Rough Music by Simon Kurt Unsworth

Simon Marshall-Jones and Spectral Press never fail to entertain me. With an editor that has his interests steeped in some of the most incredible prose I’ve read in a long while, this press is destined to go the distance in bringing great UK styled horror to the genre at large. The crime is that every chapbook from this press is limited to a run of 100, and not more. These are stories that should be available to more of the horror-centric audience, but they also sometimes tend to approach literary perfection.

Case in point is Unsworth’s Rough Music. This jaunt into a more abstract, yet emotionally charged world of hysteria, love, hallucinations and dreams. What Unsworth achieves with this short tale is nothing if not remarkable, and it’s a shame that it hasn’t reached the hands of more readers out there.

Rough Music: (`n) a loud cacophony created with tin pans, drums, etc., the cacophonous ringing of bells, hooting, blowing bull’s horns, the banging of frying pans, saucepans, kettles, or other kitchen or barn implements with the intention of creating long-lasting embarrassment.

Sometimes, the sounds we head in the dark have resonances that we cannot foresee…”

– from the back cover

Unsworth’s story unfolds as such: Cornish wakes to a full bladder and a faint sound coming from outside. With a feeble attempt to ignore the pain in his bladder, he tries to go back to sleep, fails, and begins his long journey into madness. Throughout the story, we’re made aware of his infidelity, his love/hate relationship with his wife due to said infidelity, his inability to focus on anything productive, and the mysterious group of players that have begun to assemble just outside his house in order to create a huge racket and enact a scene that we find is meant for him, and him alone. His madness reaches a peak, and he invariably makes one of the worst mistakes of his life, leading to the loss of everything he holds dear.

“Emotionally charged” doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling of this book. I’ve said in many other reviews that this sort of subject matter makes me uncomfortable. Maybe it’s the idea of a relationship going sour, or the idea that we are all truly alone in our own heads, but it’s just something that takes me deep into head-speak and doesn’t let me out for days. This author basically wrapped all of that in one little tale, bludgeoned me over the head with raw emotion, and then left me in a field with giant headed musicians to keep me company. It’s strange, but it’s vivid, alluring, and wholly mesmerizing.

The music that the narrator speaks of is almost a tangible aspect to this story, making it impossible to look away from the big picture: that guilt truly is the enemy of sanity. Any of you out there who have felt even the smallest shred of humanity while doing something wrong, no matter how tiny, know exactly what I’m talking about. Now imagine that on display for you and only you, and you’ll completely understand what this main character is going through. It’s harrowing, really. I felt for this poor bastard throughout the entire thing, and even when he made the biggest mistake of all at the end.

There’s nothing comical about the spectres that Unsworth presents in this tale, but you can sure as hell bet that they’re weird. It’s almost like the author decided to write a piece of bizarro fiction and instead created a vast expanse of discomfort drawn in the most perfect words imaginable. To say I liked this book would be a total understatement. This is a piece of fiction that I would suggest to anyone dealing with megalomania or any mental condition that makes them think ‘It could never happen to me’. Honestly. I can’t get over how damned perfect and simple this ending is. Everything builds up with a rollicking crescendo of noise and hurt, only to be toppled with the smallest pebble in a quarry of pain. It’s absolutely breathtaking.

Unfortunately for most, this story is currently sold out at Spectral. Like I said above (and in my review of King Death), I really wish these were available to a larger group of people, and I hope the publisher decides to expand into ebooks and/or bump up their number of copies produced. Spectral is doing amazing things for the horror genre, and for the literary landscape in general.