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The Holler: Tales of Horror from Appalachia
Marge Fulton
BlackWyrm, 102 pages

The Holler
Marge Fulton
Marge Fulton is a writer and visual artist from Hazard, Kentucky.

Marge Fulton Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Kit O'Connell

The Holler is a slim volume of 20 very short stories drawn from author Marge Fulton's life in rural Hazard, Kentucky. Its subtitle, "tales of horror from Appalachia" is, to this reviewer's disappointment, perhaps, a bit of a misnomer. Very few of the stories in here would be described as horror in any conventional sense -- while a few contain some disturbing imagery, many of them barely hang together as coherent stories at all, feeling instead like a brief snapshot of the inner lives of characters that exist in some fictional mirror-universe version of Hazard which lives in the writer's head.

I found the individual stories to be readable but sometimes a bit disappointing or confusing, as they often end abruptly or do not seem to develop a plot. In "Gather Round," a woman works to bake a cake but then begins to choke on a piece she is testing, then impales herself on the spear of a sculpture she is also creating. As she dies, she has a vision of God and the cake timer goes off. In "Splinter," a bench is stolen from the beloved barber shop, but the perpetrator dies of an infected splinter from the same stolen bench. In "Little Secrets," a baby is thrown out the window of a vehicle at a Wendy's drive through, and then brought home by a lonely woman. Just as a story seems to achieve a trajectory, it comes to a close.

It's always a struggle when working with very short or flash fiction to create concise, clear pieces which are quickly read but still have a satisfying beginning, middle and end. Much of the flash I read strikes me as being not quite a story in the conventional sense, but sometimes it works anyway. Taken together, the stories in The Holler almost work -- when you read the whole collection, it creates a suitably weird atmosphere, one tinged with a sense of place that is at once pastoral and tacky, full of strange little details like jerky-eating country lawyers that carry big knives and aliens that eat Moon Pies and wooden toys, but might get jobs down at the local call center anyway.

There's never much sense of surprise in these stories. In "Preying Hands," a group of overweight people ride a spaceship to an interstellar weight-loss camp, but before they arrive one of them turns into a human praying mantis and begins to kill. Somehow neither the idea of taking a spaceship to lose weight nor suddenly becoming part insect seems at all out of the ordinary during the story, which I think is a sign of subtle skill on the author's part; at the same time, this means the stories rarely feel particularly riveting either.

Your mileage may vary on this book. Read in short bursts, the book was entertaining enough that I didn't feel it any trial to finish -- though I did get distracted by other books along the way. Since it's currently for sale very inexpensively as an e-book on the publisher's website, it's not much of a gamble to give The Holler a try. You may enjoy a glimpse into the weird contents of Marge Fulton's imagination.

Copyright © 2010 Kit O'Connell

Kit O'Connell is a writer, geek and Voluptuary living in Austin, Texas. Kit's poetry has appeared in Aberrant Dreams and Oysters and Chocolate. He can be found online at approximately 8,000 words, his homepage.

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