I had been reading about Matthew Bartlett’s collection, Gateways to Abomination, in my friends’ Facebook posts for several months, but it wasn’t until this past Necronomicon Providence that I picked it up, along with Rangel, a chapbook published by Dim Shores . One of the dangers of social media is its echo-chamber effect: if a few of your friends and acquaintances are saying the same thing and liking and re-posting one another’s remarks concerning that thing, it can foster the illusion that whatever is being discussed is of more worth and consequence than, in fact, may be the case. Happily, this was not true of both Gateways to Abomination and Rangel; indeed, as the year winds down and I look back over what I’ve read during the last twelve months, Matthew Bartlett’s fiction stands out as among my two or three real discoveries in that time.
In Gateways to Abomination, he gives you what I first took to be a series of pieces of horror flash-fiction, one- and two- and three-page radio broadcasts, vignettes, brief narratives. From the start, his prose style is strong, elegant and macabre in a way that reminds me of some of Thomas Ligotti’s early stories. There’s a deliberate off-kilter quality to the way the pieces move from the mundane to the bizarre that I found very effective. The further you progress in the book–and it is one who contents I would recommend reading in order–the more clear it becomes that these assorted shorter pieces are adding up to something more, a kind of fractal treatment of the part of Massachusetts about which he’s writing. It’s one of those books I became more excited about the further I read in it and the more I realized what Bartlett was up to.
Rangel occurs in the same geography as Gateways, and encompasses some of the same details as the earlier book, but it tells a longer story about its narrator’s encounter with a strange and awful civic event, one that appears to connect to his long-lost sister. I wasn’t sure how Bartlett would handle the transition from the shorter pieces in Gateways to what must be Rangel‘s novelette length, but I needn’t have worried. It’s as weird as the earlier book, with an added resonance that makes its end truly disturbing. My only regret is that it appears to have sold out; perhaps an electronic copy might be released?
I met Matthew Bartlett and his lovely wife this past Necronomicon; he was gentle and witty. I look forward–eagerly–to what he writes next. If you haven’t read him yet, I strongly recommend searching out Gateways to Abomination.