Summer Soltice 2002
Lies and Ugliness by Brian Hodge
400 pages, $15.00
I WISH I COULD WRITE LIKE THIS MAN. That's the gist of what I have to say about this book. I didn't find one story in this piece of work that wasn't beautifully written. Hodge's prose has a musical, lyrical quality to it, and his stories are more than just tales, but intricate and thorough investigations of a life, a problem, or a world.
And with one exception, he never gives you the ending you expect. The exception was a treatment of Beowulf that I did not recognize until about halfway through the story. Well, we all know that the hero takes care of Grendel, right?
Otherwise, this book contains twenty-one stories of lies and ugliness. Lies because they are fiction, and do not all authors of fiction, as Orson Scott Card once said, tell lies for a living? Ugliness because each story treats some dark side of the human condition. Some are erotic. Some are not. Sometimes we get a pleasantly happy ending, sometimes we don't. But we learn from each and every story.
Two standout stories are "The Alchemy of the Throat," which occurs late in the book, and "Madame Babylon." Both of these indicate the author's need to explore his world before he writes the story. One of my writing heroes has said that if you want to write a memorable, complex story that will hit people hard, never take the first ending that comes to mind. Or even the second. Reading this book, I can tell you that Hodge never takes the first ending. I can often predict where a story is going, because at every plot point, I'll decide where I would go if I were writing it.
Hodge never takes me where I expect to go. Hodge took me to places I'd never even dreamed of. And then twisted some of those.
"Throat" details the story of a modern castrato, a singer who has had certain sections of anatomy removed in order to keep his voice boyish and his range high. Our protagonist is sold to someone whom we would never guess exists, let alone has friends of his ilk.
"Babylon" is a treatment of a woman who, after falling in with a gentleman who enjoys watching her with other men, often many at a time, becomes addicted to this lifestyle. So much so that she leaves to take her obsession to a near-impossible point. Our gentleman tries to find her after she leaves, and must confront a decision of his own when he finds her.
This book is not for the faint of heart. There are stories here that even achieved the gross-out point for me. "Nesting Instincts" made me get up and turn on the light, trying to decide whether to applaud or go for the Pepto Bismol. "Pages Stuck by a Bowie Knife to a Cheyenne Gallows" also struck one of my weak spots, taking me back to the bathroom.
"Autumnal Equinox Folly" and "Dead Giveaway" made me laugh until I cried. (Okay, I predicted the ending of "Giveaway," too, but where else could it go?)
After starting this book, I would save one of these stories to read every night to relax before bedtime, as a treat for myself after a long day. I'm not one to peddle books (unless they're mine), but if you have a few dollars extra this month, I would heartily recommend following the link above to Amazon.com and picking yourself up a copy.
Five bites out of five. Go get it.
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Imbolc 2002, Updated August 30, 2002
BLOOD ROSE is Copyright © M. W. Worthen.