Four Nightjar Press chapbooks
Andrew Pope reviews a selection of recent chapbooks by Nightjar Press, an independent publisher releasing single weird stories by individual authors...
Based in Manchester, Nightjar Press is an independent publisher specialising in limited edition single short-story chapbooks by individual authors. Their Twitter account references ‘literature, weird horror, and assorted doom’: the nightjar (aka corpse fowl, or goatsucker) is a nocturnal bird with an uncanny, supernatural reputation, flying silently at dusk or dawn. Released in pairs, these chapbooks are paired together where two stories ‘speak’ to each other in some way: even if the speaking is the uncanny ‘churring’ of nightjars. Nightjar sent us a selection of four recent titles, all currently in print.
If you’re in the mood for something postmodern, the pick of the bunch is Vlatka Horvat’s ‘House Calls’. It takes the form of a series of notes presumably pushed through the letterbox of a house, each starting ‘Hello.’ Hello, I’m your neighbour; Hello, we’re doing scaffolding down the road – that sort of thing. The notes get increasingly silly, then weird. The scaffolders offer to build a structure up the side of the house that extends into the sky, and hopefully assure the recipient that it can be topped with a flag ‘of your choice.’
Eventually, things turn ominous. Are the senders alive or dead? Is the reader? Has there been a terrible event? The playful format evokes Donald Barthelme, and the content is perfect for the world we live in at the moment. After all, what could be more threatening in the age of social distancing than a relentless stream of people urging you to let them into your home? ‘House Calls’ has a subtle weird power that creeps up on you like a leaking gas from a malfunctioning boiler – I enjoyed it very much.
For a more traditional horror story, I recommend Michael Walters’ ‘Signal’. This is a tale of a young woman wandering the streets of her home town at night, in the run-up to Christmas. One of two local mansion blocks has been demolished, and her thoughts are turning to her dead older sister. Walters gets a lot done in just a few pages: traumatic flashbacks, voyeurism, social anxiety, haunted dreams, unnerving geographies, a gentle touch of tech-horror, and a gentle thread of twinning imagery.
Overall I found ‘Signal’ to be reminiscent in tone to David Mitchell’s Slade House but leaning a touch further into the weird. I quite liked how it doesn’t quite resolve into a coherent explanation. Such is the benefit of the short form – readers are often more open to a refusal to tie everything up with a neat bow, and so it is here. Just when you might expect a neat answer, you only really get half of one.
Hilaire’s ‘The Red Suitcase’ is the story of a lonely man living with his mother at her B&B on a wind-swept island. One day a mysterious woman comes to stay, piquing his interest. But will he be able to make a connection? This felt to me like an unreliable narrator story, but if so it was too elliptical for my tastes. We are left to wonder if there’s more going on than meets the eye, but with little more than shifting behaviour from his mother and the guest, and the presence of a dead seal, there’s not much to go on. Alternatively, perhaps nothing much happens at all, and it’s simply a portrait of social anxiety and grief observed from the outside, uncomprehendingly.
Lastly, there’s Tim Etchell’s ‘Like A Fever’. This one is a non-stop tsunami of similes, tumbling over each other and crashing up against the reader. Most of the imagery feels oppressive and overwhelming, and the cumulative effect is to block out coherent thought. The feverishness implied by the title is evoked by the overwhelming rhythms of the text, through which the possibility of a narrative can be perhaps fleetingly felt. References to a car crash and death suggest a passenger that has been killed, and the suggestion comes through that we are witnessing the annihilating power of grief, which (in William H Burrough’s words) can Exterminate All Rational Thought. When we get back to social events, maybe this would make a good slam poetry entry. It sounds like Gil Scott-Heron in a straightjacket, crying in a bar. I liked it.
Visit the Nightjar Press website to view their full list of titles.