First published back in July of 2016 British author Chris Kelso’s novella ‘The Folger Variation & Other Lies’ offered up three interconnected stories imaginatively spliced together using time travel  with a Beat Generation style and tone.

DLS Synopsis:
In his heyday Pancake Patterson had been a highly revered jazz musician.  These days his life was very different.  He no longer played jazz in quaint clubs and bars across the local circuit.  Somewhere along the line his life slipped.  Now he found himself sitting at a grimy table in the corner of a stagnant factory, staring into the eyes of his opponent, with a gun pressed against his left temple.  Ole’ Pancake Patterson had become a legend at Russian Roulette.  It was not a fame he sought.  But these days he’d take it nonetheless…

At first Arthur Folger had been apprehensive about using the time machine his late grandfather had given him on his deathbed.  After his beloved girlfriend, Deborah, died from a suspected gas leak that had demolished two five storey apartment buildings, Folger had hit the bottle hard.  His world had collapsed in on itself and kept him that way for four long years.  Over that time he’d spent every waking hour in a drunken stupor, merely existing.  Then it had dawned on him.  He could go back in time to save Deborah.  Perhaps he could even try to prevent the Kinesis wars from ever happening.  But of course, nothing’s ever quite as simple as that.  And before Folger knew it, he had a violent and prolific murderer on his tail.  One who seemed hell-bent on eliminating every variation of Deborah that Folger could find, and in doing so, taking away the one thing that gave Folger’s life some meaning…

Kip Novikov was a far-travelled Time Detective, although these days he considered himself to be retired from the business on the whole.  However, despite the respect and responsibility that came with the job, his life was still far from idyllic.  For a start his girlfriend – Crystal – paid him little attention.  In fact they’d barely been intimate for years.  These days he resorted to obtaining sexual relief from the vile inter-planetary prostitutes known as the Night Slime.  Still, Novikov had friends.  People he’d jump through a time-shifting vortex to catch up with.  Perhaps sample some of the drugs of the era he was visiting.  One such noteworthy acquaintance was author William S. Burroughs.  Although, now it seemed that his old pal was in a spot of trouble.  In fact, he had some pretty damn serious issues to deal with.  Ones which, if not dealt with correctly, could seriously change the course of time forever…

DLS Review:
I’ve always enjoyed the whole Beat Generation movement.  The gritty grime of it all.  The honest exposure of modern culture’s stinking underbelly.  What Kelso offers up in his novella (and it is more a novella than a collection of short stories) is a softened, dare I say semi-diluted, Beat style novella, only with a sci-fi-esque time travel element added into the mix.

Sound odd?  Well, surprisingly it works damn well.  Nailing the Beat style is obviously an absolute key, and it’s something Kelso clearly knows exactly how to achieve.  The prose is tight but almost lyrical in its raw-edged charm.  Every sentence, a balance between murk and lure.  There’s also a satisfying buzz that comes off the writing.  A taste of oil, sweat and sewage that clings to the words.  Although the majority of the novella is spent wallowing undeniably south of happiness, there’s nevertheless nothing stagnant or particularly depressing about how this is portrayed.

The characters are another make or break element to the novella’s overall success.  Each of the short tales is centred on the life and plight of a particular character.  For the story to deliver the desired impact, for it to slither under your subconscious and tingle the outer edges of your nerve endings when it really needs to, these characters (or protagonists if you can call them such) have to feel flesh-and-blood real.  Their lives need to have meaning, their wants and desires and every other pit and fall upon the emotional battlefield that accompanies their journey, needs to be almost palpable to the reader.

Kelso has managed to achieve just this with a seemingly effortless grace.  His stories flow with a natural fluidity.  The stories sweeping the reader up in the churning momentum of the moment, whilst the words Kelso uses to tell the story with, adding more substance and semblance to the thing as a whole.

As with those incredibly evocative and impressionable Beat novels of the 1950s, Kelso stirs a multitude of emotions out of the reader with every twist and turn as well as all those mundane trivialities that flutter about the tale.  Much of this richness is in the detail.  In the casual intricate choices and slightly off-kilter choice in which he veers the plot ever-so-slighter off the perceived course.  It’s in the sheer uniqueness, the mild splatter of imagination that’s scattered throughout the novella, and the constant footfall of humanity that beats an unsteady rhythm behind it all.  It’s what polarises the tale; breathing a vivid colour into the skin and bones of the three inter-woven stories.

To say I’m somewhat enamoured by Kelso’s writing is probably a reasonably truthful statement.  His prose is as intoxicating as some of the greats he so clearly reveres.  The stories are as imaginative as they are witty and compelling.  The (somewhat brave) splicing of science fiction into the Beat blend has proven to be an altogether inspired fit.

Kelso is undoubtedly one to watch out for.  There’s so much talent in his writing, so much wonderful inventiveness and clear zest for exploration.  I can’t think of many authors who utilise such an outré tone but, even with the unlikeliest of quirks interwoven into the plot, somehow still manage to maintain such a human voice behind it all.

Incredible stuff.

The novella runs for a total of 116 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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