The characters in Heather Fowler’s newest collection of short fiction, People with Holes, released July 2012 from Pink Narcissus Press, are here to talk about Sex. That’s sex with a capital S, sex in excess, sex as an animalistic need, as a way to forget, move forward, and take control of others. Oh, and by characters I mean women. Larger than life, most of these women proudly strut in high heels, fishnet stockings, leopard-print jewelry, and over-the-top make-up. I kept imagining drag queens. Then again, didn’t “King of the Hill” boast an episode where large-footed feminist Peggy Hill is mistaken for a drag queen, which is defined in the show as a man who embodies a strong woman?
While women in Fowler’s first collection, Suspended Heart, were hurt by men and left to carry their sadness, People with Holes has a vengeful vibe, and women poison, decapitate, and belittle the genitals of those who dare hurt them. I was conflicted, though; some of these women grab men by the crotch, assuming no one could refuse them, and I started to think of them as just as bad as men who are condemned for similar behavior. The collection speaks to me in a time when sex and women are confused by political agendas and personal values. In “Sex with Dwarfs,” a re-imagined Snow White uses her friends because, essentially, they are like living vibrators: “His member, dwarf-like as it was, was too short to pierce her maidenhead and was just small enough to function like a tiny vibrating toy…”
Just when I feel like I might drown in the sexy juices of Fowler’s stories, she gives the reader a chance for air with more insight into the emotional aspects of these women. When a woman cannot get her boyfriend to say, “I love you,” she begins using plant metaphors for her feelings: “Blossfeldia have no tubercles, ribs, or spines, but are blessed with comparably large flowers, which exceed the diameter of the stems. That’s how I feel about you. Large flowers, most days. No spines. You taste like aloe to my soul.” Some of these characters desperately need an aloe for their sad hearts, proving the collection is about more than Sex and bravada. “Room Full of Scars” explores a woman who cannot find a partner because a room in her home is the literal scars of the past clinging to the walls so she doesn’t have to suffer their burden internally.
Fowler’s fabulist style does peek its head out in this collection, seen in “With the Silence of a Deer,” a story about a woman whose head becomes that of a deer and whose boyfriend “mounts” her to his satisfaction. “Three Views You Might Have Taken at a Pond’s Edge, Or Quack” turns the familiar princess and the frog tale on its head, capturing trickery at its funniest. Suffice to say, People with Holes is a “take no prisoners” sort of read.
*Review originally posted in JMWW