Table of Contents
Laird Barron: Death’s Head Blues (introduction)
Love Her Madly
First There Is A Mountain
In This Desert Even the Air Burns
Crow in Trick Town
When the Deal Goes Down
Devil’s Got the Walkin’ Blues
Dead ‘Round Here Tonight
The Delirium of a Worm-Wizard
As the Sun Still Burns Away
Long-Stemmed Ghost Words
When the Moon Comes to Call
After Reading Michaux’s “In the Land of Magic”
The Walking Man Walks
Silent No Longer
The Maiden of the Pines
Last Year in Carcosa
Rendezvous Under Shadow Bridge
in front of an empty house in dead city
Ain’t No Love on the Street
The Exorcism of Iagsat
Lonesome Separate Ways
Just Another Desert Night with Blood
I Often Dream of Words
In the White Walls of Silence
Mother Stands foe Comfort
Blow Wind Blow
8’s & Aces
A One-Way Fare
Doon’t Look Back
Long is the way and hard
huddled in rags in a Kingsport alley
Dead Ends and Empties
Sharp Fangs + Blood = Murder
Saint Nicholad Hall (ST version)
Funeral in a Hate Field
An Orange Tick-Tick-Tick.Tick-Tick
The Last Few Nights in a Life of Frost
Epilogue for Two Voices
To Live and Die in Arkham
The Last Twenty Miles of Wandering Again
“”Yeah, I’m gawping in amazement, shaken by Pulver’s eviscerating vision. He wields language as a scalpel, a Thompson submachine gun, an axe. SINS & ASHES is a wrecking ball. SINS & ASHES is also a paradox, a contradiction in terms. The music and the word. A dirge illuminating the monstrous and immense machinery of the underworld that ticks and whirls behind the screen, beneath the floor, inside the soft warm flesh of every lover, every murderer, every grinning scoundrel, every closeted saint. Torture is ecstasy. Insanity is order. Sorrow is the effect and love the cause.”
Joe is, at heart, a poet — a brilliant poet. One hears it is his language and sees it in the structure of his prose, such as this:
So long. So long…
The air is full of Waiting. Waiting, heavy as tortured birds denied the sky. The day stretched out over a thousand tears, burning with will it ever end.
A hushed guitar haunts the radio, its sad gull tone out of lost sun and psalm. Her shoulders slump under the weight of the dirge. It becomes a path to You, but she can’t find him. Momentarily has one and only, but she’s denied his coming, lost the key to the garden.
The night is long…
Lost. Stunned by THIS Eternity on the meathooks of lightning, but not blank. Out of words. Even broken ones.
Joe’s language is so original and so effective that one does not grow easily into it — it always captivates and jars. Like so few horror writers, Joe brings his horrors to life, tremendous and terrifying. And these are the raw new horrors of a modern world — and yet they reek of indefinite age. Or agelessness. The language is poetic and jarring at the same time. Or it becomes the folk talk of fable:
Weren’t no blankets or umbrellas or soft shoe shines for sale in Trick Town. But cold steel blue, Crow could hook you up, pick your caliber. Or Crow could obtain certain Ume sorceries bottled in Pengtin, or any of a variety of spike-powders brought across the frontier border near Mule Fork, or thin young funboys if you wanted ’em.
The imagery is so amazing I want to keep quoting it: “The moon is a window of ice wrecked in soft embrace of the river of midnight…its banks couldn’t hold the invisible…”
But, no — you must buy the book so as to find yourself FULLY entranced, pulled into the web of words and brutal/beautiful fancy. This is the neoteric world haunted by Joe’s daemons, and his raptures. It is a celebration of the Literary, and rock’n’roll; of that which seduces and will not save you. It is the language of the lost, which has found its tongue in the idiom of pure originality. It is the taste of sin in your mouth, mixed with the debris of ash — and it’s taste is delicious and decadent and deadly, that savors of damnation. It is Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. — one of today’s truly original and effective artists, before whom we bow, hypnotized.”
Wilum H. Pugmire, author of “The Strange Dark One” and “Encounters with Enoch Coffin”
* * *
“SIN & ASHES is a scathing collection. Jarring and unsettling from the git go, Joe refuses to allow the comfort of standard story structure to interfere with his assault on the reader.
This is mean jazz, dissonant Bartok-style classical – music as prose poem. His work evokes the kind of mood you can barely tolerate even in memory, street poetry and strange riffs.
