Last month I signed a contract with Undertow Publications for my novella The Talosite. There’s a lot of work still to do, but I know that in the end it will be a beautiful book because that’s what Undertow does.
The Talosite is about the First World War. It’s not like my earlier work on the subject: not academic, nor a literary novel about a vet who becomes a vaudevillian, nor a fantasy about the Belgian Mundaneum in August 1914. This time it’s unapologetic body horror.
For good reason. The First World War has been a kind of intellectual touchstone in my life for decades, but my sense of it is not intellectual. It’s visceral and impressionistic, like poetry. It’s an undifferentiated landscape: living/dead, past/future, modern/antimodern, liquid/solid, interior/exterior, subject/object are blended into a single substance, seething and amorphous. From this materiel without distinction,The Talosite arises, full of characters navigating the physical and political chaos of the western front, which consumes the bodies of the living as Saturn devoured his children. And– it’s not exactly a spoiler– regurgitates them again.
I collected a lot of images for this one. Woodcuts for a 1934 edition of Frankenstein illustrated by Lynd Ward. Images from 1983 by Barry Moser. The Gueles cassées of the western front, horrifying not only because of the pain they witness, but because the most private interiors of their bodies are visible on the outside. When a friend of mine was working on a collection about James Bond, she showed me photographs of Rodin’s walking man, who is headless and armless but still walking, the seams showing where he was re-assembled from other bodies. I looked at Otto Dix’s post-war prints, and Sargent’s horrifyingly lyrical Gassed. Fred Varley’s The Sunken Road, a landscape with little distinction between body and earth.