Let’s try to squeeze in one more spooky book while it’s seasonal…
My friend Tim of the Doubtful Palace has several times compared Aickman to Kelly Link. My first brush with Aickman was disappointing, I think because my expectations were mis-calibrated. I found few specific points of similarity between the two writers: Aickman is implicitly patriarchal where Link is feminist. Link’s work often plays with the nature of the short story itself, incorporating elements of fable, myth, and an oneiric sensibility. Cold Hand in Mine‘s stories are written more-or-less in a naturalistic mode with discernible beginnings, middles, and ends. Aickman’s prose evinces an archetypal British restraint; Link’s does not.
On my second time through, though, I think I got what Tim was trying to communicate. Link and Aickman share something more important than any specific stylistic sensibility; they are both strong writers with unique voices who are ill-suited to pigeon-holing. Aickman reminds me in fragmentary aspects of many other writers — his protagonists are often withdrawn and isolated, as are many of Kafka’s. He shares an ability to narrate compellingly from the viewpoint of decidedly unpleasant characters with Jonathan Carroll. At least two of these stories reminded me in some way of Julio Cortázar. But Aickman is really nothing like Kafka, Carroll, or Cortázar. He is perhaps most often described as a writer of “ghost stories,” but none of the tales in this volume are ghost stories per se. The story that comes closest to featuring a conventional supernatural entity doesn’t even use the word that describes it.
The final pair of stories (also the longest two) were my favorites. “Meeting Mr Millar,” is a very unusual take on “things that go bump in the night”; it continually defied my expectations of it. In “The Clock-Watcher” the effect that the clocks exert on Ursula mirrors the impact of her husband’s mistrust and gradual estrangement. Generally I found Aickman’s stories “unsettling’ more than “frightening”; this one was also unexpectedly moving.
Needs More Demons? No.
I spent a little time trying to find affordable copies of other Aickman works (tricky prospect, but I believe I have landed a copy of The Wine Dark Sea) and was amused to note that several vendors are apparently selling this book as Cold Hand in the Mine.