Scott Nicolay

And At My Back I Always Hear




My previous reviews of Scott Nicolay: and of this publisher:

When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

19 responses to “Scott Nicolay

  1. “The hobo bible to hop outs.”

    Crew change, reader story change, am still shunting with the first one, although I feel I’m crazily following over the tops of its words, but not jumping any of them I swear, even more dangerous perhaps than how Dumont’s pursuers are following over the tops of train cars!….

    I note Miscegenate Missy ‘huddles’ with him ‘out of sight’, the bit I now stop at.

  2. lók’aa’ch’égai
    mountain journal

    Emails with a journal’s bad poetry as free verse or haikus and prose scanned as JPEGs, including a number of strikings-out, where a woman sends these emails to someone where she interpolates for the recipient her own unmet biological father’s journal prior to his mysterious disappearance in the wilds of Arizona — you know the sort of thing, his descriptions of gored sheep, strange folk he’s staying with, and a vaguely seen ‘monster’ — and what is his motive in writing this journal and for whose eyes? And what is his daughter’s motive in sending these emails to someone? Both motives the same?

    I was left pretty unimpressed by it all, but I loved the reference to Kandinsky and also the preternatural connections with the book I happen to be reading alongside this Nicolay book and reviewing here, with the emails’ autonomous “clouds east, maybe over Jim’s school”, and clouds of insects, too, and beetles as goo, and a ‘punchclock’, and “what I have learned is the obvious the land writes itself if you just hold the pen.”

    “…it’s like when you’re lesson planning and the kids don’t follow your lesson plan. if you try to be rigid, you get frustrated. you have to be flexible.”

    “Thanks for reading this stuff. You know it means a lot to me. I love you babe.”

  3. “He massaged the tips of her ears to calm her and whispered —Smart girl, yes you’re a smart girl—“

    I am now suddenly captivated, if not captured, by the Dumont rite of passage on trains & tracks, hopping between, shitting between like the bully in the Croaker, a Ligottian faded washed-out factory land in a “shit economy” world, with no workers in sight, and his relationship with Missy, I am sure more concerned with once deworming her and clipping her nails than anything else; she ups her leg at a hydrant as he tries a cubicle where things float in the bowl YOU DON’T REALLY WANT TO KNOW ABOUT! But you do want to look into that toilet bowl, if you love the words describing it.
    Who is pursuing him, Shadow Riders, Bulls? Still not clear. Hopefully no plot spoilers in my episodic reading of this work, a reading method that seems to suit it — I tentatively started it in this way at first because I didn’t like it, but now I still revisit it sporadically because I DO!

  4. The Anodizing Line

    “This job is just a stepping stone for you but it’s your father’s whole career.”

    I genuinely feel awestruck by what I have just read, completely fazed out of my tiny reading brain, in fact! Another full-length novella gulped inside, and its own reference to a ‘limp hose’ becomes tantamount to those photos of Worms Horribilis I showed earlier after AFTER. This work even has another stopclock!
    Let’s be honest, one factor in this reading experience has been the synchronous, even preternatural, privilege of an intense mutual synergy with another new work that I happen to be reading alongside this one and its chapter 21 that I read this very morning (here), and its mind-fazing machine-for-machine’s-sake building that transpires into a weird vista of a landscape quite beyond it as seen via a cube within it. And, likewise, here in the Nicolay, just one example being…
    “…somewhere deep amidst the crab claw mangrove thickets of machinery a great cogged wheel spinning like the underwater sun.”
    Let’s be clear, these works are quite dissimilar with detailed plots unrecognisable from each other and there is no way these works could have known of each other. Yes, this synergy is just one factor why I have been awestruck. But the synergy was tantamount to an extra bonus track on a Bowie LP for me, because this Nicolay novella alone is worth dying for. With its mix of music references and its seemingly pointless factory’s clutter of machinery and dangerous chemicals and hoses, heat exchangers, and mazes of corridors, and PVC, and roof tanks, with only cursory health and safety, and other sludge ponds, indeed a vast factory complex where Kelly is working as a summer holiday temp, a young man with social awkwardness and whose father works at the factory in a low key position. He teams up with another more confident holiday temp called Bobby whose father is one of the factory’s top managers. That fact is not the only tension of characterisation and motives within the plot, and it’s their relationship that is supremely believable and suspenseful and eventually disturbing, just as some of the jobs in the factory these young men need to face are breathtakingly suspenseful. I cannot itemise all the scenes and their emotions, and inferences one makes about them, but one veritably lives with them, blow by blow, and Bobby’s supposed sexual goals with the girls in the highly secret Flashbulb section of the factory.
    Their first task in the factory, just as one example, is clearing up mounds of contraptive clutter upon a vast balcony, and a foreman who has it in for them. Kelly’s character is wonderfully evolved and we really feel for him in whatever already affects a neuro-diverse man like him as well as his restraints or proclivities. It is all very heart-wrenching and essentially real. But it’s the nature of the factory and its environs and its sludge clearing scenes that are the ultimate unforgettabilities of this work. And the final scenes with an older man called Striker are something that come straight at you, and I dare suggest there is more and more to this work than meets the eye, stunning material that one gradually dwells on with one’s conclusions still ever-developing.
    I am yearning to tell you more, such as the quim trembler!… but as I said before about another work above, it can only be read for yourself to even approximate the power I sense from having just done so. And, for me, I think I noticed at least four ‘elbow’ trigger-points in the plot. And Bobby’s a douchebag. And there is also Kelly’s “Joy Division and the Cure” as a trauma, a music reference that perhaps takes on a new meaning here — an ‘Oh oh oh oh oh, oooh’ to quote Bowie. But flip remarks like that from me should not in any way diminish the obvious attritionally consistent and seriously intended power of this work’s development and climax.

