Deixis Press, UK
Marc Joan has had stories published in many magazines and anthologies, including The Mirror in the Mirror from Comma Press. A short novel The Speckled God came out a couple of years ago with Unsung Stories.
Marc Joan grew up in South India and this novel-length associatively-linked collection of fictions is set there. The possibility of alternative realities weaves in and out, linking stories of Faustian pacts with the particle physics sci-fi ending. (Which is one of the best sections – Marc Joan is a scientist by training.) Spiritualism, horror, colonialism, and repressive customs are all driving themes. Joan’s characters often have an awareness that they are at the mercy of greater powers, whether worldly or spiritual. Some among them are the ‘hangdog souls’ of the title who have compromised with power for their own sake or the sake of loved ones.
Horror seems to be making a return into literary fiction, in Britain at any rate, and Marc Joan is part of that wave. But in the South Indian setting, horror and spirituality merge; horror is real to the believers, and is not ‘gothic horror’ in the European sense.
The individual has limited freedom and must bow to his/her fate, and yet can still choose to do the right thing. I get a sense of the vastness of the world and history from these stories.
One of the longest pieces is the purely realistic study of social mores The Mirror. The ‘monster’ lurking at the core of this story is the custom of arranged marriage. Its evil impact on two brothers and a girl is unfolded over a decade and a half. I got a choking feeling of life and freedom gradually being sucked away under the compression of tradition and family expectations. Only as small children were they fully alive.
Another astonishing tale in the collection is The Dairymen, about two college friends who go into business harvesting scorpion (B. Tamulus) venom by milking it from the stressed insects. They have been assured of the price by a personal phone call to a scientist (PhD from Cambridge!) at a major company in In. On that basis they have invested in dry ice equipment and six months of their time.
It’s got that contingent random feel to it so you feel sure the author must have got the premise from reality.
It’s a rare treat and anyone with a background in the sub-continent or who has trekked around India will have a special appreciation of the book.