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Bleak Holiday

de Hank Kirton

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Hank Kirton may be the best odd short story writer you’ve never heard of, and that sucks because he is rapidly becoming one of my favorite writers. This is a near-flawless collection of short stories. Of course, since it is a small press release it could be better edited, but even with that caveat this is still an excellent book. Kirton has a style that is immediately identifiable as being Hank-like, yet his stories cover a lot of intellectual and literary ground. He handles magical realism in a manner that I generally don’t expect from male authors, and some of his stories reminded me a bit of the sort of work Amelia Gray puts out – a sort of amusing, fey and ultimately good-spirited weirdness. Then at other times he manages the dark, nasty, post-modern flatness I associate with the mundane horror of A.M. Homes. His stories evoke some of the best work done by some of the best odd writers, infused with the uneasy strangeness and overall noir I’ve come to associate with Kirton’s work. I fancy I can see the veins Kirton mines for inspiration – one story even reminded me so much of an old R. Crumb comic that I had to scour the Internet to make sure I was remembering it correctly – but who knows? That’s the danger of writing – you never know what a demented Pflugervillian housewife will think of when she reads your stories.

Kirton’s voice remains very strong, even as he reminds me of other artists, and with one exception, every story in this collection soars because the eclectic nature of these stories definitely works in its favor. And the one story I didn’t particularly care for was because of my own deep distaste for the old Nancy Drew books. The story, “Janet Pepper, Girl Detective: The Mystery of the Kitchen Cabinet,” is a parody of those tiresome books with a very adult twist and I can see how it’s amusing and how others would find it very funny. I just remember all those gormless books being foisted upon me in grade school and how awful I found them, how boring they were, like chewing microwaved oatmeal, so this parody wasn’t that subversive to me given how little I could tolerate the original source.

So with that criticism out of the way, let me discuss the stories that I liked best in this 21-story collection.

“Jelly” is the story of two friends who discover a bizarre, dead creature and undergo a transformative experience. It’s a very simple story but the transformation is unusual and open to a lot of interpretation.

He looked at the pine tree in front of him, suddenly seized with an overriding impulse to touch the rough bark. He reached out and his fingertips stretched like upspearing tendrils until they circled the tree. He felt the whorls and arches of his fingertips merge with the grains of the wood and experienced a spiraling wave of pure pleasure so intense he was rendered blind with bliss.

Music and light. He was becoming music and light.

This story brought to mind a song from Ulver’s album, Perdition City. “Nowhere/Catastrophe” is a celebratory death song, a song of final transformation.

You fly, or rather float, drift
Through an enormous dark room
A room of noises

[…]

No planets, no meteorites
If anything, perhaps fine dust clouds of exploded music

You float there, somewhere between pleasure and fear

[…]

And your last thought is that you have become a noise
A thin, nameless noise among all the others
Howling in the empty dark room.

There is a sense, when one is reading well-crafted fiction or listening to well-composed music, that there is a confluence of ideas that run their course in writers and artists, and you find them all drawing from the same well, that their works are trees growing from the same roots. There’s even an ee cummings element to this story, with word creation (“upspearing”) that generally causes me despair when others do it, but it worked really well in this piece. In a story wherein people disintegrate into music, this neologism ensured a melodic meter in the sentence.

You can read my entire, very long discussion here: http://ireadoddbooks.com/bleak-holiday-by-hank-kirton ( )
  oddbooks | Jun 9, 2015 |
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