the Avram Davidson electronic newsletter

Vol. XXI No. 1

16 April 2023

ISSN 1089-764X

Published irregularly by whim and fancy (approximately annually)
by Temporary Culture for the Avram Davidson Society.
Contents copyright 2023 The Nutmeg Point District Mail and assigned
to individual contributors. All rights reserved.

Henry Wessells, Editor.
Cooper Wessells, Honorary Secretary.

All correspondence to:
Post Office Box 43072, Upper Montclair, NJ 07043-0072

Use this electronym for requests to be added to or dropped from the
mailing list. Back issues are archived at the Avram Davidson Website,

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Sunday 23 April 2023 is the centenary of the birth of Avram Davidson.

On this occasion, worthy of celebration wherever the readers of this newsletter may find themselves, it is worth stepping back to look at origins. I count myself fortunate to have discovered the work of Avram Davidson, when in late 1992 I first read a battered but intact copy of The Enquiries of Doctor Eszterhazy paperback. I was surprised, again and again. The rambling sentences and digressions impressed me, but most of all it was the way in which Davidson integrated obscure and bizarre knowledge into these stories: knowledge that in anyone else’s hands would be dusty and uninteresting or an info-dump that strangled or squashed the flow of language. Davidson was genuinely learned, as even a single sentence taken at random will reveal. There is a healthy measure of irreverence to temper this erudition, so that a reader is never oppressed by the weight of information imparted. I know that I was re-reading the Enquiries in late April or early May 1993, for when I decided to order the two books then in print, I called up George Scithers, publisher of the Owlswick Press (and Weird Tales), in King of Prussia, Penna., he answered my inquiry with the statement, “Avram Davidson died last week. ” Over the next several months and years, the quest for other works by Davidson, at first to read them, but soon also preparing lists in an attempt to understand the range of his work. I corresponded with or met folks in and out of science fiction, many of whom I still count as friends. The rest is history, some of it chronicled in back issues of the District Mail and in the archives of this website. From small seeds and many friendships, the Avram Davidson Society (largely imaginary but important for all that), has fostered interest in the writings of Avram Davidson.

In recent months, I have been re-reading lots and lots of Avram Davidson with great pleasure, the Eszterhazy stories (a perennial favorite), but also “Lord of Central Park” and El Vilvoy de las Islas (if Naples is the most elegant book I have published with the imprint of the District Mail, El Vilvoy is the most important). And then there is The Avram Davidson Treasury (1998), the great triumph of Grania Davis and her efforts in the first wave of posthumous publications. And if the Treasury unaccountably omitted three essential stories, “Lord of Central Park”, “The Dragon Skin Drum”, and El Vilvoy de las Islas, all three appeared in collections within the next few years, in The Investigations of Avram Davidson and The Other Nineteenth Century. And Everybody Has Somebody in Heaven gathered together material relating to Avram Davidson as an American Jewish writer; the biographical essay by Eileen Gunn remains the most important survey of Davidson’s life and work. These are solid foundations upon which all else has built.

And here, for the Avram Davidson Centenary year, Seth Davis has done a heroic job of assembling a century of stories. AD 100. 100 Years of Avram Davidson. 100 Unpublished or Uncollected Stories is a two volume collection forthcoming in 2023 from Or All the Seas with Oysters, the publishing arm of the Estate of Avram Davidson. Your correspondent had an early look at the table of contents and it is a fascinating assembly: early writings, some of which I have never seen, and stories published in a variety of periodicals and anthologies — within and without the genres — many of them ephemeral, fleeting, and extinct. Once upon a time, dear reader, it took fantastical amounts of luck and patience and effort and, above all, TIME to trace these stories, simply for the pleasure of reading them. Now, this pleasure will be yours, as you peruse two thick volumes. I look forward to doing so myself.

