Simon Avery’s The Teardrop Method is the fourth novella published by the Third Alternative Press, publishers of Interzone and Black Static. In fact, the book concludes with a bonus story, ‘Going Back to the World’, which originally appeared in Black Static #44. The novella, which is just over 100 pages long, and the short story, just over 40, are linked by the character of music journalist Dave Cook. Both are concerned with coming to terms with the death of a loved one, and in each the period of five years is of significance. Each fiction focuses on an artistic or creative response to death. Cook, though the most literal connection between The Teardrop Method and ‘Going Back to the World’, is actually on the periphery of both. In The Teardrop Method his reviews and interviews appear sporadically throughout the text. In ‘Going Back to the World’ the protagonist is Cook’s ex-wife, the events of the story precipitated by his passing. In each narrative women are central. At heart The Teardrop Method is the story of Krisztina Ligeti’s journey through grief brought about by the death of her partner, Alice, while ‘Going Back to the World’ explores how two women, Susanna and Felicity, briefly find common ground while fighting Cook’s supernatural legacy.
Krisztina can hear the songs of the dying, words and melodies she hears in her mind which hold the essence of a life about to end. The closer the person is to death, the more clearly Krisztina hears their song. She discovers this talent in tragic circumstances, when her lover, Alice, is involved in a fatal accident. Previously Krisztina, the daughter of a famous American singer-songwriter who burnt out in the 1970s, was herself a recording artist in her native Budapest. But her five years with Alice were so fulfilling the muse deserted her. She had no need for her art, and it seemed like she would follow her father, John Merriwether, into cult obscurity. Then tragedy strikes, and for the past year Krisztina has been following people whose song she hears, making their lives in her art, preparing to record a new album.
Krisztina’s life is complicated by two developments. She discovers that there are other people who can hear the songs of the dying, and turn them into art. Chillingly, one of them is resorting to murder to do so. When Krisztina’s path becomes entwined with this serial killer she is advised to flee the city. But she is beginning to relaunch her musical career, to go back into the world, and faintly she has heard a new song, that of her long estranged father, who is now dying of cancer.
The Teardrop Method is a complex, intricately structured piece of dark fiction, or perhaps quite horror. It is a story about the weaving of stories, about the transmutation of the darkest personal grief into art, and about the coming to terms with the inevitability of death. As a key line puts it – Art leads you back to the person you were after the world took you away from yourself.
In the wintry European atmosphere, in the sense of grief and the prescience of death, in a moment of eroticism, one might detect the long shadow of Don’t Look Now. Or, as Nicholas Royale has noted, the book could be the novelisation of a lost Argento movie. There’s a spectral atmosphere to the piece, a haunted nightmare tranquility shot through with considerable beauty. Don’t look here for cheap scares, though there is some fairly graphic violence, and equally don’t expect conventionally plausible plotting – any more than you would from an Argento flick – take that route and one would have to ask why the Budapest police seem entirely unresponsive to a knife-wielding serial killer stalking the city. But Simon Avery is not in the business of exploring thriller mechanics or police procedurals. Rather, The Teardrop Method plays out in a city of dreams, an eloquent, elegant, rather moving story.
One note: There is no indication anywhere on the cover or front matter that the book contains anything other than the title novella. I was therefore rather thrown askance when The Teardrop Method came to an end on page 111 (of 158). As it was the ending didn’t have the full impact on me it might have had, as on pages 109-110 I was busy wondering what twist was going to enable the novella to continue for another 40 pages, given that the story seemed to be in the process of wrapping itself up. If you know that the ending is coming up you read in a very different way to if you are expecting a new development precipitating a final act.
See also John Dodds’ review of The Teardrop Method