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A Journal Of The Dark Arts

Book Review: The Door And Other Uncanny Tales – Dmetri Kakmi

The Door Uncanny Tales horror book review

Unsettling irrealism to creeping dread to out-and-out splatter are summoned in this super short story collection by Australian horror author Dmetri Kakmi.

Writing in the introduction to his superb anthology of fantastic short fiction Black Water, author and essayist Alberto Manguel writes “Fantastic tales hint at the half-forgotten dreams of our imagination. They are the impossible seeping into the possible.” This brief but appropriate introduction reminds us that the Horror, as a genre, is an offshoot of The Fantastic, defined by literary theorist/critic Tzvetan Todorov as ” a subgenre of literary works characterized by the ambiguous presentation of seemingly supernatural forces.” It’s also appropriate as the material compiled for Black Water runs the gamut from literature to magical realism to outright terror.

You’ll find a similarly eclectic range to this first collection of horror and fantastic short stories by Australian author Dmetri Kakmi. Rather than bludgeoning you with a bloody mallet or hacking you to death with a machete, Kakmi’s short stories creep, slithering into yr consciousness like a toxic fog, like memories from a bad dream. Rather than being outright horror, although there’s plenty on display, The Door and Other Uncanny Tales bears more allegiance to the literary concept of Irrealism, especially as it’s practiced by the master misanthrope, the Grimscribe himself, Thomas Ligotti.

The Door and Other Uncanny Tales is a slight, slim volume comprised of six short stories, including the novella The Door which makes up the most of the collection.

The Door centers around Orestes Gallanos, a painter who lives with his lover Simon, who is also a painter. Orestes’ most recent work is a life-size and life-like canvas of a door. A little too life-like, it turns out, as strange things begin to happen when Simon goes out of town for an art exhibition. Orestes first hears a soft weeping, which he assumes to be from the neighbors on the other side of the wall. Until the door handle begins to turn, that is.

Inside, Orestes finds himself having to confront buried, forgotten memories and trauma. Confronted by these painful, hideous memories, he shuts down, losing himself in this phantasmal nether-realm. He hears Simon come home, only to see his doppelganger greet Simon. Is this a metaphor for Orestes, himself, being merely a by-product of trauma? Has he been overtaken by a supernatural entity? It’s left ambiguous, and it’s one of the best illustrations of what makes this short story collection so special. Rather than spoon-feeding you easy answers, Kakmi leaves things to your imagination, letting them creep, undermine, and unsettle.

The Boy By The Gate is a short, sweet Ghost Story a la M. R. James, in which a young group of friends gather around a fire to tell ghost stories. A young woman, Rebecca, tells a story of a friend of her’s, Alice, who vanished while on holiday with her Dad. She sent Rebecca a letter detailing the strange occurrences, where she comes across the spirit of a little boy standing at the gates of a churchyard cemetery.

Recklessly, foolishly, she invites the little boy in, to warm himself by the fire. Turns out that was a bad idea, as no one ever saw or heard from Alice again. It also turns out the ghost’s influence is not restricted to the churchyard where he’s interred.

The Boy By The Gate is equal parts O Whistle And I’ll Come To You and Ringu. It manages to be as unsettling and legitimately frightening as either.

Things take a turn for the modern with In The Dark, in which two young gay male hustlers go to a deserted cabin to turn a trick. Turns out there’s much more going on and they, in fact, are the ones being tricked. This short slab of nastiness is as grim and bloody as anything in Clive Barker’s Books Of Blood, proving Kakmi is as adept at spinning splatter as creeping menace.

The Long Lonely Road reads like an actual folklore story, in which a young mother takes her very young son on a journey on the back of a donkey. Things are amiss almost from the start. This one relies on a twist, so i’ll say no more, but it’s very rewarding. It’s also an example of horror involving Islam which i, for one, would like to see and read more of.

Things go back to the surreal, irreal, and magically realist with Light In Her Eyes, in which a young woman rents a country house to recover from an abortion. Coincidentally, it turns out the house’s builder was also an abortionist, practicing her trade before current enlightened times and dying in prison. It also turns out she’s not as absent as it might seem.

Finally, things conclude with Haunting Matilda, the story of a young girl whose parents run a cult out of their farmhouse, where she is forced to do all manner of unspeakable deeds. It turns out the cult members aren’t quite as gullible as the parents make them out to be, as there legitimately are supernatural beings in the woods. And there’s more than meets the eye with Matilda.

A brief trigger/content warning for both Haunting Matilda and In The Dark. If you’ve got trouble reading about kids being harmed and abused, tread carefully with these two.

The Door and Other Uncanny Tales: Final Thoughts

I ended up really liking The Door and Other Uncanny Tales. I’ve been reading a lot this year, due to quarantine, so i’m quite stoked to be getting back into the saddle of reading and reviewing horror literature. The six short stories collected in The Door hit that sweet spot between the artful and poetic and the genuinely terrifying. Every single one of these short stories lingered with me long after i’d closed the cover, often providing a somewhat haunting pall to the rest of my day.

That’s what i love about irrealism and magical realism – the creeping dread, the subtle menace. The way it makes the ground seem to go soft beneath yr feet; the walls, breathing like some kind of alien fungus. The Door and Other Uncanny Tales is the perfect way to kickstart this Spooky Season, this season of the witch. There’s some to enjoy over a nice cozy cup of tea and there are others that will leave you with all the lights blazing, praying for dawn.

Bonus point to Dmetri Kakmi for including interesting and well-thought out queer and woman-centric horror. It’s nice to see women being treated as characters in their own right rather than as props, as is often the case with the horror genre. The queer relationships seem quite believable and lifelike, as well. I don’t know how Kakmi identifies as this is my first time reading him, but he writes great gay and women characters, which also helps The Door to stand out from less-inspired horror short story collections.

I also quite enjoyed that most of the stories collected in The Door seem to be set in Australia, where Kakmi lives. It’s a nice touch, as i don’t often seen horror set Down Under. Makes me want to look more into the Australian gothic. I wonder what other ghost stories lurk down there in the Southern Hemisphere?

All in all, i highly recommend The Door and Other Uncanny Tales by Dmetri Kakmi. The writing is frequently inspired and often, quite poetic and beautiful. It’s also pretty short, so it goes down quickly and is a nice warm-up for a lovely fall, full of fantastic literature!

The Door and Other Uncanny Tales is out now by Nine Star Press.

Dmetri Kakmi

ig: @dmetrikakmi

Nine Star Press

@ninestarpress

ig: @ninestarpress

Nine Star Press Goodreads Group

Nine Star Press FB

 

Many thanks to Netgalley, who gave me an Advanced Reader Copy of The Door in exchange for an honest review.

Bonus Final Thought: As i sometimes do, i call upon yr collective expertise! Can anyone else recommend any other irreal literature along the lines of Thomas Ligotti? I’m always on the lookout for more, and it’s surprisingly obscure, rare, and hard-to-find!

Do you have a piece of horror or genre media you’d liked reviewed? A book, short story, movie, comic, clothing line or otherwise? Get in touch if you’d like me to review yr work!

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