BOOK REVIEW: Hardened Hearts
– By Dave Dubrow
I’ve whined before in this space about how reviewing books can be a terrible can of worms, particularly if you’re a writer yourself. Every positive review you write invites accusations of favoritism, and every negative review alienates the people in your own community.
So right now I’m going to have to alienate a whole bunch of writers, because I really didn’t care for Hardened Hearts. A horror anthology of short stories focusing on the theme of love, Hardened Hearts didn’t live up to the promise of its subject matter, and far too many of the stories within read as flat, leaden, and without affect.
40 Ways to Leave Your Monster Lover by Gwendolyn Kiste is told in the second-person-present perspective, so if you’re a young college student currently having an affair with an older married teacher, you’ll probably get more out of it than I did. For my part, I was ready to get on the bus, Gus after reading it.
Another musically-titled story, What Is Love? by Calvin Demmer attempts to answer its own question, using a witch and a monster as its principal characters. Maybe Howard Jones did it better. Proving again that there’s nothing quite like music to inspire feelings of love (or grief), J.L. Knight’s brief It’s My Party and I’ll Cry if I Want To uses balloons in an Every Breath You Take sort of way.
If it’s balloons that get you going, the theme of familial love kind-of sort-of makes an appearance in Tom Deady’s The Pink Balloon, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. Invisible clowns and overworked husbands and it all came off as unfortunate instead of horrifying.
Somer Canon’s It Breaks My Heart to Watch You Rot was too short to elicit the grief the author intended. Contrast this with Theresa Braun’s Heirloom, which was way, way, way too long, so much so that I lost interest a third of the way through.
The Recluse by John Boden fills that need for brevity, though like a lot of flash fiction it read as more a joke than a story. Eddie Generous’s Dog Tired posits an interesting apocalypse scenario, and was easily the best offering in the anthology.
In Consumed, Madhvi Ramani attempts to show that a guy will do anything if the blowjobs are good enough. Maybe his lover sucked his morals out through his dickhole, I don’t know.
The LGBTQI community is represented in three stories, starting with Scott Paul Hallam’s Burning Samantha, about a teenage boy going to a high school dance dressed like a woman. But then nothing much happens and it’s kind of sad. Robert Dean strikes a major literary blow against fictional homophobia and racism in Class of 2000. I tried like hell to get through Leo X. Robertson’s Brothers, but it rivaled Heirloom in length and I couldn’t finish it. I apologize for that.
Learning to Love by Jennifer Williams read as allegorical, but I couldn’t tell for certain. Same with Laura Blackwell’s Porcelain Skin, which didn’t seem to have a lot to do with the theme of love. This tenuous connection to the anthology’s central topic continues with Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi’s The Heart of the Orchard, which does far more telling than showing.
Sarah L. Johnson’s Meeting the Parents is pretty funny, actually. And absolutely horrifying. The collection ends with Meg Elison’s Matchmaker, which takes on the theme of online dating and comes off as a joke with multiple incomprehensible punchlines.
Plenty of readers liked Hardened Hearts, but I’m not one of them. From the uninspiring cover to the lackluster content, it was a miss for me. If you’ve read it and want to tell me how wrong I am, let me know at The Slaughtered Bird.
It’s a date!