    “So witness the future.”

  5. I reviewed the next story in January 2017, here:, as follows…


    THE GREEN EYE by Scott Nicolay

    img_2791“Of course there was a catch. None of his copies had any covers.”

    This is a seven o’clock sign, a seven o’clock siren, for adolescent pulp horror and TS Eliot’s objective-correlatives… a mighty hybrid, and I finished reading it at exactly 7 pm GMT here in Britain, about twenty minutes or so ago as I write this. Miles away, but I can sense fully the Cuban Missile Crisis aftermath when Scott Nicolay wrote of his protagonist, and perhaps himself, remembering learning about it. (I remember experiencing this crisis in real-time from while watching a US serial on black and white TV in U.K.)
    Among the spooklights, hookerman, backyards, trails and streetlights of that part of a Wild West beyond my own imagination and land mass in another land that houses now the monster Trumpman, and Nicolay’s memories too during the TS Eliot section of an aftermath, his first encountering, inter alia, TED Klein whose two books I have just finished reviewing, Nicolay now not now telling us of a pulp horror green eye but of another green eye blending into it as belonging to a real boy whom he knew among many other boys around the tracks of the later Waste Land, where just missing oncoming trains and jerking off of a car hood ornament he got another boy to crowbar off, or tantamount.
    MAD and madder. I got off on to it, too, this new land, a junkyard or waste land – and pledging by the sign or siren what part of these horrors might have been real to ensure all of it being real. And there are no excuses for muddying the water with one part of the text being a palimpsest of the rest. No excuses, and there can be no suspension of disbelief but only pure belief itself. If torn off a strip.


    “I hit it with my elbow when I fell. Crazy, huh?”

    Well, that makes four elbow triggers with the three in The Anodizing Line!

  6. Just noticed there are at least four elbow triggers in Noctuidae.

  7. “Missy meanwhile whimpered and hugged his leg, sleek flank pressing against his calf. The structures around them lost definition and stretched like taffy,… […] The trains were still trains though…”

    Well, I learnt here that if you can count the nuts on a train hub it is safe to hop on the moving train with this work’s mix of balance and traction and momentum and equilibrium as we now reach Dumont’s battle with a Rider called Ratch, a similar mix of ricochet, involving scrotum and balls exquisition. And the existing cut that needs a doctor. I feel pain through the words. Also I noticed consciously for the first time that another pursuing Rider is ‘Worm’…
    And what is that subsuming ‘blot of blackness’.
    I continue to have a love-hate relationship with this work called Tenebrionidae while my attitude to lók’aa’ch’égai was more a hate-heavy side to such a balance.

  8. Possible Spoilers

    The Always Rising of the Night

    “Most any other time she would have pounced on the worm and gulped it down,…”

