elvis

‘His greatest fictional achievement so far; never before has he shown the horror and grace of consciousness better than in these gems’ (The Times – no author traceable).

When John Burnside started publishing fiction he was in the curious position of already being a well-respected ‘award-winning’ poet. So his dalliance with ‘fiction’ and memoir could be tolerated. In fact the dalliance was quite long term and he now has almost as many published books in fiction as poetry.

This collection from 2000 follows two novels,’The Dumb House’ and ‘The Mercy Boys’. Both garnered good reviews and this collection of short stories…more a collection of stories around a similar theme appeared to the above adulation.

I have only read the last story ‘Graceland’ as intrigued as to the Elvis fixation and the only review I found online quoted verbatim the last few lines suggesting the reviewer may possibly have skipped the stories in-between as well.

Burnside had just published the excellent poetry collection ‘The Asylum Dance’. There is nothing in this short story at that level for me. The dreamlike, strangely sinister, tale of a boy lost and vulnerable on an aborted attempt to find Graceland who is instead being led to a substitute (dream?) version where he tortured by a fake Elvis in an Elvis mask struck me as simply silly. More League of Gentleman than Poe.

Fake or unverifiable popular culture references to TV or film ooze from the paragraphs pores. I only found an obscure film that matched ‘Best years of our life’ starring Kathy Burke, and she didn’t look anything like the ‘Wendy’ here ,which left me a little bemused. Not having read the rest of the book it appears that it a linked selection that needs to be read together like Ford’s ‘Rock Springs’.

Overall  I felt like I was being driven around in a car tuned to David Lynch station ad infinitum but nothing more. Disappointing.

I checked out his memoir ‘Waking up in Toytown’ which far more clearly documents his life in the early 1980’s which catalogues his drug abuse and mental illness. This last story felt to me like a dispatch from the other side of that illness. Uncomfortable but not of itself satisfying like the poetry.

Not what I expected. The other books blurbs appear to offer no escape from this hinterland. Dark and bleak and full of strange furniture from the seventies but not somewhere I want to stay long…..a bit like Graceland.