Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Review: "Heartbreaker" by Maryse Meijer

Heartbreaker, the debut short story collection of author Maryse Meijer, is the best short story collection I have read all year and easily the book put out by FSG Originals since Frank Bill’s Crimes in Southern Indiana. These straightforward yet brutal stories share a lot in common with the work of Amelia Gray, Lindsay Hunter and Laura Van Der Berg: each one of them seems fragmentary, in kind of a rush towards something that writer or the reader not might know. Those stories tend to be interesting but very shallow and work better as stunts instead as stunts that lack emotional impact. Thankfully, that is not a problem with these powerhouse tales, which get under the skin, linger and leave deep scares once they have been finished. I think what she did differently here that her compatriots failed to do with their short story collections was have a clear theme within the madness. While those stories are all too eager to go over the edge, even when some readers won’t accept that invitation, Meijer seems firmly planted on the edge of the abyss, staring down, on her tippy toes, her characters hoping against hope that things will be alright, even though they know otherwise. The title of this book is rather apt, since most of the tales, which straddle the line between normalcy, depravity and even reality, all concern unlovable people existing in a cruel world long after they have outlived their usefulness, and Meijer is merely curious about how they exist. There isn’t a bad egg in this bunch, but I will pick out a couple that really stuck with me. The first story, “Home” is about a young girl who is willingly kidnapped by an older man, and the story charts their relationship, fraught with abuse from the unlikely source. It gets more disturbing from there with the title story, which focuses on a girl who begins a rather perverted relationship with a mentally challenged boy in her class: she buys him a porno magazine and almost molests him, even though she swears she loves him. The laughs in this story don’t distract from the horror of it. In a cool story called “The Fire”, really an extended metaphor, a man falls in love with a fire that has erupted in a forest. As goofy as it sounds, it is a perfect representation of an abusive relationship. But nothing prepared me for what is not just the best story here, but the best story I have read all year, which is “Jailbird”. It begins with a man in prison, and we find out he is there to satisfy his girlfriend’s sexual fantasies of his abuse at the hands of other inmates. This was a disturbing and sad tale and shined a light on the emotional abuse a man can face at the hands of a woman who is a bully. These stories of people whose sexual needs separate them from the love and affection they desire are bound to leave a mark with their skill, originality and heart. A smaller title this year, but easily one of the best this year. 

Rating: 5/5

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