This week’s weird fiction.
Review: “Neithernor”, Richard Gavin, 2015.
A strange, Robert Aickmanesque story (it appeared first in the tribute anthology Aickman’s Heirs) that was effective despite it’s many mysteries.
There are three themes in the story: parasitism, social isolation, and the idea of art being channeled by an artist from a mysterious force outside themselves.
The narrator, possesses a “holey” memory in great evidence in his description of his relationship with his fiancé Cara. He doesn’t even remember proposing to her.
The main story involves the narrator, Forrest, and his relationship with his cousin Vera.
He takes pains to emphasize he only met his cousin once, when he was ten at a Thanksgiving dinner. But she will become a central presence in the story when Forrest learns, when checking out a dingy art gallery run by a rather sinister old man (his chest is described as being like an overfed pigeon’s) to possibly get a story idea for his arts column in the local newspaper, that Vera has become a reclusive artist of strange collages made of copper wire and human hair.
They have the peculiar quality of being “neithernor” as Vera call its, seeming to be one thing than another. One work looks like a merry-go-round or a scorpion. Another is reminiscent of both an ankh and a mirror.
Forrest asks to be put in contact with Vera’s representatives, the only way she can be contacted says the consignment gallery’s owner. Forrest makes some noises about providing the gallery some publicity in a column in the hopes that will get him his contact information.
However, two events intercede, and the column is never written.
The first is that Forrest’s apartment building has a fire, and he has to move and replace some of his record collection. That leads him to a music store where Cara works.
We see the first iteration of the theme of parasitism. Cara says Forrest started visiting the shop frequently to visit her. He says he was motivated to seek her friendship for her employee discount.
We get an amusing bit about how lover’s gifts reflect, supposedly, how someone sees their lover. Cara gets a record of Scelsi’s work (a real composer) that he hates. To him it sounds like something melting. (I have not listened to Scelsi’s “Anahit” to confirm this.)
Going in search of a gift for Cara, Forrest mischievously decides to buy one of Vera’s works. However, the gallery has gone out of business, but he manages to wake the former owner who lives in an apartment above it. The apartment is grungy and sinister, but there are signs of Vera’s artwork there.
And Forrest unexpectedly finds Vera there. She’s wearing a cap, her complexion is leprous, and she is listless. She briefly answers questions put to her by seeming to get the owner’s approval first.
Forrest does manage to get a look at Vera’s “studio” – little more than a closet with copper wire and boxes and a locked cupboard on the wall. There she works, as she says “endlessly”. Before Forrest leaves, he is given one of Vera’s productions, wrapped.
There are some fallouts to Forrest’s visit.
He lied to Cara about going to the gallery, saying he was working on a story. She thinks he’s cheating on her and breaks their engagement.
Forrest thinks everyone has “the right to diminish themselves if they so desire”, but he is worried about Vera, wants to make sure she’s not imprisoned.
Forrest eventually returns to the apartment and sees Vera at work, her eyes rolled up in her skull, her hands working copper wire, and hair being pulled from her head into the now unlocked closet where a shadow lurks.
He leaves. When he returns home, Forrest finds a note from Cara.
She opened Vera’s work, thinking it was a gift for her, and was appalled. She refuses to describe it, but she thinks Forrest is
walking down a road I would never even set foot upon. Just being in the same house with it last night gave me nightmare after nightmare.
She moves out, and Forrest never sees her again.
Nor does he look at whatever Vera produced.
The story ends with Forrest in a hotel. He has gone through another cycle of waxing and waning since not only has he left his belongings in his old apartment for “fear of parting the gate to my own Neithernor” – opening the closet where his “little bauble” from Vera is, but he is even more bereft of human connections.
The story, at the end, goes back at the end, to Scelsi. Forrest recounts Cara telling him that Scelsi regarded himself as receiving transmissions from a “greater Soul that transcends all matter and masks”, that he is a “conduit”.
The album cover of the Scelsi music that Cara gave Forrest has an enigmatic cover. Cara told Forrest it reminded her of a setting sun. Forrest says it’s something else, but he doesn’t say what.
The parasitism of the story is in the relationship between Cara and Forest and whatever thing lurks in the closet pulling Vera’s hair. The gallery owner also is a parasite, it seems, on Vera.
Both Vera and Scelsi seem in contact with creative forces; however, in Vera’s case, it seems more like a malignant possession.
And both Forrest and his cousin seem isolated figures cut off from society.