Julie Reverb possesses that rare gift—think Kathy Acker, Sam Lipsyte, James Joyce—to surprise her reader, with mimetic grit and linguistic rigor, into fits of quizzical laughter. The care and ingenuity with which this novel works to portray the content of its protagonist’s mind is unsurpassed in recent fiction:
Julie Reverb, No Moon, Calamari Archive, 2015.
Loss gave us our first voice, a diffused place, formless like bat formation. On closer inspection they were heavier bodies, their spans wider. They could’ve been albatrosses but never got close. They circled for years until sublated, picking us off like meteors with heavy grudges. Thirst did the rest. We couldn’t tell what kind of luck it was—had the dinosaurs gone through this, our grandmothers before us? There was no parole. We moved in a slow phalanx, our frowns carved. Our passion was violent but strained, heavylidded. We were sad totems, sinking into the dirt we’d boldly claimed as our own.
"Mucking about Britain’s dankest districts, Julie Reverb’s Lucy and Billy release squalls of bitterly beautiful mortal ache. The interpenetrating narratives of NO MOON are torch songs ablaze on the page, flaming straight to your heart. Julie Reverb is a dauntless devastator of what passes for fiction these days, crashing through the templates into something nervily original." —Gary Lutz
"Every chapter in NO MOON is shadowed by loss and longing, and every chapter’s every sentence estranges language from timeworn usage. Julie Reverb possesses that rare gift—think Kathy Acker, Sam Lipsyte, James Joyce—to surprise her reader, with mimetic grit and linguistic rigor, into fits of quizzical laughter. The care and ingenuity with which this novel works to portray the content of its protagonist’s mind is unsurpassed in recent fiction: Lucy’s consciousness inflects the narrative dynamically, eloquently, always masterfully. NO MOON is a revelatory exposé on the body, a lyrical meditation on grief, and an explosion of literary decorum—it’s a tour de force." —Evan Lavender-Smith
"Julie Reverb’s writing fluctuates with a fluid syntax punctuated with unpredictable nouns, unexpected adjectives, and other verbal surprises. I’ve never read anything quite like these stories before and you probably haven’t either." —Michael Kimball
EXCERPTS:Selected short fiction
Bad News Waitress – Numéro Cinq
The Old Country Speaks – The Quietus
Inverted Yearning – gorse journal
The Bad News First – 3:AM magazine
You’ve Got Something On Your Face – Sleepingfish 11
Pound It – Squawk Back (my first ever story)
For every philosopher or philosophically minded writer, there is a quote about loss. Grand, sweeping odes wrapped in romantic dream-states, almost vulgar in their luxuriance. The all too human need to give a beautiful relevance to the terrible. But this is what we hide in the dark alleys of our hearts: loss, no matter what shape it takes, is a dirty, blurry thing. The stink of it clings to us and slowly decomposes our dreams of living.“We are as forlorn as children lost in the woods. When you stand in front of me and look at me, what do you know of the griefs that are in me and what do I know of yours. And if I were to cast myself down before you and weep and tell you, what more would you know about me than you know about Hell when someone tells you it is hot and dreadful? For that reason alone we human beings ought to stand before one another as reverently, as reflectively, as lovingly, as we would before the entrance to Hell.”– Franz Kafka
How fitting it is that in No Moon by Julie Reverb (Calamari Press), Lucy and Billy go through the motions of a loss-life like the haunting movements of the puppets in a Quay Brothers movie, all dirty streets and blurred windows, a dark sex cinema where Lucy – the Snow Queen, as Billy has named her – offers dances and more for her dusty, shadowed clientele under the x-ray eyes of her alcoholic, chain-smoking nightmare of a stage mother, ‘the sparrow’, both with dreams of a tarnished El Dorado in their heads: Lucy’s, roller-skating to make her father proud (long dead but only ‘away’ in a cloud of denial) in a Starlight Express musical heaven (“I am silver and blue and blonde, a beautiful flag”), whilst her mother’s has shifted over time; the golden ideal of money-making child prodigy/pageant queen now nothing more than a tired and critical sexual exploitation (“You should be rubbing yourself, but where are you? You can’t do that if you’re not there in the first place, love.”), one that can’t even keep the family business afloat.
Billy’s awkward love for Lucy fills him with the bloated aspiration of the man who has always been and is forever destined to be a failure; his desperate dream of raising her up and subsequent business pitch for success striking that place in us all where we have been consumed by someone to the extent that we build these castles in the air for them, to elevate them in our love in the wish that they will love us in return – if not love, then at least a brief spotlight of gratitude that will warm us – and look about for the means to recreate them in dank and dull reality. The cinema – Lucy’s as well as the literally burnt husk and equally burnt patrons of his prior haunt that appear in his thoughts – looms large in Billy’s life; he is spectator, worshipper, philosopher (“Hell seeps through holes in shoes.”), and within all those, a lost soul who thinks he can bestow a sense of worldliness and belonging upon himself with his seating choice.
