In a Season of Dead Weather is a collection of seven short stories by Canadian author Mark Fuller Dillon. It consists of an authentically strange world of the author's own design, into which the reader is cast adrift; duly I found myself lost, and happily so.
This reader willingly joined the protagonist of Lamia Dance, the book's opening tale, by stepping out of the wind into the 'grimy, dark-paneled lobby of the cinema', and was captured straight away. In this powerfully poetic piece, an introverted youth attempts to socialise by viewing what turns out to be an obscure and erotic film with his fellow students, but is so disturbed by the experience that his isolation is thrown into even starker relief. As his past unravels itself on the screen before his eyes, he can take no more, and leaves before the main feature; but is his departure from the cinema too early, or too late? The tone is set.
Next is Never Noticed, Never There which deals with people's misguided perception of reality. Disappearance follows disappearance, then graphic designer Tom Lighden begins to see ghosts everywhere; his search for the missing Robert Piedmont leads him to an alternative world, partly within the very substance of things. The world reclaims him, but it keeps on turning regardless, and sure enough, no one notices.
Winter's approach looms large over Shadows in the Sunrise, which is set shortly into the future, after some kind of economic or social meltdown. Most have left the farmland for the apparent safety of walled cities, leaving our protagonist as some kind of caretaker, abandoned and alone, fearing the onset of the season's harsh weather. He visits a farmhouse full of recollections from his youth; but are those memories authentic, or do the shadows on the wall and the lights in the sky exist only in his mind? We begin to question the validity of his viewpoint as his isolation becomes ever more complete.
When the Echo Hates the Voice is the intriguing tale of Marcel Dumont, an obstetrician who makes his very first (and successful) delivery, then abruptly experiences a frightening hallucination. The resulting child, Paul Bertrand, grows up to be a popular, yet highly strung youth: convinced he is being somehow persecuted. He seems to have every advantage in life, but is there a side of him which is determined to destroy it all, through an insanely jealous rage?
In What Would Remain? Colleen is a political activist, recently released from jail, who struggles to contact her mother at her isolated home. Eventually, and with the prospect of worsening weather, she drives out to investigate; she finds a desolate landscape in the grip of a blizzard, inhabited only by ghosts. Having found her mother at last, she struggles to prevent her from joining the constant flow of people trudging past her house, to the north and to their certain doom in the snowy landscape. The question is posed: if the world was purged of humanity, what would remain?
Mikhail remembers the 'tall blind houses near the canal' in The Weight of its Awareness, perhaps my favourite story of this collection. Now middle-aged, the possibilities of youth long gone, he is determined to capture even a fleeting glance of what might have been; so he sets out on a journey one morning to find those houses once more. However, his unreliable memory is unable to prepare him either for what he finds or for what he has unwittingly become.
Finally, The Vast Impatience of the Night introduces us to the numerous widows of a small rural community. Janet Richardson makes her way home one evening after yet another bereavement, and encounters a barricade of cloud, ghostly figures, and a bizarre light show. In her quest for safety, and to 'look after her girls', does she stumble upon all that remains of the widowers themselves? The thought of history repeating itself is almost too much for her to bear.
There are themes of love and loss, misunderstanding, and a diminishing sense of identity throughout this collection which link the stories strongly. The bleak landscape clearly inspires the author, and his descriptive prose of rural communities in the grip of a Canadian winter will have you shivering; yet despite this there is a warmth of experience here which brings the characters to life, proving the author not only writes beautifully, but also has a lot to say.
I was entranced by this book, and I read it in one sitting. These are powerful yet subtle three-dimensional tales from an original mind, and Mark Fuller Dillon deserves a greater readership; which I'm sure will come his way soon.
(review of free book)