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by Richard Gavin

I detest the terms “genre fiction” and “literary fiction”. To me – and perhaps I am not comprehending them correctly – they seem to set unnecessary boundaries between different flavors of what I simply refer to as “fiction”. Though I do frequently use genres and categorize stories within them, I try to make it clear that a genre is very loosely defined. They overlap, they mean different things to different people, and everybody interprets them in their own way. I’m fine if the story is firmly set in the genre, and I’m fine if it isn’t, if it explores the boundaries and landscapes. As long as it’s a good story, I’m in.

Let me say that Fume (a chapbook containing a story of the same name), by Richard Gavin, is decidedly of the latter category, and is a very good story to boot.

“Fume” is about Clark, an aging resident of Beech Point. Beech Point is a lonely hamlet offering a nice vacation escapade for tourists. Clark, however, is determined to keep Beech Point as he likes it – quaint, quiet, and his alone. He’s the unquestioned sentinel, decidedly reclusive.

One day, on a walk post-vacation season, Clark finds the ruins of a campsite, which is rather upsetting to him, as the area the campsite is situated in is off limits. Unfortunately for Clark, there’s something rather unpleasant lying dormant in the tent, waiting to be awakened – something that will change his whole perspective on life.

I don’t wish to spoil anything, but let me just say that this story did not go in the direction I was expecting. While the first half is undoubtedly brooding and atmospheric, the second part…how shall I put it? The second part is beautiful, delving from the former creepiness into an absolutely awe-inspiring rumination on life and nature, a Machen-esque exploration on the loss of primal wonder in the modern world. There are mythic undertones to this second part as well, not surprising given Gavin’s background in occult spirituality, philosophy, and esotericism.

Perhaps that seems too vague, but if I said any more I would ruin the tale’s fascinating plot.

The story skirts only the edges of horror and stays firmly grounded in a beautiful strangeness. Earlier I called the story “Machen-esque”, and if there is one classical influence on this story I would guess it to be Machen. Not in his decadent horror tales, but more in works like A Fragment of Life, which, like “Fume”, is a diamond of transcendent mysticism, a spiritual transformation in the modern world.

If I did not mention Michael Bukowski‘s cover art in this curt review, I would be amiss. Michael Bukowski is my favorite artist (yes, living or dead) and this will not be the last time you see his name on this site. His Yog-Blogsoth endeavor is one of the most ambitious projects ever attempted, while his small press publishing house, Seventh Church Ministries (used to publish art zines based on weird fiction), produces the most beautiful books in the business. And his artwork is absolutely amazing. The goatish woman staring in through the gap in Clark’s wall is only one thing. Pay attention to how the walls are carved into the shape of trees, how he pays so much attention to the detail on the hanging fish and chair, how there’s even an obscured portrait of a woman on the desk. Did Clark have a wife? Gavin certainly drops some hints. That requires the work of a close reader, and its obvious that Bukowski is a close reader, that he puts his all into every piece he does.

A final shout-out must be given to Dunhams Manor Press (an imprint of Dynatox Ministries), who really do  bang-up job with every chapbook, collection, or hardcover they produce. Editor Jordan Krall is passionate about producing quality stuff. I’ve already ordered four more books from them. I look forward to see where they’re going.

It’s obvious that Fume – from the titular story to the cover art to the quality of the book itself – is a fine publication, a boundary-pushing, effort-showing, all-around-awesome little gem. It’s unusual, it’s weird, it’s dark, and, above all, it’s beautiful.

You can order Fume direct from Dunhams right here. It’s limited to a 150 copies, and that availability is shrinking quickly as more people catch on to the utter and complete quality of the book. Hurry up…