The cover illustration of Daniel Grotta’s Seven from Haven shows two appealing cats, one white, one black, posed with a tombstone. This picture captures the tone of Grotta’s seven short stories in this collection – gentle discomfiting tales of the unexplained, set in or near the Pennsylvania mountain village of Haven. The stories are intriguing, eerie and disturbing, and also have as themes big issues like civil rights, war, technology, and the bonds that link human beings.
The launch of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in 1941 was a break-through for women writers in that the editors published not only hardboiled and noir detective fiction, which was mostly written by men, but also domestic crime and suspense stories, at which women excelled. Weinman’s authors won “Edgar” nominations from the Mystery Writers of America, founded in 1945. Some of them wrote best-sellers, including novels that became motion pictures (such as Vera Caspary’s Laura). In Weinman’s view, these authors are no longer remembered, unlike some male writers like Dasheill Hammett and Ross Macdonald, because their domestic subject matter has not been taken seriously.
Because of her curation work for archaeology museums, many of her tales feature the study of archaeology although many tend to feature the tedious nature of cleaning artifacts rather than the careful study of a site.
Holmes likes to use language vividly and originally. Cars “crept to the curb on tire tiptoe”; a woman walks in a “toothache of time”. Holmes also uses patterns of imagery to convey her themes. In one of my favourite stories, “Nuts and Bolts”, a childfree couple choose not to spend a holiday with friends – the “same old bunch” with a third baby among them, but to stay in the city together.
There is an intense intimacy in Solding’s writing style. The words come as a confession: a kind of whispered tale that draws the reader in and invites collusion. The characters progress naturally through time, beginning with key moments of youth and awakening perception, and moving through coupling, and later parenthood.
Memory is critical in each of the stories, recycled into new experiences, and reworked into new memories, twisting, in and out of view, but never lost—nothing is ever lost. The setting brings history into the present day as modern characters uncover clues about the past that lead to self-awareness.
Loory often ends with an invisible higher power, who seems to approve the goings-on with laughter or, in the case of the balloon, “a faint, expected pop.” What’s eerie about a balloon breaking? Nothing, if you don’t think a child is attached to it as it rises above the Stories world.
These stories are stupendously good and offer many distinct pleasures: a strange yet superbly realised world, compelling characters and, above all, beautiful prose that has the power to move. One of those characters mentions of her lover’s failings that ‘he could not realize how all women are, in one way or another, “her kind” [i.e. a witch], even his dear departed mother.’ And that could be a coda for the book.
That said and frankly acknowledged as a personal response, Hoffman has style and ingenuity that goes far towards compensating for the ubiquity of ghostly stuff. This book is part of the body of work from a distinguished author who deserves all the rewards of excellence. You will not go wrong to read it.
We all of us choose what we do with our lives from a finite set of alternatives; and for Theo, in his darkest moments at any rate, love is not on the menu: ‘If I could love I would have loved by now.’ Happy Baby is about a person for whom love, as a possibility, has been taken away. It isn’t any kind of answer, it cannot be.