The Horror Zine Review
by Michael Keith
|Paperback: 306 pages
Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press LLC (April 15, 2011)
Size: 8 x 5.3 x 0.8 inches
by Michael Keith
Review by Christian A. Larsen
When I was a little boy running errands with my mom, she used to keep me interested with treats from her purse: a stick of Wrigley’s Doublemint (or if I was lucky, Juicyfruit), a Brach’s Starlight Mint, or maybe even a butterscotch candy. In much the same way, the tasty treats packed in Michael C. Keith’s anthology, Hoag’s Object, will hit the spot: sweet.
Keith shows great attention to detail in the first tale, “Magic Skin,” as he transports the reader with the flight of Huru, an albino Tanzanian who is being hunted for the so-called magical properties of his much-lighter skin. Although I admit I’m no expert, he crafts a very believable portrait of a Tanzanian running for his life, complete with a breathing culture as a backdrop. With a few strokes of a brush, an artist does what Keith does with a few well placed words: “At sixteen, Huru had left Mama Lweza’s care to work alongside her brother Abasi in Kisessa, gathering sisal for rug makers.” Keith provides the bricks. Our imagination provides the mortar.
However, the detail is somewhat uneven in some of the tales. The turning point in “Magic Skin” occupies a single sentence, whereas it should have been a paragraph, or maybe even several.
Keith does give the reader experiences, however. In “The Burning Turtle,” the speculative fiction elements are slight, even peripheral, as he focuses on the character of the narrator. Through his memories, reactions to those memories, and new interactions with others, the reader is, without even realizing it, drawn into a story about kindness, forgiveness, and the circle of life. Keith can strike a remarkably patient stride at times and is at his best when he is low-key, a storyteller in a dusky room, dropping quiet, perfunctory tales.
In “The Everlasting Sorrow of Silence,” the dead come back to life, but its a quiet talk in the kitchen instead of brain-noshing putrescence of the walking dead. The horror is still there, but its a quiet sort of horror--the horror of self-reflection, the character’s missed opportunities, and personal failings. These are the kinds of horrors from which one is never safe, even in the most thoroughly barricaded room.
One of my favorites was “A Lovely Picture” about a Jewish man who discovers that a favorite picture in his hallway was painted by Adolf Hitler. It’s a stark reminder of how someone capable of so much evil could create a thing of beauty, and if that’s the case, then the inverse is almost certainly true. “A Lovely Picture” not only drips with English-classroom meaning, but the end is sure to wow you, and keep you thinking well into the night after you’ve finished reading a very quick fourteen pages.
“A Lovely Picture” has a companion piece (at least I consider it a companion piece) in “A Blue Period,” which examines the nature of art appreciation. Can something done extraordinarily well be considered artistic, even if that thing is, at its root, reprehensible? Keith raises that question in such a creative and captivating way that you might not even realize that he never answers the question. He only raises it. And that’s just what good fiction does.
Because of their brevity, some of the stories come more like well-constructed vignettes, as opposed to, say, flash fiction. They are nothing more than scenes in the life, so to speak, rather than stories with fully-developed story arcs, but if you take them as such, you will be pleased.
Similarly, Keith will please you with unexpected lightness and victories, many of which came as a surprise to this reader. I’d love to write about them in this space, but I don’t want to spoil the endings, and some of them are extraordinarily satisfying, even for someone who expects downbeat endings to deliver the appropriate emotional punch. Keith satisfies, even on an upbeat, and that is surprising even in and of itself.
When I experience speculative fiction, whether it’s on the small screen, the large screen or on the printed page or digitized screen, it usually ends darkly (maybe that says more about my tastes than it does the genre, but I digress). Keith mixes healthy doses of dark fiction, dark humor, and triumphant moments so that whatever your tastes, there is sure to be something to your liking in Hoag’s Object, much like there was always something to my liking in my mother’s purse back when I was in short pants.
So pick up a copy, and find your stick of Juicy Fruit in its pages. Hoag’s Object is a real treat.
You can buy Hoag's Object HERE.
About the Author
Michael C. Keith is an award winning scholar and professor of communication at Boston College. He is the author of over twenty books including a critically acclaimed memoir, The Next Better Place, (Algonquin Books, 2003) and dozens of articles and short stories. He recently co-edited a book on the legendary radio writer Norman Corwin titled One World Flight (Continuum Books, 2009) and authored a young adult novel Life is Falling Sideways (Parlance, 2009).
About the Reviewer
Christian A. Larsen
Christian A. Larsen grew up in Park Ridge, Illinois and graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He has worked as a high school English teacher, a radio personality, a newspaper reporter, and a printer's devil. His work has appeared in magazines such as Golden Visions, Lightning Flash, An Electric Tragedy, Eschatology, Indigo Rising, and Aphelion. He lives with his wife and two sons in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Visit him online at www.exlibrislarsen.com and follow him on Twitter @exlibrislarsen.