Dog on the Move

On James Nulick’s “Lazy Eyes”

Kids stay nearer to the bottom and see truths adults can not.

— “The Model”


I HEARD RUMORS from others who had learn superior printouts of James Nulick’s new manuscript that it was, undoubtedly, a horror assortment — an surprising transfer for the refined literary darkish horse. When questioned, Nulick claimed he had no intention of writing horror however that maybe the Ligottian dread of COVID-19 had seeped into his newest work. Immunocompromised residing with HIV, Nulick is at greater danger, so he by no means left the home. This existential suffocation — trapped in your physique or dissociating, possessing one other one completely — churns like a storm by way of the work gathered in Lazy Eyes.

Lazy Eyes, launched by Expat Press in Might 2022, is horror that would solely be written by an creator who paid shut consideration to the inherent terrors of adolescence. Nulick writes like he’s been excessive danger for the reason that first day he cried: born beneath a nasty signal however wide-eyed, dangerously curious as soon as the tears dry. Teenage nostalgia suffused his elegant 2015 novel, Valencia, whose suicidal narrator is saved by easy recall of a life flashing earlier than his eyes, treasured recollections of elemental innocence. However in Lazy Eyes, these recollections are pure hazard, remembering the place all of it goes improper.

“If the gathering has any theme in any respect,” Nulick says, “maybe it’s a consideration of how animals and kids are sometimes abused by the hands of adults, with or with out intent.” It sounds horrific, however Nulick, a searcher for and practitioner of the right sentence, makes use of language so lovely that, even in a story’s most traumatic moments, there’s a indifferent surprise, a reverence. Maybe his fashion is greatest summarized within the tech-nightmare “Spiders”: “While you cease caring about what others consider you is when bizarre and inventive and harmful issues begin taking place.”

A homosexual Mexican American, Nulick grew up within the wide-open areas of the scorching Arizona desert and now sequesters himself in overcast Seattle, so he’s accustomed to serving as a conduit between worlds. The occult ingredient in his work is convincing as a result of Nulick can possess different POVs like nobody else. In “The Stunning Sister,” he highlights sibling rivalry by way of the eyes of a teenage lady. When Melanie meets Fernando, she makes no secret of her hatred for her older sister, Melissa, the attractive one. “I need her lifeless,” she texts him. “Are you certain?” “Sure.” “Let me discuss to my Aunt Lena,” he responds. After which the creator ushers us right into a world of Santeria witchcraft, culminating in a dying spell. Nulick researched uncommon black-magic books to create a palpable authenticity, however the story is much less concerning the darkish arts than about jealousy’s broad strokes, youth’s failure to check consequence (although Nulick’s rhythmic prose usually reads like a spell, fact be informed).

In “The Model,” Nulick explores profound devotion to the inanimate. When the attraction is that this sturdy, who’s to say it’s not respectable? “Holding somebody’s hand in your hand till their hand disappears, till you grow to be one, their physique and your physique indeterminate. That is the definition of affection, is it not? Once we overlook somebody is there, after they grow to be us? Transferring from the opposite to the us.” For individuals who comply with Nulick carefully on social media, this piece serves as an origin story for Nico, the store-window model he calls his son, by way of which he usually communicates to his followers.

Some nights Nico seems in our bed room, loitering by my nightstand, on my aspect of the mattress, and the surprising shadow quickly frightens me. I decide him up and transfer him again into the lounge, and he asks why I’m shifting him, he doesn’t like being alone. I don’t reply him as a result of I don’t know the reply. […] I don’t need him horrifying my lover. All of us have our secrets and techniques. It’s how {couples} keep collectively so lengthy.

Nulick provides additional voice to the unvoiced in “Claws,” a feline-narrated confessional from a world that appears down on our modern sexualities and a shape-shifting reclamation of our feral essence. “Some may name me a manifestation, others, an thought. However the easy fact of it’s, I’m no matter I should be.” Against this, “4 Foot 9” and “Bunk Beds” are the gathering’s tenderest bits: showing consecutively, they’re fluid recollections of bemused (but pushed) youthful eroticism, with its oozy mixture of the predatory and the explorative. The bewilderment of teenage initiation, a coven round a hearth, conspiratorial laughter, the stillborn thought: “Why am I the one child on this tenting journey?” With the stench of fish gore on his fingertips, the boy displays:

[I]t’s as if my physique has been marked for dying. It bothers me that I’m answerable for the struggling of one other being, just like the summer season afternoon, aged ten, after I shot a white pigeon from a palm tree with my Daisy rifle. […] I ran to it, horrified, and it was as if I had died there too, on the garden.

It’s a easy equation: a youth who feels mild desires to be handled gently, wishing he might bypass puberty’s roughhouse posturing. But the hormones stay: a crush develops for one more boy, kindled by lures of Jack Daniel’s and Copenhagen trickled down from dad and mom numbing themselves into oblivion. And right here Nulick embeds a chilling stanza, straight out of a Nineteen Seventies horror movie:

Mirror, mirror
My quicksilver double
Is there something extra lovely
than youngsters in hassle?

The unmistakable fashion, identified to many as “Nulickian,” slowly unravels and unveils. The sentences trickle, rush, then flash-flood; with little to no attribution to his voices, we’re left to our personal creativity as readers, forcing us to hint threads by way of the disparate views. In “Unusual Captive,” we assume it’s a toddler who has been kidnapped, till the ice-cream truck approaches: “[T]he gummy warmth off the asphalt tonguing my physique as I trot into the road on all fours, my paws burning, […] barking on the youngsters as I sense the door of the home opening.” On the one hand, it’s a candy reminder of the profound bond between youngsters and their canine; on the opposite, a daunting admission that we’d neglect our youngsters like pets, some rising as much as be animals.

In “The Black Doberman,” a canine observes the habits of its house owners till it disappears, its consciousness compromised — maybe commandeered? — by the girl: “I do know security is barely an phantasm, for the world has at all times been harmful, particularly for girls, youngsters, and animals. […] [M]en’s hearts are crammed with rage and homicide.” Feminine energy additionally assumes an unlikely kind in “Spiders,” whose eponymous expertise is an arachnid hybrid of our real-life robotic canine. This Black Mirror–esque story additionally gives a prescient warning — an ideal bookend to the one offered in “The Stunning Sister”: “The Invocation used on this story is for leisure functions solely. […] Neither the creator, editor, or writer shall be held responsible for the use or misuse of any info on this story.”

To be born into the precise physique however the improper time is the uncooked topic explored in “Doe,” the guide’s most devastating and human providing. Nulick treats the subject with a blunt sensitivity that invitations us to “stand on the altar contained in the cathedral of my cranium.” The impact is paying homage to the hyper-observant inside dialogues of Wim Wenders’s 1987 Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Want), implying an in-between religious purgatory, inhabited by angels too pure for our world. “We will by no means be alive once more, not like them.”

James Nulick has come a great distance since he studied beneath William T. Vollmann, for the reason that school he was attending kicked him out for throwing his typewriter by way of his 14th-floor window. So, it’s becoming that Expat Press calls him their “lengthy distance runner.” And with Lazy Eyes, his most horrific but by some means most accessible guide to this point, Nulick gives us his hand to see how arduous we will sweat together with him. Attempt to sustain, will you?


Gabriel Hart is a author residing in Morongo Valley in California’s excessive desert. His most up-to-date guide is the literary-pulp assortment Fallout from Our Asphalt Hell (2021).

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