Feather: Tales of Isolation and DescentBy David Rix (Eibonvale Press; 2011)

This collection is anything but an easy read, and nor is it an especially easy book to review. FEATHER is a true oddity that exists somewhere in the arena of J.G. Ballard and Ian Sinclair, yet will never be mistaken for anything other than itself.

I should add that the amazing wraparound cover art, created by the book’s author David Rix, deserves some kind of award for evocative book design. Depicting a woman’s face half buried in sand, said cover art perfectly captures the air of wistful surrealism that pervades the text. It centers on Feather, a teenage girl created by Mr. Rix, who assumes the lead role in the opening story “The Tiny Window on River Street.” Rix has urban squalor on his mind when he conjures Feather, along with water imagery inspired by a river near his house. It would seem that Feather is his muse, but she strongly rejects that label.

“Yellow Eyes” follows, in which Feather’s character is fleshed out. She resides in a secluded shack with her hippie father, who lives in fear of someone he calls The Measuring Man and in the course of the tale dies. Before doing so he warns Feather that “You must never let yourself be caught by the world.” At a couple points Feather experiences vividly described dreams; this is significant, as dreams become increasingly prevalent as the book advances. The book’s other major constant is of course Feather herself, who more often than not has supporting roles in the following tales, all of which are nonetheless suffused by her unsettled worldview.

In “The Angels” and “The Book of Tides” Feather is the house guest of two disturbed writers who each live by the sea, and who are both impacted irrevocably by her presence. In “Touch Wood” she’s a peripheral character who comes to assume critical importance to the story’s befuddled protagonist, who unwisely follows another character’s advice to make a wish after imbibing an unidentified liquid. In “The Magpies” Feather exists solely as the email friend of the mentally unstable Elizabeth, who sees bizarre patterns everywhere, and whose mental state isn’t helped at all by an unidentified potion Feather sends her. The novella length “To Call the Sea” is an alternately beautiful and maddening piece that sees Feather once again assuming a supporting role that steadily grows in importance, in a tale that involves a haunted dorm and features all the sand, sea and dream imagery so integral to the overall atmosphere.

The book concludes with “The Whispering Girl,” which sees Feather, here answering to an entirely different name, haunting a man named Tallis (after the similarly moniker-ed character in Ballard’s ATROCITY EXHIBITION, one assumes) in the Central European city of Ljubljana. Following this is an “Endword” entitled “The Sea Train,” in which David Rix once again assumes the lead role, regretting that he left Feather so unsettled in the preceding pages yet finding himself powerless to alter her destiny, even when Feather herself briefly appears to him and his sister on a train platform–although, as the final page makes clear, he doesn’t really have a sister!

What exactly are we to make of this bizarre text? A fictional commentary on the nature of artistic inspiration, perhaps? A surreal autobiography? Avant-garde science fiction? None of the above? Whatever FEATHER may be, it’s as wonderfully strange and evocative as nearly anything I’ve read, and one of the standout publications of 2011.