From this there is no escape
I was strolling along a platform at a major London railway station when a bill poster caught my eye. It was for a new novel, The Calling of the Grave. How appropriate: I had just been reading Supervert’s Necrophilia Variations on the train. And in reading this second book by what I would venture to dub a “contemporary beat” writer – an association I’m sure Supervert would not find unpalatable – “the grave” had been on my mind a lot, of late.
I confess to having had a thorough browse of the other two books in the trio of offerings from Supervert when I met this magazine’s editor in London (we had already agreed which one I would take), so my first thoughts involved speculation as to what research Supervert might have undertaken for this book…
Some of these very short stories might suggest themselves as scripts for a macabre version of Sex and the City; but then again, not quite. Perhaps more like Lou Reed in the early ’70s, especially as a dominatrix appears in “Whoremonger for a dying friend”. And I’m sure Carrie Bradshaw wouldn’t make an appearance with a corpse
handcuffed to a bed. No, what we have here is a portrait of the cringing man who shrinks from reality and lives in a polite, conservative, cocooned world where the ultimate denial is the denial of death (and sex).
“Meat substitutes” deals with technology and the distance that has opened up between the way we live and our organic existence; it is one of a number of recurring themes. Other stories give the distinct impression of the author having inserted fragments of autobiography; perhaps the one that conveys this most is “Labor Day”, although I must emphasise fragments.
There are themes of loneliness, isolation and alienation in many of the stories, “A new man”, for example, which begins with an interesting question, although one not many of us will have the experience of grappling with on the morning after… But that is precisely the beginning of this protagonist’s alienation from the rest of society. These are themes that become more prominent in subsequent variations.
“Our wound” possesses a dark beauty, and is wonderfully written – it does not
contain the ugliness of the word “stiff” that scars the third paragraph of the following story, “Postmortem”, which in other ways is an example of the author’s literary and conceptual genius. Indulge me to quote a passage from this latter story, the context being the conceit of a cadaver lying in its grave, the loneliness, isolation and alienation of the living transferred to a cognisance in death; the cadaver, faced with an eternity of solitude, has one “final hope” in the necrophile, who, “[w]ith his erection…achieves the resurrections the Good Book only promises”. Dear reader, with these words we can forgive the poetry-demolishing use of “stiff”.
And then the author’s trademark dark humour turns to dark hilarity with “Visions of supernatural depravity” as he reverses the roles and takes us on a light-hearted romp through the nature of sex not with mortal remains, but with fully functioning and animated ethereal bodies. It is this until the last few sentences, when the narration turns to a statement about our mortality; perhaps our final act with the Grim Reaper may not be a sex act, but for all of us it is inevitable. And yes, my friend, this includes you. This theme is asserted overtly at the very end of the