Copies of I REIGN IN HELL by Quentin S. Crisp en route to us

23rd Jun 2024

I Reign in Hell by Quentin S. Crisp

Centipede Press has a knack for publishing hefty collections—in this case, 600 pages—by writers with whom I'm unfamiliar. This time, the writer is Quentin S. Crisp, and the book is I Reign in Hell.

Questioning the meaning behind life’s great conundrums is just part and parcel of Quentin S. Crisp’s I Reign in Hell. Take this existential diagnosis from the narrator in “Petseta” as Exhibit A: “Any part of your life, or your life in its entirety, could be a dream whose meaning you have forgotten.” These are words that hold true for a character whose answer to life arrives in a moment of déjà vu. As in other stories from this anthology, reality may in fact be an endless cycle of déjà vu, opening the door to as many answers as it does endless speculation.

Although Crisp’s writing here operates outside the norms of conventional genre tropes, his stories are often rooted in elements of the supernatural. For instance, he channels his inner Lovecraft in “The Recluse,” which sees the discovery of a hermit’s arcane language that leads to a new sort of freedom not yet known by man. In “The Mermaid” the fairy tale cliché of living happily ever after is morphed into a hideous nightmare when a beachcomber’s fantasy comes to fruition but at the expense of his lust for perfection.

With “The Legacy” Crisp preys on the most primal of fears: arachnophobia. Deep-seeded childhood trauma is usually the culprit, but fear can also be inborn. And for one grandson clearing out his deceased grandmother’s house, it becomes a family heirloom best left for the incinerator.

However, Crisp also branches out into the realm of magical prose with stories that may just restore your faith in humanity. “Far-Off Things” is innocence personified for a boy whose only glimpse at love is in a girl he adores from afar, proving that love is fleeting and should always be cherished. Similarly, “Italiannetto” is a touching evocation and reminder of the platonic relationships in one’s life—where true love can be found in more than just romance.

In two ambitious, never-before published novellas, Crisp ventures into a newfound arena of narrative form. His “Scorpion and the Butterfly” is like gurus gone wild beyond the grave. The eternal dance of parrying for position never dies with death; it only grows stronger. While “Fractalism” is a cerebral look at a man’s botanical influence on himself and his surroundings, leading him to uncover an unlikely villain within his metamorphosis.

You may not see the humor in I Reign in Hell, but the title alone will tell you all you need to know about Quentin S. Crisp. He is never one to pass up a clever dig at the literary powers that be. And I Reign in Hell is no longer an unfulfilled publication dream: it’s a moment of déjà vu come to life.