An Encounter With “The Beak Doctor”

"Utterly hypnotic with its crazy-yet-meaningful relentlessness"

All throughout the week here at Weirdfictionreview.com, we’re dedicated to bringing you not only classic content written by Eric Basso, but the words of others who have experienced Basso’s work and come away with great reward. One such reader is DF Lewis, an iconic writer himself. His novel, Nemonymous Night, was published in June 2011 from Chomu Press, which has also published work by such Weird luminaries as Michael Cisco. In addition to his extensive publication credits as a writer, he is also a notable and iconoclastic editor, famed for his Nemonymous series of anthologies.

In November of 2011, Lewis embarked on a “real-time review” of The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, reading the stories in the anthology from beginning to end while noting his responses along the way, oftentimes finding strange and amazing connections between the stories in the anthology. You can find his reviews here on his personal site. Chief among them is his encounter with Basso’s novella, “The Beak Doctor,” at the heart of the book itself. We have excerpted his review of that story here; all page numbers are taken from The Weird. Click here for a complete selection of Eric Basso’s books.The Editors

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Pages 487 – 501: “A labyrinth of pipes runs beneath the city in old blueprints – “

Imagine the almost endless ‘sweep-shot’ of the Dunkirk madness in the film ‘Atonement’ – here densely textured, bememorised, TS Eliot blended with Dickens, a cruelly fog-masked synaesthetica of a journey over variegated surfaces and amid befogged characters towards an inconclusive ‘Roundhouse’, a bookful journey by the I-Narrator doctor (interspersed, say, with a cat’s journey (Maybury’s cat?)), a stumbling rite-of-passage through a modern (post-holocaust?) world become Dickensian again as transcended by a discrete imagination that is granted you by the author as your imagination – but, sorry, though, as I said before, I’m pigging, personally pigging, pigging on each of this book’s discovery after discovery: and this one is so utterly hypnotic with its crazy-yet-meaningful relentlessness that makes it so difficult for anyone to convey to you exactly the unique experience on offer in this particular story. Hence this my breather at page 501….”a twisted vine with fuzzy purple leaves,…” — “…groping my way through lianas of balloon rigging…” — “A map, framed under a sheet of glass, the only serviceable mirror.” (cf. The Harrow and the Hungry House) — “reinventor of aliases” — “Part of a woman’s skull they used as a basin…” — and ‘La Valse’ by Ravel that brings me to a sort of homing-pigeon halfway house at this halfway point in both the book and the Basso story co-incidently (a piece of music I heard today because it was played this very morning on BBC Radio 3 (check the playlist, if you don’t believe me)). “Through my goggles the dim city came and went in macroscopic vignettes.” (20/11/11 – another 2 hours later)

Pages 501 – 517: “Symmetries intermesh so delicately that a breath might blow them out of shape or cause an unmendable tear.”

And what I said above about the previous pages – and more!
 – but now a step change from the ‘sweep-shot’ to the narrator’s roundhouse destination – a type of Kafkaesque hospital that has a dome (emerging from the soot concept in ‘The White Wyrak’?) – and, gradually, the reader is forming a plot gestalt from within this whole story about the story itself – an inner gestalt that would perhaps be a spoiler to divulge as that would probably disallow you to go through the same piecemeal productive process as I have just done – but do think Kubin [and ‘Nemonymous Night’]!
Plus various characters: an antiquarian bookman, a prankster (me? or am I the projectionist in the balcony at the end?), the manager in a cage (one of the book’s Reva-Menders?), a registrar, a billiards match, a pantomime, ‘flirtation’ in a Narnian wardrobe (a ‘faun’ is mentioned later), a carpet – and so it goes on… Judge for yourself. I am happy that I have cracked this challenging masterpiece of gestaltable absurdity. “Nothing, at the brink of death, but this coarse-grained shroud of dust sinking through the floorboards, down through the stippled ceiling to the last staircase, and into the bowels of the earth.” And “shreds of other shadowy streets.” (20/11/11 – another 2 hours later)