Creeping Waves – Matthew M. Bartlett

by Timothy J Jarvis


In 1868 and ’69, Isidore-Lucien Ducasse, a young man with an intense stare, wrote a bizarre masterpiece, in the garret of a Parisian hotel, while, if Léon Genonceaux is to be believed, hammering out discords on a battered upright piano. In 2015 and ’16, a genial man in the state of Massachusetts, Matthew M. Bartlett, wrote a bizarre masterpiece, while firing off excellent quirky witticisms and cat photos on social media…

I’m not idly comparing Les Chants de Maldoror and Creeping Waves here. Bartlett has emerged as part of a group of excellent writers working in the field of weird fiction, but, while most of those writers owe a debt to traditional supernatural or cosmic weird fiction, Bartlett’s work is in a slightly different lineage, part of a transgressive tradition that includes writers like Stewart Home, Kathy Acker, William S. Burroughs, Georges Bataille, and, of course, Ducasse, the self-styled Comte de Lautréamont.

Creeping Waves, like Bartlett’s earlier long work, Gateways to Abomination, consists of vignettes and fragments, all inventive, grotesque, and often extremely funny, presented as the broadcasts of diabolical radio station WXXT, the frequency of Real Leeds, a place gruesome, ecstatic, and often hilarious. In this book, though, there is an even stronger sense of a narrative thread running though, the horror building and the dread mounting. There are also some longer stories that prove Bartlett as adept at plotting creeping fear as he is at harrowing and disconcerting with repellent yet compelling imagery in flash fiction.

Bartlett is a writer who can make you laugh till you’re sick, or sick till you laugh. Then, when you open your mouth, hack at the hinges of your jaw with a hatchet, sever your brainstem and leave you convulsing on the floor. Metaphorically speaking, of course. Or…

And as you lie there in a pool of cooling piss, the radio flares into life. And it’s WXXT. A dating show. Benjamin Scratch Stockton loves you like he loves the worm, the woods. Maldoror thinks you’re as beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella. And they’re both coming for you.