Friday, December 3, 2010

The Darkened Corner by Tom Hamilton

The Darkened Corner by Tom Hamilton represents the importance and value provided by the modern small press. Without innovative independent publishers like Philistine Press, it is possible that Hamilton’s novella may not have ever seen the light of day. Not necessarily because of quality but because of marketability. Novellas, especially literary novellas, are a tough sell, even for some well-known authors. Had this book not been published, it would have been a real shame. This is quite frankly an excellent story.

The Darkened Corner tells the life story of an Irish Traveller in short, frenetic bursts of prose in a narrative spanning several decades and covering a large chunk of The United States. Tom Hamilton, an Irish Traveller himself, understands the subculture well, and it shows in the authenticity and honesty of his story. For those who do not know, Irish Travellers are a kind of hidden people interspersed throughout the United States and Europe. I guess they could be explained to the uninitiated as a kind of gypsy people of Irish descent. They often live together in shared communities and survive by taking on short term labor jobs and/or (allegedly) committing the occasional con. The Irish Traveller of this story, our central character, comes from a line of conmen. He is initiated into the trade and trained by his father.

The protagonist is a poet, a dreamer, but his dreams go unrealized. Late in the narrative, he says about poetry: “I'd gotten to the point where I knew just enough about poetry to realize that the poems that I was writing were real bad, and that poetry was really only something that fools used to pass the time.” His idealism fades while beer cans and empty bottles clatter down cold streets. He is a lonely drunk, a modern-day Bukowski. The protagonist is the ultimate outsider: an outsider among his own people who themselves are outsiders.

There are moments hinting at dark fantasy in the story that verge towards magic realism, yet this is a story of stark, concrete reality. In fact, in many ways, the ultimate tragedy of The Darkened Corner is that there is nothing in the darkened corner of the title. The ghosts and phantasms are in the mind, the product of an imagination fighting off the futility and meaningless of his own wasted life. Without magic, without fantasy, the less frequently the ghosts appear to our protagonist, the more our protagonist falls deeper into his own despair. The fantasies are there because, as the narrator points out: “Fantasies were unchallenged. A dream could be controlled. No one could fuck up a dream.” But you can really fuck up a life if you aren’t careful.

Anyway, finding this novella was a nice surprise, and you can’t beat the price: FREE! (But it would be courteous to provide a small donation to the publisher’s virtual tip jar.) My six-pack rating: An enthusiastic 5 out of 6 Four Locos!* Here is the link to this book:

*NOTE: Shortly after ingesting the Four Locos, the reviewer promptly began twitching and talking about himself in third person before passing out. How he managed to upload this review is a mystery…*


  1. That's two Skull Salad Reviews for Hamilton in one day. He also gets a recommendation in my Innsmouth Free Press review.

  2. *nods* FYI, his story from Innsmouth about the changeling is actually a version of a chapter in this novella.