quite....disturbing.

Often readers share the first lines of stories and novels, but the final lines in each of McOmber's tales are so compelling (and yet not really spoiler-ish) that I'm going to give you the endings.

And even as I sit composing these lines at my own wooden table in my home where I can hear the sound of my good wife speaking to my children in the upper rooms, I wonder if I am still in that garden, lying on the cane floor, broken into my separate parts.
~"The Automatic Garden"

For if there are saints, Madame knows they are few, and none of them are remembered long.
~"There Are No Bodies Such As This"

Common Woolbrink gave us a final warning glance before turning on his heel and pulling shut the tall wooden gate of the city, leaving us to darkness. Knowing that this, after all, was what we'd wanted.
~"Fall, Orpheum"

I burned the letter I wrote to Amon Garrik on the hill among the yellow tulips where he first stepped into the air, and as the smoke of my words rose into the clear sky above, I imagined the bright animals with their tremendous faces, somehow reaching down and finding a way to accept those ashes as offering.
~"A Memory of His Rising"

I could hear singing. And yes, I was surprised to realize it issued from my own astonished throat.
~"A Man of History"

I lay my head against one velvet wing  of my chair.  I feel myself diving beneath the cold waves--so perfectly submerged.  Fantastically alive.
~"Beneath Us"

She understood there were solutions to problems like this and a real traveler would  find a solution, so she took Herr Adle's cold hands and started to pull with all her strength, slowly at first, dragging him down the road behind.
~"This New & Poisonous Air"

Cal knew that the right kind of music made the invisible become visible.  And now that Bill was finally ready to see--it was too late. The thresher's song was nearly through.
~"Gardens of the Moon"

Aubrey watched as his grandmother turned inside the rug, rolling herself, becoming humped and indistinct.  Finally, she rested, lying utterly still.
~"Of Wool" 

What have their predilections drawn? She with her silver face, hard and bright as a funeral mask, and her hair, a silent ivory dome.


Peggy Ann said...

With a cover like that it has to be good!

Lynn said...

I do love that cover and did you say 'gothic'? Maybe I should take a look (although do I really need to buy any more books?
Lynn :D

Bev Hankins said...

Lynn--yes, "gothic"--a bit.