Brutality is intimacy for both. When violence and diminishment are markers of love, we spend our lives scuttling like spiders in dark corners, first evading, then acquiescing to those who lay their hands or their gaze on us – or their reasons for doing so. Lucy’s body, barely her own, is a tired welcome mat for the traffic of lust and violence. Billy’s limp anchors him existentially to the hurt and indifference of the world he cannot rise from, but the real threat of brutality for him comes from Mad Sinbad, a gangster previously lying ostentatiously low in Spain, heavy-handedly regaling tourists with the story of his exile (“I was a lone wolf not in with any cunt and they couldn’t understand that.”), now recently released from prison. Sinbad might be all flash and menace, but is no less a character of loss, and tied to Lucy and Billy because of it: he is the landlord of their cinemas past and present, victim of Billy’s failed computer venture, Lucy’s casual abuser.
All bad things in life are connected and closer than you think, even when you feel you have outrun them. Perhaps they sense barely clinging hope like sharks smell blood in the water. The thin silvered dream of the cinema reborn as erotic roller-skating extravaganza requires money; Lucy goes forth into the real but surreal world of the desk job, replete with characters as strange as her cinema universe. Billy creates a sad cut-rate fantasy, trying to include everything that will bring in the crowds: builds skating ramps, instead of the Lipizzans of his dreams, buys a pair of half-dead ex-seaside donkeys for his petting zoo, offers a ‘glamorous shoe shine service’. The stench of loss is everywhere, from Billy’s plans, the lies and past longings of Lucy’s colleagues to her mother’s nicotine-haze catatonia at her lover leaving her. Even though Lucy berates Billy for the donkeys (“…I’m not the bleedin Virgin Mary.”), she has the patience of a Madonna, leading them for walks around Soho as well as pushing the sparrow from home to cinema in a wheelbarrow.
If all this sounds as if the reader will be buried in an avalanche of equally heavy prose, thankfully, it is not the case. Reverb’s writing is thoughtful but quick, dancing from character to character, inner monologue to external dialogue. Around the edges of all this swarms the blackest of black humour: Billy’s inspiration to make the sparrow earn her keep by becoming a human smoke machine; Sinbad, looking every bit the stereotype with his bald head and white suit, auditioning for gangster movie roles. Only Lucy seems to lack it, but this elevates her even more into a divine but damned creature; weight makes her weightless.
Through the dirty window of their lives, there is a blinding clarity in the form of their flashes of self-awareness, the overlapping narration of present thoughts and past glimpses into history. There must be a joyful ignorance for those with none; that respite is not a gift Lucy and Billy will ever receive. But then, there is no ease in having it, either. It might be high tensile, but still reverberates with anxiety. Our pasts have pasts in the form of family. It doesn’t matter if you leave it; it does not leave you. It shapes you and for the most unlucky among us, it becomes our destiny. We think there is a kind of inevitable truth in nakedness, both the physical and the baring of self that comes with loss. But we can stare, listen all we like and still not see or understand a thing. Perhaps all we can do, in the end, is acknowledge and embrace its tragedy, let it lead us where it chooses. - Tomoe Hill
Both as an experiment in criticism and to demonstrate just how packed full of oomph are the pages, how consistently flexed the pen, of Julie Reverb’s No Moon, the very spaces between words of which seem teaming with raw meanings—my usual pre-review-writing reading method of marking just the juiciest parts proving, for instance, pretty useless for anything other than mucking up every carefully-crafted margin (upon which you’ll find pictured a black sphere, a moon waning as the pages turn toward the center and waxing from then on to the end)—I’ll just flip about at random and see where I land.
He reckoned that stray day-tripper dads could be reeled from dry wives and kept in the cinema’s seats by raunch and rollerskating skill.
Good enough a place to start as any. ‘He,’ here, is Billy, “all crags, spikes and shakes,” as Reverb paints him early on, but “a soft sort really. A quiet type. He smudges his hologram self against office workers and adult cinema exiters.” The ‘raunch and rollerskating skill’ Billy hopes will reel in the dads are to be supplied by Lucy, erotic dancer with big dreams, star attraction of her family’s sordid cinema, now in economic peril on account of changing tastes, a sadist landlord, Lucy’s absent dad, the literally hieroglyphic bookkeeping methods left behind him (“cos vowels have no meaning … whatever that means”), and a quickly deteriorating, “cigarette bouquet”-smoking mum. Billy’s fallen hard for Lucy and sees his salvation in her reciprocation of his feeling:
He wonders will his stools be firmer now; he won’t have to hide or stoop or smudge himself, folding paper like confessions. The greatest want rests in his lap.