“Benny, Bluma, and the Solid Gold Wedding Ring” is the earliest datable story, written circa 1946, a previously unpublished tale of immigrant life and rabbinical counsel. The kernel of the tale is one which Davidson would reuse three decades later to entirely different effect, in the Eszterhazy story “The Ceaseless Stone”. Volume I of AD100 includes works published or dated up through circa 1967.

Volume II opens with tales from the heyday of original anthologies. Damon Knight’s long-running Orbit was one of the best known of these, and Davidson appeared in three early volumes. Terry Carr published many Davidson stories in New Worlds of Fantasy, Universe (including “The Slovo Stove”, a masterpiece reprinted in the Treasury), and several reprint anthologies. Two fine short stories published in 1970 appear next to each other to very good effect, as in the turn of the seasons: “Big Sam” is identifiably a regional tale of the modern American West, April to October as only Davidson could write it (another such is “The Peninsula”); it is also describes a happy marriage (unusual in his work). “Rite of Spring” is Americana of another sort, from Damon Knight’s Orbit: “There is a time. You been told that. And when that time comes, why fine. That’s what makes the world go round. That’s what makes the grasses grow.” The original typescript bears the title Sacre du printemps, so a soundtrack from Stravinsky might be in order. Also from 1970, I commend “They Loved Me in Utica” to your attention. An old chestnut, but as Guy Davenport wrote of The Last Wizard, “The hoariest of jokes.  . . .  Trust Avram to transmute it into a diamond.”

In “The Inchoation of Doctory Eszterhazy”, the afterword to the Owlswick collection, Davidson wrote, “go do your homework; spend 58 years reading omnivorously as I have done; do you think that even a little line like ‘The Byzantines deputies voted against the Budget,’ ” and all it implies, fell into my lap like a flake of dandruff?” Of the many, many elements of storytelling Davidson transmuted into the Eszterhazy tales, some can be glimpsed in these stories, in both the early unpublished material and some of the short sharp tales that have not been reprinted for decades. While I may differ in my opinion on certain dates assigned to individual stories, that arcane discussion will await another day. I am pleased to see collected here a number of stories which I had a hand in bringing to light. I note also that AD100 includes the corrected text of The Wailing of the Gaulish Dead (the errata slip for the first edition [which see below], is an object lesson for the proofreader). On the occasion of the Centenary, I acknowledge in memoriam a short list friends and correspondents who were instrumental in promoting the legacy of Avram Davidson: Grania Davis, Guy Davenport, Reno W. Odlin, George Scithers, and David G. Hartwell.

The preparation of AD100 is a colossal accomplishment and a landmark in the posthumous career of Avram Davidson as significant as publication of The Avram Davidson Treasury in 1998. Here’s to the next twenty-five years.

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By Avram Davidson

Subways and dentists. What’s the connection? If I am in a certain state of mind and body and in a railroad-carriage of any kind which enters a tunnel, be what else may, I feel an odd intense though not painful pressure in the floor of my mouth. I know now that it is the feel of the weight of the saliva suction device which dentists use, or used to. And a large featureless face forms somewhere up above and talks and talks and silently talks. That is Alfred Hook. My first dentist.

Now understand, would you, that trips to the dentist did not constitute a mere hop on a local and off again, a mere mechanized walk. There was first of all a longish walk under the maple trees to the trolley-car. And the trolleys had open sides with a heavy screening, and the trolleys rode for endless miles through open fields with an infinitude of park on one side and an all but unbroken wilderness, for all it was spliced with street signs at each unpaven, leaf-laven lane, on the other. Abruptly, like a castle in a tale, up looms a structure of another world’s architecture: head of steel for the urban railroad: up and up and up, endless steps.

And then away, away, on the swift express, past the last farms on the New York Island, which eventually dwindle to the last farm, in time not space: each year the old man with his one old horse. And then at once, almost, the earth. My mouth begins to feel that dull pressure, to sag. And then the express stops and we go up, endlessly up steps and walk no more than two long blocks and enter a vasty building, all wide halls and vaults and arches and broad doors, wrought-iron stairs and transoms and ransoms of goldleaf on opaque glass windows. And behind one of those door windows is Alfred Hook and the Office of Alfred Hook the Dentist. I remember no pain, only the pressure of the spit-sucker and the small roll of cotton. And overhead above his white coat the large face of Alfred Hook the Dentist, of Doctor Alfred Hook the Dentist who has eyes and nose and mouth I must suppose for the face is not blank, but no feature remains in my mind. Except that the lips move, they endlessly endlessly move, and the air is dead and silent. My memory tells me that Alfred Hook called me Sweetheart and Darling and Honey.

Once I ask, “Why do we go all the way to see Alfred Hook?” There is a silence as dead as the air in my mental picture. Then the answer, “Aunt Gussie’s son.” No verb. And somehow I am now aware that I asked the question because we no longer do go to see Alfred Hook. We walk to now, another, nearer dentist. Aunt Gussie, now. Aunt Gussie sits tall in black, at the very edge of her chair, clearly waiting to lunge. Redrimmed eyes in white white face. Boxes of candy, rich and huge, and massive baskets of fruit. Shiva. But no one sits on stools or boxes here. Aunt Gussie sits at the edge of her chair waiting to lunge. I will never forgive him. So she says. She says so.

And further years. Now from misty childhood mornings once on an afternoon all crisp and clear comes Uncle Morris. I can recall his confident tones, his ruined face, the words flowing on and on. And goes away again, almost never to return. “Do you remember Alfred Hook?” I am startled, am not quite ashamed. Long forgotten, at once well-remembered. “His nephew.” Time passes.

Aunt Floretta, wife to Uncle Morris. Sister to whom? Sister-in-law? Uncle Morris is dying. Of what? Of what else? Great-aunts are canvassed, but none will have him in to die. Says Aunt Floretta, I will never forgive them. And Uncle Morris dies and after many years his death and God knows why and only God knows why, is mentioned to me again. “He was Alfred Hook’s Uncle. Only child. Her whole life was in that son. Borrowed the man’s life savings to invest. All lost in The Market. Died the next day.” Who died? Clearly not Uncle Morris. Must be Alfred Hook. Shock, no doubt. Face speaking wordlessly and yet words without end.

Aunt Floretta lives forever. Aunt Floretta is eighty, eighty-five, ninety. Aunt Floretta is ninety-five. And does not so much die as withdraw at last her presence. One can speak more freely now. One does. It is after all only forty years. Uncle Morris cries like a baby. After forty years they recreate for me the tears of Uncle Morris with his bloodshot eyes, his eyes whose very pouches have pouches, his cigar-holder so much richer than his latter-day cigars. He who borrowed Alfred Hook’s money and lost it all. And the next day Alfred Hook locks his office, spreads out a towel so very neatly, because You remember he was always so neat, and Alfred Hook who calls me and still calls me now, Alfred Hook, Alfred Hook, Sweetheart and Darling, lies down and neatly shoots himself to death. Uncle Morris cries like a baby.

If The Market is fighting you, failing you, and you know because you know that only what the brokers demand to justify the margin can save it all and will because it has to — your own life-savings, your wife’s  — what else can you do but borrow where you can? And you can from Alfred Hook. And if you are an unmarried man who perhaps never wanted to be a dentist, no longer fresh and young, and your mother has made you her life and you call little boys Darling but have none of your own, and the only way you can ever — what? escape? what? — and then the way has been lost for you? What else but do what did Alfred Hook? His mother never forgave Alfred Hook’s uncle, his uncle’s wife never forgave Alfred Hook’s aunts, the years roll by, and by, my God they roll like tumbrils, one by one the heads fall. And one wonders: did Alfred Hook have to do it? Was not what he did to Uncle Morris worse than what Uncle Morris did to him? Was it not? Was it?

Soundlessly he speaks. What is he saying? What else, that one still wonders and strains to hear, but, “Forgive me, forgive me, and I will forgive you, too.”

Copyright 2023 The Estate of Avram Davidson. Published by permission
of the Estate.

Note: The composition of this reminiscence can be dated circa 1970
on the basis of the paper and the reference to the passage of forty years
since the stock market crash.

Tears for Alfred Hook will appear in the two volume collection,
AD 100. 100 Years of Avram Davidson. 100 Unpublished or Uncollected
, forthcoming in 2023 from Or All the Seas with Oysters.

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The Avram Davidson Treasury, edited by Robert Silverberg and Grania Davis
is an essential book for any reader of Davidson’s work, collecting many of his best
stories and with short introductions from dozens of science fiction writers.
The Treasury is back in print in a stout paperback edition, published
by Or All the Seas with Oysters. The Avram Davidson Universe also produces a
monthly audio podcast with readings of Davidson stories.

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These three titles are on sale from the publisher at

Published by The Nutmeg Point District Mail for the Avram Davidson
Society in Napoli on 11 September 2022.
One of 25 copies for members and friends of the Avram Davidson Society (edition of 160
copies), stitched in yellow Hahnemühle wrappers, title printed in terracotta on
upper cover. 6 x 9 inches, [16] pp. Designed by Jerry Kelly and printed by hand at
the Kelly-Winterton Press from Hermann Zapf’s Aldus type.
NAPLES is a fine press edition of one of Avram Davidson’s darkest tales,
originally published in the first Shadows anthology edited by Charles L. Grant.
NAPLES won the World Fantasy award for short fiction in 1979, the same year
Jorge Luis Borges was named the recipient of the World Fantasy Life Achievement
award ; Davidson received that award in 1986.
Michael Dirda wrote of Naples, “as mysterious and unsettling as a Robert Aickman
ghost story.” A beautiful little book.

Chance Meeting. Avram Davidson & Philip K. Dick
Published by The Nutmeg Point District Mail for the Avram Davidson
Society, 9 July 2018.
Edition of 150 unnumbered copies, stitched in Hahnemühle wrappers
with letterpress label. 6 x 9 inches, 16 pp.
Chance Meeting prints two uncollected pieces by Avram Davidson on
Philip K. Dick: Davidson’s perceptive review of The Man in the High
from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction for June 1963
and his memoir of PKD from Locus 256, vol. 15, no. 5, for May 1982.
The publication also includes a letter from Grania Davis from the same
issue of Locus; with a short essay by Henry Wessells assembling
biographical and bibliographical information.

The Wailing of the Gaulish Dead, an Adventure in Unhistory
With a Preface by Eileen Gunn.
Published by The Nutmeg Point District Mail for the Avram Davidson
Society, 8 May 2013.
Edition of 200 copies, perfect bound in heavy card covers, french flaps.
6 x 9 inches, viii + 40 pp. Inserted errata leaf.
Michael Swanwick on The Wailing of the Gaulish Dead:
"a voyage through the mind of a brilliant autodidact, a man who engaged in
esoteric research not for profit or academic survival but simply for the fun of
it. Those who can enjoy such company on a journey with no obvious direction or
destination know who they are. [. . .] I witnessed a reader reach the end of
this essay and burst into delighted laughter."

The following titles are out of print:
The Beasts of the Elysian Fields by Conrad Amber (2001)
El Vilvoy de las Islas (2000)
The Last Wizard with A Letter of Explanation (1999)

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Darrell Schweitzer still has a few copies of the the original Owlswick Press
edition of The Adventures of Dr. Eszterhazy (1990), the other essential title
for any Davidson library, and the book which publisher George Scithers cited as
his proudest accomplishment, available at a bargain price, here:

Drop everything and get a copy!

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Many of Avram Davidson’s early books, including the two comic Peregrine novels
(Peregrine: Primus and Peregrine: Secundus) are available as paperback reprints
from Wildside Press.

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