CREEPING WAVES: ANOTHER HIDEOUSLY HEINOUS HOME RUN FOR MATTHEW M. BARTLETT
This has been a SICK year for short horror anthologies and collections, a GOLDMINE of memorable titles, a veritable MOUNTAIN of awesome. I’ll be talking more about this embarrassment of riches later in the month, but today I come to speak about CREEPING WAVES, Matthew M. Bartlett‘s follow up to his super creepy masterpiece, GATEWAYS TO ABOMINATION.
This kid knows what he’s doing and has the creative mojo of a dozen “normal” horror writers. You’ve heard the phrase “fevered imagination” before, right? Well, he is the poster demon for that.
Here is the Amazon review I posted awhile back:
I think the best way to start a review of Matthew M. Bartlett’s awesome new collection/novel/hybrid CREEPING WAVES is to talk about two Pavement records, “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain” and “Wowee Zowee”, which were released one year apart in the mid 1990s.
“Crooked Rain” made a critical and commercial splash and helped take the band to a new level of success–one of the songs (“Cut Your Hair”) even made it to radio briefly. From day one, the album was a darling to all.
The next year, they put out “Wowee Zowee”, a shambling double album that confused listeners upon its release, and was even widely panned as being too experimental, too shaggy, too MUCH. But, hey–guess what? By the end of 1995, it showed up on tons of Top 10 lists. And hey, guess what again? Turns out, it’s their MASTERPIECE, and probably the best example of Pavement being completely themselves. It is still massively listenable, 21 years later and counting.
I think it’s too early to call CREEPING WAVES Mr. Bartlett’s masterpiece, because hey, let’s give the dude a chance to write some more books–geesh! BUT, I will say that it feels like an industrial strength upgrade from his previous AMAZING book, GATEWAYS TO ABOMINATION.
As a huge fan of weird/creepy stuff, reading GATEWAYS the first time was like getting punched in the face with greatness. It is an insanely original take on the “Cursed Town” sub genre, full of intensity and horror and humor, and a crackling energy. It is almost a Cubist book. If it were a poem, it would be a Wallace Stevens piece called “13 Ways of Looking At A Demonic Radio Station In Leeds, MA”.
CREEPING WAVES takes that cubist, self-referential, interconnected CREEPTASTIC energy of the first book and seemingly mainlines it back into itself. And thus if GATEWAYS is a poem, then CREEPING WAVES is a Bosch painting. There is quite literally more horrific, over-the-top, insane, awe-inspiring imagery in CREEPING WAVES than in ten “normal” horror novels/collections. This is not an exaggeration. That it manages to be a demonic generator of the Weird and insane, while ALSO being uproariously funny and even weirdly touching in places, is part of Mr. Bartlett’s secret mojo.
In this newest book, there are lots of the small evil nuggets and story-lets and disembodied scenes that made GATEWAYS such a pleasure, but there are also several longer stories this time out, which adds a new, almost operatic dimension. The longer tales are totally killer, including “Master of Worms”, “Night Dog”, “The Black Tents”, and the Vernon Golden story, which is serialized throughout. Many writers good at intense, pithy super short work would start to seem repetitive and tired when given extra rope with which to hang themselves. In the case of Mr. Bartlett, he takes that extra page real estate and makes things even MORE insane, even MORE out there, and somehow manages to up the humanity aspect at the same time. How he does this is a dang mystery to this knucklehead.
It infers throughout a super complicated backstory that only somewhat holds together when viewed with waking logic, but burbles and festers under your skin as good nightmares have a tendency to do. Names and places and allusions come and go, sometimes looping back all the way to GATEWAYS. Discombobulation is a common feeling here, your constant companion as a reader.
There are pieces in this book that made me want to jump up and spike my Kindle into the floor in celebration. The aforementioned “Master of Worms” is one of those, as well as “The Men”, “The Egg”, “Baal Protects The King (Part 1)”, and “Rangel”. All of these tales stand on their own as nightmares, and yet they wrap around each other like a big nest of snakes and taken together the effect is WAY scarier/weirder/funnier. “Rangel” even brought tears to my eyes, man!
I’m in the middle of reread #2 and this book is just getting better and better. It is dense with imagery, feeling more like the author had to put a cork in his dark imagination at some point just so he could deliver it to the publisher. To close out the Pavement comparison, I’d describe CREEPING WAVES as initially more “difficult” and dense, which can be off-putting just like “Wowee Zowee” was at first listen. But, also like that album, once you let it start to uncoil in your head, it transmutes into dark gold.
Very highly recommended (in case you didn’t pick that up).