But to be really saved Billy must first save the cinema. This he undertakes by revamping its attractions. So much the better if, in the process, or so he hopes, he can help his treasured Lucy realize her dream of being a rollerskating star. Luckily, Billy is always full of ideas—he was, after all, or claims to have been the inventor of that “‘people who bought this book also bought’ recommendation” that Amazon uses to loop in consumers. Some favorites in a long list of Billy’s proposals for the cinema include: “Weeping Lipizanners rearing up into fat hearts,” “desserts on fire,” “crying girl cabaret,” “the erotica of women providing for their futures,” “Lucy in a cage,” “Marilyn mouthing ‘help’ at JFK,” and much, much more. For her part, Lucy’s hopeful, but far from optimistic:
She does not want to be pinned, pressed among promised hurts that fall in sequence. She sees pain as a family crest in stained glass, glinting pitfalls that confront. There’s only so much inverted yearning she can take—the rest just disgusts.
In the unlikely event it isn’t clear, Julie Reverb can write a mean fucking sentence.
*Another flip through the pages lands us on:
Surgical storms localized and jaws dripping the devil leapt up in a red room the fur made him soundproof I never throw anyone out tie them up and put them down in the bloody boiler house til I’m ready for em
Mad Sinbad’s a bad man, the sort of bad that doesn’t get much air time in fiction written this well these days. Sinbad, strongman and club owner, is back in town after a stint in prison and settling scores—Billy, having played some hazy role in the thug’s recent trouble with the law, is high up on that list. Violent, dumb, and powerful, Sinbad shadows our actors like a skin head grim reaper, part Mephistopheles, part Kramer—spoiling a touristing couple’s bourgie evening, for instance, like a cringe-worthy comedian, blind to social cues, imposing, and terribly tactless:
“Can we leave now please? While he’s at the bar.”
“Marion, he’s buying us drinks. And he’ll see us. It’ll be awkward.”
“I don’t care. I just wanted a quiet evening.”
“Shhh, You’re the one who invited him to sit down.”
“I only said there was no one sitting there.”
“You did smile though.”
“I was just being polite—it wasn’t an invitation. I’m meant to be on holiday. He keeps spitting on my face. He knows he’s doing it … I’m going back to read now so give me the key.”
“Alright Marge! Where you going? At least you’re smiling doll.”
“Oh nowhere, just to the ladies.”
“Don’t be too long … karaoke’s on in a bit. Elton John and Kiki Di eh? You and me. He’s been in the club, don’t mind him being a poof. Nice fella, fond of the ol’ sniff sniff …”
Heavy handed and lightly scrupled, Sinbad, post-prison, means business: “No razzmatazz—less softly softly—his gob’s slabs would not shy from blood’s hard stain.” Brutal, too, Reverb doesn’t shy from much either, neither from commandeering the tongue—repurposing verbs, or forcing ordinarily unfriendly words into cozy quarters—nor flying in the face of our pop subtle-and-ambiguous-revelations aesthetics, letting the bad be unambiguously bad, the smut smut, the story unabashedly roaring. Even amid long, punctuationless passages that drift unmoored from referents, unhitched to a specific voice or a particular scene, Reverb’s taut plot threads tighten as the margin moons shrink and swell. However much the story seems to duck under the syntactic spells that spew around it, the drama somehow only, sometimes imperceptibly, buds. Sometimes you won’t know how till much later:
An eyeless spy hides. He’s seen the end so rests his head against a dead fox, Old fur warms even ghosts’ stubborn skin. He keeps his breath gilled—silent—above uncracked bone. He wonders why he bothers when there’s nothing to guess, no outcome unknown.
Which opens into dramas, which might tend melo- under a softer pen, but are stately, grim, gross, and nightmarish here, torqued up to Brecht and Weill proportions precisely by those guttural flourishes and floor-stomping pulses and ice cold snaps which dress in mad jazz this misfit, runaway story strutting down the pages in torn up and re-sutured English.
*And English this is, English with all its crudeness, serrated coarseness, and sudden edges aroused and exposed, the English we forget we live in, English we get mushed up in, districted in, haunted, hunted, beat, and butchered by. It is an English, Reverb assures us, unfit for feeding whatever we think we ought to have been:
The truth about you could only be stomached by early man in ae chunks, when there was nothing hard to say, nothing aflame on the tip of the tongue. It got swallowed whole without tearing. Early man was an antebellum sort with a singing sky at the back of his mouth … It was all song; sonorous circles lifted from birds. There were no cuts, no consonants, no closures. The sounds were the soft underbelly of a mother’s tongue.
Which Reverb clashes with what sounds we’ve got now:
Our consonants carried further cold snaps that pushed us on. They were finer, gristled. Dry animal sounds, the blockage of breath with the negative at work.
But Lucy and Billy teach us how to sing in this climate, even if it’s a swan’s song, and instead of rearing Lipzanner’s we can, like Billy, only afford dying donkeys. No matter. No Moon guides us to gaudily doll those donkeys up, to rollerskate nude through our familial strip clubs, fashion smoke-machines from our chain-smoking mothers, beat the demons to their own threats to burn us with flames of our own. One last flip through and I’ll leave you:
Sometimes, tissues jerk like Titanic farewells. There are no proud here, or they soon forget. Age is a thing built on forgetting—its skeleton a stumbling momentum.
I remember when there was flesh, and I remember for those who do not. - Jesse Kohn