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Rating: 4 of 5 stars
A Gentle Hell is comprised of four dark speculative stories of quiet tension and uncomfortable nostalgia, written for deformed children and girls that dream of demons.
In “They Promised Dreamless Death” a salesmen sells sleep with the promise of a better life, but what dreams lurk beneath the substrate of consciousness for those who take it are stranger than they ever imagined.
In “Your Demiurge is Dead,” while the world adjusts to the death of God and the new reign of the Triple Goddess, Charles hunts for an Oklahoma murderer and is forced to confront his religious ideals when he encounters a new prophet.
“The Dog That Bit Her,” is the story of a neurotic young woman who gains freedom from her co-dependent marriage with the bite of a rabid dog.
And in the semi-autobiographical “The Singing Grass,” the artist and the writer converge at a meadow haunted by a carnivorous deer and the burnt monsters that show them the consequences of an artistic life.
I won’t say much about this except that it reminded me of who I was a writer and as a person. I think I’ve kinda lost track of it somewhere between high school graduation, the Army life and getting back to writing professionally. Because those are the only obstacles that partitioned me off from the darkly things that Autumn Christian, with “A Gentle Hell,” has restored my belief in. I am not a commonplace author, and I am not a typical writer. Thanks, Christian, for that.
These are my favorite portions of each short story.
“They Promised Dreamless Death”
The machines had turned all of our heads into a landscape of dark eyes, sloping giants hills, shadows of the valley of death. Metaphysics told us the world didn’t exist without being observed. Dead inside our heads, the machines chuk-chuk-chuking, the silent whir pressing the consciousness in the back, to a dreamless land, we were turning our world into a world for locusts. We were making the universe blind.
“Your Demiurge is Dead”
I crawled into Tuesday’s faery hole and lay down in the hollow impression her body made. I pulled at the roots with my fists, scratched and scratched over her scared nails, this once-warm body hiked up to the hips, bled out, skull scuffed, silenced by the arm and ribs of the prophet of the true living Triple Goddess. The serial killer of the benevolent. The death of a girl who wanted to be married underneath the dogwood tree, but instead had the blossoms pushed into her mouth and spilled into her collapsed eyes.
“The Dog That Bit Her”
She looked like she crawled out of a dream, wild girl in the white dress, bra-less and bare-foot. I thought at any moment she’d detach herself from her limbs and metamorphose into a vine sticking straight out of my wall.
“The Singing Grass”
I’d never liked to watch people make art before, but I watched him paint because there was something alluring and impractically aesthetic about the way he moved, like an underwater machine. Even if I closed my eyes I’d still be able to feel his movement, the shadow of it, and all angles of him digging a hole into gravity.
A star subtracted due to “The Dog That Bit Her.” It spent too long setting up and being there before it got to the meat of the matter, and it didn’t even tie into the ending in any way, so I found the meandering start (and, therefore, overall length) needless in a collection of hard-hitting selections such as the others. My one gripe.
I’ll be looking out for The Crooked God Machine to see if Christian’s writing can hold its own in a more extensive, involved environment than a short story.