Joe is an acquired taste – and while his strange and idiosyncratic mode of expression may have attained a little affectation in the course of finding his voice and honing his style, the honesty comes right through. One gets the sense that Mr. Pulver didn’t want to write these horrors – he NEEDED to. This is very powerful stuff – even the pieces that didn’t quite gel all the way for me were very affecting.
I have a few personal favorites in this collection:
* Crow in Trick Town – To me this feels sort of like Spillane on crack in hell.
* As the Sun Still Burns Away – Blue Dress Annie and her children are nightmarish in the purest sense of the word.
* Rendezvous Under Shadow Bridge – The Night Watchman’s job is a lonely one; and yet, I felt a sense of the old Warner Bros. cartoon where the sheepdog and the wolf punch in at the beginning of their shift, fight their private war for eight hours and then go home. What DOES the Night Watchman do in his off hours?
* In front of an empty house in dead city – Being former USMC I’m a sucker for Joe’s Marine Recon protagonists – but I’m unsure I even WANT to know what they’re up to in this savage little bloodstained piece
* 8’s & Aces has two very unpleasant ghouls have a shocking conversation with their next meal, and another story is a strange riff based off of A Clockwork Orange.
One common theme that intertwines through Pulver’s work is The King in Yellow and Carcosa. Joe is an unashamed worshiper of the hellish universe first set forth in Robert W. Chambers work a century ago – he even has a photo posted online of himself paying homage at Chambers’ grave.
Another thing I appreciated was that Mr. Pulver is kind enough to share his playlist with us. At the end of most stories in this collection, Joe lists the songs he was blasting while pounding his keyboard to excrete the tale.
I’m in love with this man’s work. This is not for you if you prefer bland, `normal’ horror writing – but IMHO he is one of the most important voices in the genre today (if you can even impose the term `genre’ on a style so personal and sincere).
Pearce Hansen, author of “Street Raised” and “Stagger Bay”
* * *
“Beautiful, yet brutally jarring imagery dominates SIN & ashes by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr., but the knock-out combination for me is the author’s vast knowledge and understanding of various genres and styles of literature, music, pop culture and even religion, coupled with his perceptive brand of noirish ‘tough love’. Pulver’s insight into history’s grasp on both present and future, and the human animal’s slavery to its baser instincts is sublime, if often rendered with punishing blows by a velvet-covered blackjack. The juxtaposition of poetic language against a stark background of horrid human behavior, addictions, and callousness desolately illuminates his intuitive, if ultra dark, vision of the human condition.
The lead-off story “Love Her Madly” bobs and weaves with mind-reeling synergy about Jim Morrison’s unexpected return from the dead to a forebodingly sickening LA. Pulver takes us on many a bizarre and psychedelic journey thereafter, each story more original, shocking and human than the last, until we arrive, simultaneously mentally stimulated and exhausted, at “The Last Twenty Miles of Wandering Again”, Pulver’s brilliant, nostalgic and wonderfully-rendered surrealistic road trip with Dylan.
The shorter stories probably work a little better for me, particularly “She’s Waiting”, “Devil’s Got the Walkin’ Blues”, “Scarlet Obeisance”, “Perfect Grace”, and others, because each is like a dark little treat, bursting in the mind like a forbidden morsel, with an aftertaste not soon forgotten.
Appropriately published by Hippocampus Press (who also publish Ligotti, Aronovitz, Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, etc.), this volume is a MUST-READ for those who appreciate literary horror/speculative fiction. I should correct that statement to read “MUST-EXPERIENCE”, because the reader doesn’t only read a Pulver story, the prose and story-telling are so devastatingly powerful that each story is a soul-searing EXPERIENCE. Highly recommended.”
Walt Hicks (Amazon)
* * *
“This is the kind of book that drags you in and violates your psyche. The stories in here bring a sense of dark Nihilism that permeates the shadows of your mind. Mr. Pulver uses words like blunt instruments that shows us a world that you would envision if Robert Chambers,Raymond Chandler,Lovecraft and William S. Burroughs got together on a psychotic mind-orgy and Thomas Ligotti started dictating. His prose is not for everyones taste but if you have a chance to get this book , you will not be disappointed.These stories run the gamut of strange and beautiful. They are stories that pull you in and you dont read them as much as feel them….or are the stories reading you? these are the kind of stories that if you read them over again, you get different glimpses of the world that few fear to tread.”