Grimscribe Press

{Book Review} The Immeasurable Corpse of Nature by Christopher Slatsky

Geologically, Thomas Ligotti is a somewhat recent addition to the horror canon. Songs of a Dead Dreamer arrived on the scene in 1986, and since, Ligotti has gone from cult author to horror icon. This is due, in part, to the seepage of his ideas into pop culture, but also to the tireless work of his already devoted. The people Ligotti touches are in it for life, and since Penguin has widened his reach even further, there are more people touched than ever. 

Grimscribe Press is an advocate on a smaller, but no less fervent scale. Founded by Jon Padgett (who also founded Thomas Ligotti Online, a web forum dedicated to the author and his works), Grimscribe began with Vastarien: A Literary Journal and despite their relative newness, they’ve accumulated quite the pedigree. As a full year has passed and stories published in their journal filter themselves into Best of the Year collections, the curative talent behind Grimscribe has become hard to deny.

The Immeasurable Corpse of Nature by Christopher Slatsky is the first single-author collection to be released under the Grimscribe label, and knowing their eye for talent, it’s something of a statement in itself. This is Slatsky’s second collection (his first being Alectryomancer and Other Weird Tales, available here) and in it, we have a powerful voice tapped deep into the vein of both human and cosmic sorrow. These are stories that traverse crushing grief and malleable time, and Slatsky handles both the intimate and the numinous with a deft, incisive hand.

Of Ligotti acolytes, Slatsky breaks the mold more than most. Where most adopt Ligotti’s clinical eye for prose and knack for putting academics center stage, Slatsky takes more from Ligotti’s philosophy than his stylistic traits. There are no feverish, erudite first-person accounts in this collection, instead Slatsky adopts a reserved, but intimate third-person narrative. His prose drives his stories forward with a grim sympathy for its characters, as if he is all too aware they’re doomed from the start. Built into their structure is a sort of God versus the Ant Hill dilemma, where people—drawn in three-dimensions with all their foibles in place—wander unwittingly into a great, careless meat grinder, oblivious to their dramas. This antinatalist strain is effectively and subtly realized in the majority of the collection, serving more as subtext to stories that stand just fine on their own, and then more obviously in the final story, from which the collection takes its titles. “The Immeasurable Corpse of Nature” is a continuation of Slatsky’s own instincts for following humans like a hunter follows wounded prey, but deals explicitly with an antinatalist cult, bringing the philosophical backdrop to the forefront.  

While playing with the clay of a particular philosophy can get repetitious, I think The Immeasurable Corpse of Nature is actually one of the more diverse collections I’ve read in recent years. Slatsky varies his characters, his settings, his eras enough that none of them stand a chance to bleed together. The pacing and tropes of his storytelling adapt as well, giving us the high-concept conceits of “Professor Cognoscente’s Caliginous Charms Carnival,” the one-act play “From a People of Strange Language,” the early twentieth century ghost story, “The World is Waiting for the Sunrise,” and one of my favorites of the collection, the eerie and timely “The Figurine.” The latter comments on the state of our tragedies, by setting it in the wake of one of those mass shootings we’ve become so accustomed to. With measured language, Slatsky paints our world as indeterminately off-center, inherently incongruent, and altogether totally predictable. Tragedies run at the center of “The Figurine,” both senseless and personal, and like magnets, they find ways to connect. 

This theme runs center through the entirety of the collection, where human transgressions (or pain) are matched against natural ones, if only to show their own limpness in the face of Slatsky’s eternity. “Palladium at Night” conjures this helplessness perfectly, pairing it with a war-ready narcissism that suggests a pitch black conclusion that feels not only valid, but likely. Here, an immigrant and his injured dog are travelling through Pacific Northwest woods amidst an occult government experiment. The occult is a well-worn workhorse in the world of horror literature, but I like the way Slatsky uses it here, as a means to facilitate our own call of the void. The way the characters in “Palladium at Night” meddle with what they don’t understand, with something close to glee, suggests a world where we are in the driver’s seat, twisting the wheel toward the center lane, laughing maniacally as we head toward oncoming traffic. 

The Immeasurable Corpse of Nature is a great work of weird horror, continuing the tradition of not only Thomas Ligotti, but also of M.R. James, T.E.D Klein, and Robert Aickman. It’s really no wonder why Grimscribe chose Slatsky to throw them headfirst into the ring, so to speak, as this is a collection consistent in quality and diverse in content, unified by an unflinching pessimism that roils beneath its surface. And yet, it does not place itself above its characters—instead empathizing with their trials and the meaningless hurt they experience. The result is a deep, affecting resonance, matched only by the reader’s own horror of recognition. 

You can pre-order The Immeasurable Corpse of Nature here. 

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