As the author, Terrance Aldon Shaw, declares, on entry to this anthology, we see the tremble of his ‘naked soul… manic, howling, vulgar’ with its ‘white-hot wants’. He exposes every emotion, from sorrow to exultation, ‘roaring blood and brimming brain’. He gives us all that is ‘distilled within that secret place where love and madness meet’.
He tells of what might have been; tales not only of mortality and desire, but of nostalgia, regret, isolation, loneliness and longing, lost inspiration and the search for one’s place in the cosmic scheme of things. These aspects he surveys through the lens of the erotic, inviting us to scrutinize ourselves as sexual beings: naked, vulnerable, passionate, longing. Only in so doing can we know ourselves.
As one of his characters muses, when we define something, it ‘stops growing, becoming static’. In honour of this, I’ll avoid defining these little pieces of magic too closely.
Diverse in style, from dialogue bathed in the colloquial slang of the American Midwest, to richly poetic, dramatic prose, they are also diverse in content. Some capture a fleeting moment of desire, or offer a glimpse at the eternal. They unfailingly explore the human condition, in all its madcap glory.
There is cleverness, playfulness, wit and wisdom, light as well as dark. There are words that curl and dance on your tongue. Speak them aloud, and you’ll hear their music, just as the narrator voice suggests in The Purview of Small Minds (an homage to Lolita). Even a single word can delight with its rhythm and structure.
Mr. Shaw gives us wry comedy in Señor Gordo (dialogue with a willful-minded penis) and macabre humour in Drunk and Disorderly, nostalgia in A Sense of History (cataloguing a mattress’ exploits), and cheeky verbage in describing the ‘gossamer prisons’ of a woman’s underwear in Mazelblum: ‘frilly gussets and diaphanous drawers, hot-pink tangas like tulle fig-leaves, raspberry hipsters, tangerine boy shorts and sea-foam green bow cheekinis, French-cut mesh and jeweled G-strings like removable vajazzle facades’.
There is also much poignancy. The author writes: ‘Very few people have the maturity to understand that it’s our flaws, our slight imperfections, our deviations from the norm that make us interesting. These are the things that pique our curiosity and, ultimately, kindle our desires.’
There is regret for a life half-lived in Salix Sepulcralis, in which we are invited to see ourselves one day no more than a ‘mass of diverse necrotic tissues’, a ‘voiceless assortment of cells in random, untidy decay’.
Where Mr. Shaw uses poetic prose, it is lush, as in Nox:
‘The ancients believed that darkness was a thing substantial, that Night poured into the world from below, a malignant emanation of the nether regions, filling the dome of heaven with a miasma of poisonous atoms, even as the moon cast its spell of madness from above.’
My favourite of the tales is La Sonnambula: a story of obsession, and the grotesque, told with delicious theatricality, an opera diva’s stalker at last fatally cutting off his penis and sending it to the object of his admiration, wrapped in a skein of her hair.
There is an undercurrent of the disturbing, and of the bittersweet philosophical. In A Little Death, ‘she howls as if to frighten away the dark things beyond the guttering firelight, the fears that lurk behind the mirrors she loathes to look in, the doubts that would whisper to her when she is alone.’ In Ad Astra, we feel the ‘dread of standing still, of being in one place too long, of rooting too deeply in the soil of past pain or bleak future’.
As Mr. Shaw declares, writers ‘live in hope that what they write will have meaning, though it is almost always left to readers to find it’.
These tales are the outer ripples of memories lost. Search your own past and you’ll find their echo. They float here on a ‘lawless realm of dreams’ where time ‘moves as easily backwards as forwards’. Step your way through the fragments and seek out the shards glittering most brightly. Your touch will inevitably linger, perhaps where you least expect it.
Those slivers may prick your tender flesh.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Terrance Aldon Shaw describes his work as ‘psycho-rotica,’ exploring the ‘complex, fascinating inner world of sex’, all the ‘thoughts, feelings and emotions that accompany the erotic experience. You can purchase Moon-Haunted Heart from Smashwords and find Mr. Shaw’s reviews, musings on the craft of writing and short stories on his site: Erotica for the Big Brain.