Guest Review: Katrina Denza

voodooheart.jpegVoodoo Heart
Scott Snyder
Bantam Dell
276 pp.

The men in Scott Snyder’s debut collection of stories Voodoo Heart, are running–either away from constricting lives or after the objects of their affections. Each yearns deeply for that which is beyond his reach.

In “Blue Yodel,” a man drives his Model T across the country in pursuit of the blimp which carries his girlfriend away from him, toward the West Coast. The reader can only guess why the girlfriend has left him. Perhaps it’s the intensity of his feelings for her–feelings he describes as “an exhibit on hydroelectricity he’d seen at a fair.” The chase, which lasts through the whole story, serves as an apt metaphor for the ultimate surrender to the unknown course of love.

Snyder’s men possess the innocence and curiosity of children, and this sense of youthful wonder and outrage at the world is the very thing that endears the reader to them. The narrator of “About Face,’ has an appealing naiveté. Miles Fergus is twenty-nine, well-meaning but unlucky. He’s given a community service job playing the horn for troubled boys after a good deed goes wrong. The camp’s director enlists Miles’ help in driving his ill daughter to her treatments, and the reader is swept along with Miles as he begins to believe in a happy ending, but as in many of Snyder’s stories, happy endings aren’t so much a possibility as an anomaly.

Many of Snyder’s men are angry. What makes them special is their awareness, and ultimate acceptance, of this anger. The narrator of “Voodoo Heart,” confesses frankly:

“That’s what happens with me. The feeling hits me and it won’t go away. I get angry and mean and, most of all, restless. Everywhere I look I see chances to go back and correct my life, chances to start over alone or with someone new.”

In “Dumpster Tuesday,” a young professional leaves his Manhattan marketing firm and moves to Florida to chase the woman who left him for a shady country-western singer. He takes a job guarding a dumpster with a spear-gun–the danger of which, he admits, holds a certain appeal:

“I was in Florida because my fianc´e had left me for a brain-damaged country-singer: there were plenty of moments in each day that I wished someone would blow my fucking brains out.”

Just when he thinks he’s made peace with his situation, fate offers him a chance to test that peace with a face-to-face encounter with the object of his rage.

A barn-storming pilot inadvertently crashes into a wedding party in the story “The Star Attraction of 1919,” and is surprised when the bride asks him to take her with him, away from her life and the groom. He’s not used to being more than a one-man act and the reader wonders right until the end what will become of this unlikely couple.

Wade, the narrator in “Wreck,” sits in his hunting stand and watches children in a neighboring fat-farm attempt to transform themselves by summer’s end. But as the story proves, transformation is not always a good thing. For Wade, a loner by nature, change comes in the company of a famous woman, who in turn is temporarily transformed by surgery.

And in the title story, perhaps my favorite, a young man and his girlfriend buy a house too large for them, with dreams just as large. They work side by side to fix it up, often communicating in CB code through walkie-talkies. The only drawback is the women’s prison next door. Still, they manage to make the house a plausible reality and the women prisoners are basically harmless. The only hurdle left for the narrator is an adverse reaction to commitment and a family legacy of running away. Snyder ends the story in a most humane and touching way.

I love the absurd in fiction and this collection is filled with delicious oddities. One man’s hair has a white streak from being shot in the head as a boy; one girl’s skin itches so much she has to take a brush to it; a woman throws personal items out of a blimp like crumbs for her boyfriend to follow; a man has a nose that whistles in the wind; and shards of glass leak out of the skin around a woman’s eyes. All of these details add spice to an already rich narrative and in lesser hands they may have appeared gimmicky. Snyder does such a great job of grounding the reader in vibrant natural settings and characters’ authentic emotions that these items eventually become not so much unusual as organic to the stories.

Even with all the missteps these characters make, all the dark tendencies and unluckiness they seem to share, the main emotional landscape rendered in these seven stories is love. These men are brave enough to go for the dream of love, and even when it’s tried and lost, they’re left better people for it. Scott Snyder is a writer I will be watching in the future.


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