A Song for Quiet by Cassandra Khaw

Recommended for Khaw fans
Read October  2021
★   ★   

After a buddy read of Khaw’s Lovecraftian-themed Hammers on Bone, we decided to try the subsequent novella. I was hopeful that a new protagonist–a bluesman–would provide a change from the odd vernacular and breathe some new notes into the relentless picture of decay. Unfortunately, though there are bits and pieces of stellar writing, there’s also a lot of self-indulgent and purple prose that becomes just so much scat when Khaw tries to take it into the metaphysical. Add to it a protagonist that is only reactive instead of active with a wandering plot, and it devolves into a mess.

“What Deacon wishes for, more than anything else, is someone to tell him what to do in this period between hurting and healing, neither here nor there, the ache growing septic.” The time and place aren’t clear as we listen to bluesman Deacon plucking out a tune while on a train, but it’s clear when visions of hungry mouths chase him into a different carriage that segregation is ongoing. He heads to a diner, keeping the planned performance he and his father had booked up in Arkham, and finds he can’t escape the music.

There are intriguing ideas here, particularly the idea of music as a medium for cracking the Lovecraftian gate open. But it isn’t very well executed. The story is third-person limited, so we’re in on Deacon’s thoughts. But then Khaw interrupts herself for self-indulgent description:
“This is what Deacon sees in the windows as he weaves between the carriages:

One: The landscape, blurred into protean shapes. Jagged peaks thickening to walls, valleys fracturing into ravines, black pines melting into blasted plains. In the sky, the stars swarm, an infection of white, a thousand cataracted eyes. There is nothing human here, no vestige of man’s influence. Only night, only blackness.

Two: His face, reflected in the cold glass. Deacon looks thinner than he remembers, grief gnawed, cheekbones picked clean of softness. His eyes are old from putting his pa into the soil and holding on to his mother as she cried bargains into his shoulder…

Three: Mouths, toothless, tongueless, opening in the windows, lesions on a leper’s back.”

Except for the part about his mother, we really get nothing from this, as a reader. Sure, all vivid sentences. But what’s the point? It’s an interlude, only it’s visual, not aural. There’s a couple more, one much shorter, so it’s not narrative device. It’s indulgent set-dressing.

The rest of the story is in the same vein. The plot is even less cohesive than the last; it’s sort of a typical supernatural episode or Lovecraftian short story. The characters are in service to the plot, so we actually learn very little; their motivation is in response to story needs. We need a world-breaker for a final confrontation? Sure, we’ll bring in one, and we’ll make them irresistible to Deacon, although I’m not sure why. John Persons (haha) is brought back from the first story, mostly to scare Deacon. As a story, I don’t think it holds up to any scrutiny at all, and is best read for the language and quickly passed on.

Buddies David and Nataliya have nicely articulated thoughts on it.

About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
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2 Responses to A Song for Quiet by Cassandra Khaw

  1. Ola G says:

    I’ll pass 😉 those self-indulgent attempts at dark poetry are too much to take for me 😉

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