17 Feb 2020
“This is your Great Work, sorcerers!”
Scott Jones’ Shout Kill Revel Repeat is a haunting. By that, I do not simply mean that it sticks with you, but rather that it is drawn out of an almost forgotten yet obviously traumatic history. That of Jones, most certainly, but also ours as a collective. We tend to think of ghosts as singular entities, as individuals who cannot let go, but Jones’ work makes me wonder if an entire species can haunt us.
We certainly haunt him.
There’s some manic about his short stories. There always has been, but it feels particularly acute here, as if the stories themselves are in a rush to be made complete in their telling. The writing here — and by that I mean both the stories, but also their synthesis as a collection — is stronger than most Lovecraft-imitators, because Jones is not trying to imitate anything. This is his unique voice, crafted by travelling with and through those who came before, and he shouts it from on high the mountaintop.
I laugh a lot while reading Jones. Not that there is much in the way of humour here, per se, but still I laugh. I laugh because I don’t know what else to do with my breath while I read. I laugh because there is an intense desire to escape, but I can’t turn away from these stories. Their pull is too strong; Jones’ voice has matured into its own gravity. I laugh because at one point I started crying, having found him to have touched a raw nerve that I didn’t even know was exposed, and couldn’t come to terms with that feeling. I laugh at how little patience Jones has for subtle criticism: Aldo Tusk, the technology mogul who we get glimpses of throughout the collection, is written to be obvious — and yet it never feels a crude caricature.
Weird horror, at least for me, serves as a reminder of the vastness of all things, of the seconds that exist across space and the inches that stretch through time. It is a comfortable, if not comforting, smallness. Amor fati, in a way. H.P. Lovecraft’s stories highlight how ill-prepared we, as individual human beings and as a species, are equipped for grappling with the scope of existence beyond us. Cosmic horror, they say, but I have long found a peacefulness to it. I imagine it is because Lovecraft, for all his charms, feels archaic. A storyteller who I can’t help but judge as naive, who I can’t help but feel better than. Not as a storyteller — gods no — but as a person. As a man, Lovecraft had his flaws. As a human being, even more.
When I read Jones I am struck by the certainty that he knows something that I do not. Shout Kill Revel Repeat is an existential map for the 21st century and one that seems like it will continue to be relevant well into the 22nd — and scrawled across its pages are warnings aplenty: here be dragons (hic sunt Dagon?). It does not feel like naïveté, but rather an omen of something at the edges of what I should know but do not. An omen that I have blinded myself to, because accepting it, even acknowledging it, would push against the boundaries that keep me whole. I would rather be incomplete.
The things that Jones knows scare the shit out of me, because he does not just speak the language of cosmic knowledge, of the weird and existential horror that makes the genre. No, what is so frustrating is the insights he so clearly has on politics and religion, on psychology and technology, on gender and intersectionality, on history and map-/myth-making. He writes with the full scope of Western civilization (such as it is) behind his words and he can make those words do this?! This asshole gets it. I am still grappling with what I mean by a word as simple as it and Jones has already moved the next sentence, the next story, the next fucking saga of human existence.
The problem is that this is camouflage and, as Jones reminds us, “There’s camouflage, and then there’s camouflage, and it is all camouflage”. Sometimes I think he really is a shaman (ahem, forgive the antiquated parlance: sorcerer), whose words are The Word. It is not so much an alteration of consciousness, but rather an outright transformation. There’s no pretense here. That’s part of the trick. He tells you what he is doing and you choose not to believe, because that’s easier than what believing would cost you. Of course, there’s no avoiding that price. We pay it off the top, not knowing that’s the way these kinds of bargains have always worked.
I want to endorse Shout Kill Revel Repeat without reservation, but to do so would be ignoring the fact that I usually lack sufficient hedges against the night to cope with Jones’ writing. Again, his own words are a helpful warning: “Build the bonfire as large as you light, it merely illuminated how much more fucking darkness there is”. He is not an easy author to let into your thoughts. It is not a matter of consuming these stories and moving to the next fancy. If you let him in, he’s in. These stories get their power by consuming you back. It’s less a collection and more an evocation. A method of binding, but of who? Of what? There aren’t answers here as to what comes next. Questions that beget questions that beget questions until you start to accept the darkness will always have more darkness behind it. If Lovecraft’s response to that was that we shouldn’t look, shouldn’t wonder, Jones’ response is that we can’t help but look, can’t help but wonder. It is not prescriptive though, merely descriptive.
If you’ve stayed with me this long, I’m not sure that serves as a helpful indicator of anything. This is less of a review and more of a tone poem, trying to capture how I feel as a result of Shout Kill Revel Repeat. It is, obviously, drawn partially through reading Jones’ stories — stories of parenthood and collective consciousness and fungal spores and techno-cults and R’lyeh and language as a disease and imagined Hollywood directors — but my experiences with it are uniquely mine. I’ve no idea what you will feel reading him, but it is undeniably an expertly crafted set of stories firmly in the tradition of weird horror. Which is perhaps reason enough for me to recommend you check it out.
If nothing else, you’ll have an experience.