Vicki Hendricks, Florida Gothic Stories

Posted by Glennis Byron on March 07, 2011 in Blog, Reviews tagged with ,

Vicki Hendricks, Florida Gothic Stories. Crawfordville, FL: Kitsune Books, 2010. ISBN: 9780981949536

I’ve just finished reading Vicki Hendricks’s Florida Gothic Stories, one of the most unsettling and unpleasant collections of stories I’ve read for a long time. But for compulsive reading look no further. As soon as you start reading, you’re hooked, as some of these opening lines might suggest, by the plain weirdness that is on offer:

‘It’s a breach birth, and soon as I see the tail slip out between my legs, I know I am caught’ (‘Stormy, Mon Amour)

‘As her Siamese twin joined at the skull, I know Becca wants to fuck Remus as soon as she says she’s going to dye our hair’ (‘ReBecca’)

and, perhaps the best opening line,

‘The day he flushed his meds and purchased a dress for his iguana, Gregory Waxman’s real problems were over’ (‘Cold-Blooded Lovers’)

With a style perhaps best described as  Southern Gothic seasoned with neo-noir, Hendricks indeed writes, as one commentator on her website puts it, ‘like a demented banshee’: Flannery O’Connor or Carson McCullers gone completely around the bend.

Her characters are all damaged, and exploitative, and for giving in to their desires they repeatedly suffer. They may, as Megan Abbot puts it in the introduction, ‘teeter or tilt to sideshow’ but ultimately really do ‘become sad, even poignant figures’ (11). The sex wavers between the erotic, the brutal and the perverse, and it is used, again quoting Abbot, as ‘currency’ and ‘a tool, especially for the women, but most of all it’s a way of reaching out for something, anything’ (11).

Of the eleven stories in the collection, my favourite is probably ‘Stormy, Mon Amour‘, the tale of a woman’s affair with a dolphin, the child she bears (Mineaux…) and the woman’s attempt to free her lover. Maybe I liked it best because it is one of the few stories in which there is any tenderness in the relationship; there’s certainly little of that in the relationships depicted between humans. Of course there’s not always a lot of it in the stories which include bestiality, and there’s a fair amount of that. In ‘Must Bite!’, which certainly gets my vote for the sickest story in the book, there’s some particularly nasty moments with a scheming woman who gets her comeuppance at the hands of a large ape called Big Man when she is locked for good in the monkey cage. The ‘hot stench of broccoli breath’ is just the beginning. Have you any idea what an ape’s penis is like?  Do you know why spider monkeys have elongated vaginas? Ah, what you learn from reading this book.

How Hendricks manages to keep the reader’s attention with such improbable plots as this  is something of a puzzle, but she certainly kept mine. There’s not an ounce of sentimentality in these stories, and no attempt to try and create different fantasy worlds. It’s just a place where very odd things happen.

Vicki Hendricks is the author of noir novels Miami Purity, Iguana Love, Voluntary Madness, Sky Blues, and Cruel Poetry, the last nominated for an Edgar Award in 2008. She lives in Hollywood, Florida, and teaches writing at Broward College.

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