Heliotrope, #1, August 2006

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“Honey Mouth” by Samantha Henderson
“On the Air” by Edward Morris
“American Gothic” by Michael Colangelo

Heliotrope‘s premier issue was very promising, featuring three interesting and diverse short stories. I hope they will be followed by many more. 

In “Honey Mouth” by Samantha Henderson, an anonymous narrator moves to a house in a little town and discovers that the house is haunted.  Amanda Keene, the daughter of the previous owners, disappeared, and, although the narrator can never see her clearly, he can feel her presence in the strong taste of honey that suddenly fills his mouth.

This is a classic ghost story.  The atmosphere of the town, a very important element, is conveyed through short, detailed scenes rather than direct descriptions.  Little towns served the purposes of many masters of horror well, and this little town was the perfect setting for “Honey Mouth.”  While not much new is introduced, Henderson recreates very well that feeling of subtle eeriness that is the appeal of horror stories for many readers.  The fleeting presence of the ghost, never too evident, and the pastoral but haunting atmosphere of the town, create a suspense which Henderson is able to sustain almost throughout the story. The end, although narrated less skillfully, doesn’t spoil an otherwise well-crafted story.

“On the Air” by Edward Morris explores different historical possibilities.  Set in 1930, the story revolves around a show featuring Red Nichols, Picasso, Irving Berlin, Gene Krupa, Benny Goodman, Rasputin, Anastasia, Roosevelt, and many more famous people. The audience is invited to reflect on what happened and what could have been, and the readers to envision the possibilities.

This story is full, too full for my taste, of quotations, suggestions, and mentions of renowned personages.  “On the Air” demands a lot of patience; it feels scattered in a sort of collage of fragmented possibilities with little connection between them.  Indeed, it doesn’t have a plot; nevertheless, it does have a point, and an interesting one.  While not an easy read, its demanding style is appropriate for its purpose and leaves an impression transcending immediate enjoyment or displeasure.  In short, read it, and remember that Morris, like his anchorman, does have a “point, and he’s getting to it.  Bear with him.”

In “American Gothic” by Michael Colangelo, Luke makes a votive mask with images of the animals that appear in his dreams.  Only his father’s animals never appear in his dreams, maybe because the boy’s father, Frank, is a drunken, violent man who terrorizes his wife and his retarded son.  Or maybe because they’re another kind of animal.

After a relatively slow and mystic beginning, this story launches into a whirlpool of events.  True to its title, the supernatural elements are shown to their advantage in the realistic American setting and characterizations.  Colangelo is clearly at his best when producing gruesome details and describing the bizarre, and I’d be surprised if he didn’t have a grin on his face while writing this story, which, I’m happy to admit, I would have shared with him as I read it.