“If you feel alone in the world
find someone to worship you”
Henry Hoke invites us into the mind of a philosophical mountain lion in this brief novel. The prose is straightforward – each line a brief thought that flows into the next. No punctuation slowing down the reader, just the musings of a queer mountain lion yearning to understand his own urges. He is aware of his potential for violence – it is part of his origin story. That potential is a throbbing heartbeat you might imagine playing as the soundtrack as he observes humans from his vantage point (a hiking trail near the Hollywood sign, abutting a homeless encampment). He hears short bursts of conversations as friends hike together and thrills at the fear he inspires when one catches a brief glimpse of him. He finds some humans endearing and others repulsive. He relates intimately to them, especially when he observes them at their most animalistic (eating, sleeping, having sex). This mountain lion is capable of powerful connection with other creatures, guided by instincts too strong to ignore. The build towards the conclusion feels both fanciful (only in a book, amirite?) and earned.
I don’t live in LA, nor do I have much knowledge of the geography in that area – I suspect if you do there might be more small bursts of recognition here and there that might enhance some parts of the novel. There are some parts that irk me just a bit (because the main character isn’t human, he only innately understands how to spell SOME human words, and others receive phonetic treatments, such as “ellay”. Small quibble, I know.) Overall, this book, easily read in an afternoon, is a vicious story about humanity.
Kate Folk takes on humanity with equal strength in her collection of short stories, but this time through a strictly human lens. Well, okay, not STRICTLY human, as we see in the stories that bookend this collection – “Out There” and “Big Sur” imagine a world in which women are routinely fooled by “blots” – seemingly perfect men who are actually corrupt bots programmed by Russia. While they act as though they are interested in the lives of the women they target, their actual goal is to lure them to Big Sur, where they steal all of their personal data, then disappear into a lavender-scented cloud after perfectly pleasant hotel sex.
This collection of short stories is sort of like Black Mirror, but rather than simply imagining the impact of new technology, Folk imagines what would happen if the psychological horrors of being a woman (especially a single woman) became even more visceral. What happens when it isn’t just a metaphorical heart but an actual organ on the line every time you date someone? What happens when our outsides actually become as mushy as our insides as the night falls?
I loved this collection, for all the ways in which it subverts expectations (a house that requires a certain type of oil to moisten its walls, or one in which a head mysteriously appears in the floor?) and most especially for all the ways in which we find all-too-familiar feelings. Even as the world is overtaken by a void, a woman worries that she accidentally settled for a man who earnestly croons Dylan lyrics. In a stand-out story, “The Bone Ward”, despite the very real threat of death due to an agonizing condition, the protagonist is willing to slow her own recovery in order to prolong her exposure to a man (who is clearly not worthy of her attention). The characters are at once oblivious and also recognizable.
May these books find their way onto your library queues!