Reviewed by Mario Guslandi
A posthumous short story collection by the late Joel Lane (whose untimely death has deprived the literary scene of one of the best contemporary writers of dark, speculative and weird fiction), Scar City constitutes a well-deserved homage to the unique style of that British author.
Book-ended by an insightful Foreword by Alexander Zelenyi and a clever, affectionate commentary by Nina Allan about Lane’s “Blue” trilogy of novels, the volume assembles twenty-two stories, mostly previously appeared in print, a few apparently unpublished so far.
The collection represents a faithful, effective showcase of Lane’s fictional world, a world imbued with gloom, unemployment, loneliness,desperate search for true love, booze, drugs and sex (mostly gay). An explosive mix of urban horror, a bit depressing yet fascinating, told by Lane in his inimitable narrative style — detached, sometimes flat, but able to create unforgettable pictures of human life with its frailties and its hopeless need to find a meaning for our existence.
Among the included tales, I’d like to single out those which especially impressed me: “A Faraway City” is a beautiful yarn suspended between dream and reality, while “The Night Last Woman” is a sad, bleak tale depicting a one-night stand of a loner and a gorgeous woman. In the nightmarish “Echoland,” drugs open the way to a lost world from another dimension, and in the dark “By Night He Could Not See,” revenge proves to date back to a long gone past. The disquieting “Feels Like Underground” (with Chris Morgan) is a kind of Aickmanesque story taking place in a hotel during a business convention, while the bitter “Internal Colonies” is a graphic tale of urban horror featuring a gang of youngsters devoted to vice and depravity.
Finally, “Winter Song” is a very short piece full of lyricism and melancholy, the beginning paragraphs of which are pure Lane: “The start of winter is always fucking miserable. A sudden chill burns up the dead leaves with fever, the naked trees are wreathed in mist, and the four horsemen of seasonal disease – influenza, bronchitis, gonorrhea and depression – ride into town on their rachitic horses. The game is up.” Indeed.