    Part of me wanted to hate this novella, as I did not want it to excel those novellas from this mighty book that I have already praised, but, after a difficult, yet admirable, literary start with Joycean incantations, lost cats, waffling stew, a Stroopwafel, all on Deirdre’s aeroplane journey, and matchless, dense prose about imaginative Brazilian visions of salamanders and other scientific vistas and university research, as well as giant otters, a place where Deirdre’s Valkyrie of a daughter called Brigit vanished, and there are also swimming memories of Greg amidst his family store’s backstory, this being Deirdre’s husband and Brigit’s father who committed suicide, YES, after these challenging passages to read, this novella did not simply begin to captivate or capture me (as I said above about the Dumont work), but it literally ABDUCTED me just as paranoiac Deidre is tantamount to abducted for the cinematically described ‘Event’ at a ‘Pool Party’, abducted by Candace and by the other characters whom we have already met alongside her in the earlier events of the plot (here ending up like the group at the end of Rosemary’s Baby but at a wonderfully conveyed Renaissance Faire instead of a backroom).
    A moon balloon, a windmill, and a sky without clouds included within this vision (part of the inadvertent trap I fell into, a trap echoing bits of Queen of Clouds and its pre-sequel The Moon King?); and there are echoes of all the reader-challenging visions earlier in this novella that one needs to be initiated into before reaching the cataclysmic climax, whatever the sad mother-daughter rift that still remains between a different Rosemary called Deidre and a different baby called Brigit, despite their linking-up preternaturally via the skilful word-ceremonies of this work.
    Amazing images such as green towers et al, and this being a near future or parallel world with our own real historical events acting as backstory. The Locatrice Implacable and Roger’s loquat beer, the paranoia of being pursued by men in black and Robin(!), compare the Shadow Riders (At My Back…) …. And so much more.
    There are four elbow triggers, two about a messy kitchen that Deirdre uses as therapy to clear up, as possibly I do here with the more challenging, arguably messier parts of this novella, but the important elbow trigger is the one that introduces the plot’s main cursor character Candace. The most startling moment, however, for me, one that possibly gave me the biggest frisson that any literary work has ever given me before, involved the remote sharing of a laptop computer, the moment in the plot where it happens being perfectly pitched and incredibly effective and arguably original. As was the later realisation that the text of this story itself had slowly typed out somewhere in it “IDESAM”.
    This novella is a killer.

    “The worm wriggled on but the salamander remained locked in her stance, one forefoot fixed in midair.”

  9. Fersure

    “He stroked her sleek black fur and she rolled on her back, offered her belly, legs quivering with unrestrained joy while he scratched her. He knew they could go on like this forever but it was time to hop off so he stopped. She arched to lick his hand and he leaned over, hugged her once quick tight. She licked his cheek, his ear. His intended laugh emerged as a grunt and he released her after a final squeeze.”

    Sorry to quote so much, but in view of this work’s later ending, it is important that Miscegenate Missy Incarnate is deemed vicarious Dumont’s own re-Incarnate when the high green towers appear from the train, after his fight with the last Shadow Rider who might once have lived inside Joseph Conrad’s head.

    Guitar, and all, ‘freight train, freight train’, a song I heard when I was a small boy in the 1950s, as Dumont thinks of himself as a small boy towards the amazing climax of this work.

    Massive stuff left to last by my choice of reading order, this being some of a mighty book’s strongest writing — here about a retail town and some chittering gutterpunks whom YOU WILL NEVER FORGET, and my own ‘crew change’, my own last bone to wedge open the door, yup, yup, that tarry cluster of bones as monster and later as your trusty weapon in a fight, YOU WILL ALSO NEVER FORGET.

    “same way as a slug—a slug the size of a rhinoceros.” — “the large dark beetles that came and went, occupied on cryptic errands known only to themselves.” — “the lines seesawed left and right and the size of the type itself shrank and swelled in his tired and crusty eyes.” — “Green again, a vast unbroken curtain of high dark pines.”

    This mighty book ends, for me, on one of its highest and most meaningful notes — its darkly wild ‘for its own sake’ ability to summon the resurrection of spirit from the darkest sump. But also to enjoy sinking back into it!

    This mighty book contains some truly great classics of genre as well as of literature itself, each alone that would shine-out of any canon of work that one needs to take into oneself at any one time. Seriously. Arguably, this mighty book is too mighty. To take all this in, in one go, over a few days, in one virtual gulp, as it were, the individual works — with their words, their worms et al — actually out-shine each other and become as if nothing, cancelled out by each of their own ‘top of one’s game’ contiguity within a single book. And the gestalt prevails.

    “Then I’m outta here, fersure. Can you be cool with that?”


  10. Cross-referenced the Dumont story deciding when to hop trains with the Roald Dahl and Conan Doyle here:

  11. “It is not easy to remember how and why I wrote a story or a novel. Once they detach from me, I too find them unfamiliar. It’s not a ‘trance,’ but the concentration during the writing seems to take away the awareness of whatever isn’t writing itself.”
    — Clarice Lispector ((Ukrainian born Brazilian writer)

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s