Review: Weirdtongue by DF Lewis

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The name D.F. Lewis may prompt plenty of critical and courteous remarks. Indeed, there’s a lot to say, given his extensive experience in writing strange fiction for several decades, and in providing an outlet for the works of others as editor of the Nemonymous series. Fortunately, his novella by InkerMen Press, Weirdtongue: A Glistenberry Romance, lends a powerful distillate of what can be expected from Lewis’ work – a sampling that would otherwise be difficult to obtain by surveying the fifteen hundred plus stories he’s estimated to have written. The slim volume offers a journey like no other in weird fiction or outside of it. It is a destroyer of boundaries in every sense, chiseling away the confines of time, space, identity, and conventional literature.

A Nemophile’s Manifesto

This novella is impossible to define in simple terms, but if it were possible to cross a dream scrambled travelogue with a philosophical tract, you might end up with a similar artifact. While many inevitably focus on its notable wordplay and narrative spider webs, the story’s true power emanates from its heady ideas. The recurring references to Nemophiles as well as the shifting, unstable identities of many characters creates plenty of intellectual fodder.

In Weirdtongue, nothing is certain, a notion which is reinforced in each and every character, each of whom uses the book as a bridge from Lewis head into our own. For instance, the narrative opens from the perspective of Gregory Mummerset, a sufferer of dream sickness who is repeatedly visited by the word slinging apparition known as the Weirdmonger. Later, D.F. Lewis’ famous time traveling, globe trekking cat meats seller, Blasphemy Fitzworth, morphs from a Victorian merchant into a meat cart, becoming the very commodity instrument that constitutes his livelihood.

Beyond the surface of these bizarre occurrences is an unmistakable uncertainty principle at work in every way imaginable. Is the entire storyline the product of Mummerset’s febrile dreams, which he never really escapes from? Or perhaps Padgett Weggs, a wandering vagrant, is responsible for the events on display here. Maybe the entirety of the plot is some ghostly echo of the Glistenberry festival itself, shrieking its imaginary history down through the ages, using D.F. Lewis and his novella as an unknowing tour guide.

In the end, no one can say with any conviction. D.F. Lewis captures the same uncertainty principle wielded by weird fiction masters like Robert Aickman, and uncanny media personalities such as Rod Serling. Yet, it isn’t really fair to liken his work to either gentleman, since Lewis arguably outdoes both in stacking weird layer upon layer, forcing a freakish Tower of Babel into existence for any who care to probe its mysteries.

Recovering in the Narrative Hospital

In some way, every reader who enters the pages of Weirdtongue is invited to undergo a form of literary therapy that just might cure a sickness they may not have known was there. Lewis, like the cat meats seller of his tale, hacks apart the gristly elements of what may have once been independent narratives, arranging together the choicest cuts for our feasting. Still, this volume is not one to gorge on in short order.

The often experimental style that roils its pages is the greatest challenge to bringing the Weirdtongue’s alien ideas into coherence. Lewis isn’t afraid to curl words, insert footnotes, or twist names and places as it suits him. Widespread wordplay punctures the narrative as well, such as the curious references to cell phones, which begin to make sense when understanding the closeness nomophobia (fear of losing mobile phone contact) shares with other terms the author is fond of.

This type of almost mandated meta-fictional interaction between the book and the “real” world will disinterest some readers and delight others. The same applies to Lewis’ half-parodying self-criticism, introduced most notably through Simplon, who shows up with truncated speech patterns to attack Lewis’ flamboyant, unorthodox, and complicated styles. Should a book that sardonically jeers at itself be taken seriously? Opinions may differ, but there is so much else alive in Weirdtongue that the answer is yes.

The reading experience needed to get the most out of this novella is a slow, intent one that’s willing to ride the philosophic and word rich waves issued by D.F. Lewis. Perhaps the author knowingly crafted his story with the intent that it would only appeal to a limited, but energetic fan base. However, Weirdtongue: A GlistenberryRomance is ripe for more niche defying and genre traversing readers than may initially be expected. Its emphasis on bold, unsettling concepts unveiled through a rich cast of strange characters and diverse prose makes it a fine candidate for weird horror regulars and beyond. With patience, the jaunt through this particular world of Lewis’ design is an intellectually lucrative one, and so are repeated visits to the ghostly word-chambers of this narrative hospital.

-Grim Blogger

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