(Prime Books, $19.95, 383 pages, trade paperback, published 2003.)
Weirdmonger, a sizeable collection of DF Lewis' fiction, resembles
not so much a series
of short stories as a flow of disjointed vignettes, all with an ethereal
air of wrongness about them. The overall effect is a bit like that generated
by Chris Morris' TV show Jam -- a sort of transcribed dream sequence.
Much of Weirdmonger's weirdness stems from the dream-logic that
permeates each piece, and such traditional oddities as may occasionally
appear -- demons, vampires, Lovecraftian horrors and the like -- are
little more than incidental detail.
I could only recall having encountered Lewis' work once before, in
a themed anthology, and at the time I was less than impressed; it turns
out I'd also read his work in a volume of Lovecraft-inspired shorts,
and promptly forgotten the piece in question. Having not enjoyed his
work before, I picked up Weirdmonger determined to find something,
even just one story out of sixty-eight, that would knock my socks off
and show me once and for all just what it is that has established Lewis'
reputation as a genre author. I tried, and I'm not certain that I succeeded.
I think I've twigged how Lewis writes, and how his work ought to be
read, and it's a very idiomatic style. The typical reader probably either
firmly likes or firmly dislikes it, although it's left me undecided.
One thing I will say in Lewis' favour is that his ability to create
that dreamlike quality in his fiction is flawless; he makes it seem
so effortless, which only adds to the effect. No, I don't think it's
the framework of his stories that bothers me -- but his prose ... The
prose is another matter.
DF Lewis has a tendency to write in extremely florid English. It's
not that he emulates the purple prose of HP Lovecraft; rather he seems
to be exerting his literacy in a particularly wilful way. What I mean
by this is, he seems to take great pains to cram his stories full of
those stylistic devices you were taught to look out for in GCSE (or
perhaps O-Level) English classes, and with arty flourishes, and often
overburdens the prose as a result. There are undeniably moments when
Lewis captures just the right phrase -- for example:
"Sometimes, there were the faintest touches upon his body, as if
the angels were preparing him for God's inspection."
"The undergrunts were words chipped off a block of noise."
But there are also moments of god-awful clumsiness:
"With the arrival of Mary and Derek, the conversation had dried up,
which was surprising -- there being more people available to speak.
Four instead of two. But, perhaps, not so surprising, with more interactions
of embarrassment to take into account."
I found the writing more often stilted than not, and I suspect that
Weirdmonger would benefit from being picked from now and then
rather than read in one vast slew, since I found it hard to distinguish
between stories after a while. Like a night's worth of dreams, it all
very quickly faded leaving only the worst excesses in my memory.
Elsewhere in infinity plus: