Suspended Heart by Heather Fowler (short story collection)
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
As always with a collection or anthology of short stories there are winners and losers. Some standout and are memorable; others are forgotten the moment you read the title of the next story. On the whole Heather Fowler has given us a fairly standard set of different genre stories inside the magical realism realm. I really enjoyed some of these (especially Cock-Sculpting, Minnow Lake and Fear of Snakes) and found some of them a bit bland or too allegorical for my taste (like Razorblade Skin, Made of Clay and Erotic City of Ghosts).
Likely any one who enjoys speculative and weird stories will find at least one of these 20 stories that whets their appetite.
Story #1 - Suspended Heart
A lovely little story about a woman and her missing heart; and her desire to never, ever take it back. What I wouldn't do to have ditched my heart in a mall a few times over in my life so it didn't hurt anymore.
Story #2 - Bloom In Any Season
A gal blooms lovely in spring/summer; and then looses her lovely flowers in fall/winter. Then no one wants her in the same way. It made me think of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). As well as reminded me of how much we can change as people depending on our existing state of mind. Wonderful little story!
Story #3 - Cat/Bird Love Song
This story is just depressing. It’s about being alone and the challenges of love when you are attracted to those likely to dislike you just because of your look, race, age, etc.
Story #4 - Crack-Smoking Parrots
So this title is literally describing our two lead characters. Two parrots. It’s a very purposeful allegory, filled with a lot of humour, regarding how difficult it is to publish anything these days. I genuinely laughed out loud twice during this cute little story.
Story #5 - The Girl with Razorblade Skin
I’m not totally sure I get this one. It’s clearly about self esteem and making your life your own; I’m just not sure on the symbolism of the razor blades. I’m starting to think I need an English teacher to explain some of these stories to me.
Story #6 - Godiva
Here we get a story that is all about the #MeToo movement and the idea that dressing like a slut, wanting to show off your body, etc. is not consent.
Ironically (perhaps) I feel like the lead gal in this loves being a slut and when she’s upset at one point I had very little sympathy. I’m not sure if that was the intended point or not...
Story #7 - My Brother, Made of Clay
Another one that had mostly gone over my head. It’s obviously about how bad parenting and negativity grows awful children (or plants) but I can honestly say the point of the story is lost on me.
Story #8 - Cock-Sculpting
Here’s a story where the title is literally what the artist in the story does. Yes that’s right she makes male genitalia from clay; based on real life models (of course). And I loved it!
Story #9 - Psychic Pigeon
A really sad but great story. Told from the perspective of a pigeon who helps out a woman being sexually assaulted (as blackmail to keep her job) by her boss.
Story #10 - Fear of Snakes
Okay this super short story is near and dear to me as a snake momma. My three darling snakes are amazing; although I will confess to loving my 6’4” boa the best.
Story #11 - Men like Chameleons in the Dark
Imagine if a colour on your body indicated how you felt about someone? An involuntary colour change would betray your every moment of love, lust or hate.
Story #12 - Saints and Blue Babies
This religious story is a little weird; but I liked the overall idea that all religious are the same religion at the end of the day.
Story #13 - The Rose Lamp
An intriguing story that should really be expanded into a full length historical mystery novel. Sooo much potential in this one but because it’s so short it doesn’t quite reach its full worth.
Story #14 - The Bheindris
A typical sci-fi short story about a human in love with a robot. Nothing new to see here.
Story #15 - A Companion of Minnow Lake
This is exactly the type of odd, creepy story I love best in short stories. Absolutely wonderful and nice to see an elderly man as our lead character.
Story #16 - Channel 59
A commentary on our societal addiction to television and by proxy our smartphones. Showing that addicts will find a way to get a fix; even when it seems impossible.
Story #17 - Time Broker
The ultimate question... what would you be willing to give up in life in order to have more time? We all say what we wouldn't give to have more time in a day; but have you ever thought about what that might actually mean and if you intend the statement literally?
Story #18 - Schrodinger’s Love Cat
Thanks to The Big Bang Theory I know what Schrodinger’s theory is! I was really excited for this story as I think there’s so many ways the cat theory can apply to opportunities or what if situations. Sadly this story didn’t elaborate on it any further than at the basic level.
Story #19 - Little Red Riding Hood and Sun Tzu’s The Art of War
This is an amusing take on Red and her encounter with the wolf which included her grandmother being eaten. I liked the wit put into it and wish I could read Red’s diary now.
Story #20 - Dangling Now, The Erotic City of Ghosts
I’m sure some English professor could find meaning in this last super short story and tell me how it brings all the stories together in a way. But to be honest it feels like some nonsensical words put together that don’t make a story; but instead set a scene. No characters, plot or anything exist here, so I feel it’s not really a story at all.
Out of these 20 stories I really enjoyed about half of them. Some were much better than others; as tends to be the way with short story collections. I'd definitely read more of Fowler in the future and would love to see her write some full-length speculative fiction for readers to gnaw their way through.
I would encourage Fowler to stay with the lighthearted or creepy stories more so than the contemporary ones. She does a good job of incorporating the contemporary themes desired into the amusing or scary stories; and it keeps the reader far more interested (or at least me more interested) than the basic tell it like it is story.
Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley and BookSirens. This is an honest and unbiased review.
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