Heather Fowler is the author of the story collections, Suspended Heart (Aqueous Books, 2010), This Time, While We’re Awake (Aqueous Books 2013), and Elegantly Naked in my Sexy Mental Illness. She received her M.A. in English and Creative Writing from Hollins University. Heather Fowler is the hardest working writer I know. Her work is hard to classify. It has been called magical realism, new wave fabulism, amd Kafkaesque, all of which come close to fitting the bill but fall short of proper estimation. That she has chosen the art of fiction as her craft magnifies the intensity of her effort—Fowler’s work can make museums out of mindscapes, turn lovers to ghosts in unreal actuality, and tear holes in multiple parties, as happens in this book’s title story, about distinctive personal flaws mutually overlooked by pairs of lovers, no more or less fantastic than a mole or a scar, yet undeniably more than merely literal, rather uniquely abstruse, ranging into territories of unknown possibility, what experience is made of. She shoots sharp.
Not long after, we visited the liquor store. No one could see your hole. You had on this faded purple button-up shirt and some Lucky jeans. I wanted to get lucky. I could almost see you as normal, imagined you doing a great unveiling dance for me, showcasing the hole like a sex organ. We watched these two kids in the aisle, stealing candy, both lithe-limbed sixth graders stuffing their pockets with chocolate and sour stuff and laughing. The store owner saw them too, grabbed them by the scruff of their necks and said, “I think you have some things that belong to me.”
The holes can appear anywhere on a person’s body, as the story’s narrator discovers after she begins attending a support group foor people with holes in the company of her own afflicted lover
I opened a small silver mirror to look at my eyes. My make-up was fine. My eyes were fine. But there was a big hole in my forehead, so I could see the bleachers behind me — the banners, the posters made with green paint that read, “GO TEAM!”— right through my head. “Bad hole,” my neighbor said to me. “Hard to hide.” “Yeah,” I said. “Pretty much.”
Those lines nearly sent this reporter through the floor, faithful readers. Ms. Fowler and I had yet to meet in person, and I feared all the holes in me—both literal and abstract—would be impossible for such a sharpshooter to miss. As we became further acquainted, and she explained the holes were metaphoric, symbolizing the habitual lack of disclosure among the human family, which, of course, made perfect sense.
All of these stories, from the next to follow, “Two Angels of the Melancholy Man” to the final episode n this collection, by name “Man of Books,” are simultaneously reportage of uncommon romantic encounters, none of them with stereotypically satisfying culminations, all redeemed into micro-masterpieces of raw hearted hunger, each noteworthy detail presented with maximum scintillation, as in a story near the collection’s middle called, “You Are One Click Away from Pictures of Nude Girls,” concerning the sex obsession of a businessman named Larry so unstrung he sees sexual organs everywhere unexpectedly:
Even spied in velvet, it’s dangerous, especially in browner shades. Larry is possessed by Aphrodite’s pink flower — the bloom peeking from innocuously rose-hued cashmere sweaters, the balding skin of a woman’s toy poodle, or the foam-dripping snatch of a cocoa man’s mustache. Cunt hides in the fur trim of a commuter’s jacket and in sly white clouds over dream-blue labia (or the sopping, gray cumulus with white wispy backgrounds) — it calls to him routinely, “Lar-ry, come out and pl-ay-ay!”
In “The Museum of Solitude,” set in an institution by that name inside the narrator’s own mind and “currently located in New York, starred reckless city of the millions who do not sleep,” our protagonist considers the addictions of autoerotic, self-centric voyeurism, everything automated and contoured to optimum smooth self-selection, as opposed to belonging to mutuality,
Look around. It’s mystifying, fatalistic narcissism replete with replicating memorabilia. Here. You are all here—today, now, always, recovered—in the city that never sleeps, in a borough where a weird pearl horn juts out from the outer wall of a red hotel, though faintly you hear cries of others remonstrating, “Look at me! Look at me!”
being confronted by the watchman who both is and is not herself, even knowing her fundamental perversity in being so predictably seduced by your own mirror’s cracks,
if you have grown translucent, what is the point of looking at others who can see the sprawled cityscape behind you? “I cannot!” you will tell them, if you are insolent, “I am observing art here and now, the art of my own hysterical decline!” Hysterical, for laughs, you leave interpretively open—but it is not funny, ha ha. They don’t like this. They try harder to get your attention. (It’s a big loud city, after all. Can you truly be so insular?)
Ms. Fowler, currently a dedicated collegiate educator in a hot military town where sweat hangs in the air, displays any number of emotional and perceptive configurations and comportments in these stories by way of magical, realistic, innovative and evocative writing. In “If There Is an Airport,” she describes the literary woman’s anticipation of an unmet male companion met over the internet. In “Sid, Me and the Sea,” the narrator relates her affair with a mermaid’s son who’s good at coring apples, and ends up becoming a mermaid herself for a time:
When I realized the bones could leave, I tried to jump out a few times and finally succeeded. I landed on her left breast and slid down it’s curvature to walk along her soft belly until I could get to the sheet beside her, then to the mattress side, then to the carpeted floor. Of course, I thought: Sid wouldn’t tell me I could free myself. Why would he? But, maybe he didn’t know this was possible, this dry land escape.
And that’s not the end of the story. I know you’re all wondering what happens next. No spoilers.
Fowler’s writing will entertain the minds of readers seeking a ride on highly active imagistic meta-pan-romantic uber-trans-emotional dune buggies of heartful invention designed for highly adult children wearing friction suits. There’s no shortage of narrative enfoldment and consistent activation of the readerly wonder in these tales. Christmas is coming. You’ve got a few days. Act now.