Reviews, Vol. 1.3, Dec. 2007
Sein und Werden
Review by Cynthia Reeser
The Autumn 2007 print issue of Sein und Werden comes in two themed parts: “Bring Out Your Dead,” a collection of ghost stories, and, on the flip-side, “Send in the Clowns,” a section replete with some of the more gruesome types of clownish humor. It’s certainly not for everyone, but then the idea behind underground journals like Sein und Werden is just that —it’s not your mama’s mainstream literature. And for that, we applaud the journal. And now for the review: ladies and gentlemen,
Bring Out Your Dead.
“Lizzie’s Baby,” a short fiction piece by Emma Lee, probes the depths of sentences unspoken (“you’ve no idea how many calories nightmares feed on”) and the mother-child relationship. Audra is a woman who is haunted by the ghost of a much-begrieved infant and its mother, whose grief Audra sees as a reflection of her own. Another compelling story is “Urban Planning: Case Study the Third” by Tim Horvath, in which a restless spirit who does not realize he is dead, wanders in a snapshot of a story that could be a glimpse into someone’s eternity. Its unnamed protagonist will be seeking life’s basic necessities without satiation, forever.
But most of the fiction is disappointing, since its modus operandi is shock value for its own sake. Others belong more to Weird Tales than anything and liberally borrow themes from pop culture (“the nothing” creeping in from Bendi Barrett’s “A Rain of Dust”) and the familiar lore of tradition (wolves, valkyries, the haunted). That being said, the overall effect is thought-provoking. The fiction always holds surprises (even if they are grisly) and often views the world from the outlook of the condemned, the dead, and all manner of other unsavory types, human and mythic. So on that note,
Send in the Clowns.
Lifting off with Peter Tennant’s “Nine Dreams of the Clown (of Which Only 5 are Revealed),” the clown – sad clown – is presented as a sort of Everyman, most of whose actions can be summed up by the fact that “he yearns for the respect of the people”; he wants the same as most. Yet he is also fear embodied for the public-at-large, that is, assuming they fear murderous clowns. Tennant carries the Everyman theme through to the end, where “we are all clowns, each and every one of us” hits the target but glosses over one glaring obstacle: his poor clown who desires the respect of others, happiness, laughter in people’s eyes – begins the story with a dream of a killing spree. If this desire is to be conciliated with his more humane desires, then these would have to be actions typical of the general public, which is one of the story’s admittedly few failings.
Other stories are slapstick-amusing, as in Phil Doran’s “Pandemonium” (“Marco struggles to lever Charlie out of the bath, to great hilarity and wild applause from the children, as the Harlequin whacks members of the scientific community with a big stick.”) But the story also seems to have a political bent: “Capitalism didn’t wait,” after which a food fight ensues, involving the hurling of both hot Assam and classic custard tarts. This illustration of the failings of the capitalist system is followed by, “It was but a short lesson in the class struggle.” Society is sometimes a riot in its often conflicting internal struggles, but are clowns social rights activists? Are social rights activists clowns?
While some, such as “Ya Ho! We are Bliss,” by Kenneth Mulvey, are disturbing on so many levels and lack the foundation of a storyline to justify the grit, others, like Steven Pirie’s “To Pull a Child from a Woman” and Mark Howard Jones’ “From the East” are still grisly, but are driven by focused plots. The apocalyptic German landscape in “From the East” is political, but the story upholds this theme with its well-developed characters and plot.
While not for the faint of heart, Sein und Werden offers an eclectic, interesting reading experience. Sein und Werden can be found online, with a different set of authors, at http://www.kissthewitch.co.uk/seinundwerden/sein.html.