FLORIDA GOTHIC STORIES by Vicki Hendricks
Review by Mike Dennis
You really have to hand it to Vicki Hendricks. I mean, there are damn few authors out there who would even be willing to consider short story subjects such as Siamese twins or bestiality. Fewer still would ever actually attempt such stories, and I daresay that only Hendricks can pull them off without making the reader feel like he should be reading them under the covers with a flashlight.
That pretty much sums up the caveat of Florida Gothic Stories (Kitsune Books, 2010), a superb collection of intense short tales, most of which have been separately published elsewhere, but are now together in one volume behind a properly creepy cover. Hendricks, an outstanding noir fiction author of several Florida-based novels, has stepped somewhat outside the comfort zone of her genre, and believe me, the reader will be glad she did.
These stories run the gamut from straight noir to the utterly bizarre. Lethal strippers, trailer park crackers, drug whores, animals in various relationships with humans … all fodder for Hendricks’ fertile imagination. Let’s face it. You know you’re in foreign territory when a story begins with the line, “The day he flushed his meds and purchased a dress for his iguana, Gregory Waxman’s real problems were over.”
All the characters in this collection are infused with a certain desperation, a kind of melancholy beneath their outer personae and, no matter how twisted they are, the reader can feel Hendricks’ devotion to them. She treats them with a tenderness you might not initially think they deserve, but upon reflection, you’ll ultimately get on board. That’s really the beauty of these stories: they’re not meant to be swallowed in one or two bites and then quickly digested. They require the reader subsequently to think about them, each one, each character, and in this afterglow, their true nature is revealed.
For example, the leadoff tale, Stormy, Mon Amour, immediately slaps the reader with the notion of sex between the central character and Stormy the dolphin. It takes a minute to realize that it’s not a joke, that this has actually happened, and then, once Hendricks has you reeled in to the reality of it, she then convinces you that this is in fact a traditional love story. When it’s all over, you realize that you were reading this in exactly the same fashion as a housewife might watch a daytime soap opera: pulling for the heroine, hissing the villain, and praying for a happily-ever-after ending.
Even a standard noir tale like Boozanne, Lemme Be, gets the Hendricks odd-angle treatment. Mouse, a four-foot-ten, minor-league burglar, has figured out a way to live in the home of Bob and Melodie, a married suburban couple, without their knowing about it. He soon teams up with Boozanne, a fleshy, pig-nosed grifter girl, but after living in the couple’s house for a while, he develops an unusual affinity not for Boozanne, but for Melodie, whom he has never really seen, much less met.
All the stories are set in Florida, of course, Hendricks’ own stomping grounds. As she does in her novels, she plunges the reader into these settings as sharply as she does her players. You will walk the terrain hand-in-hand with these characters, and feel the sweat dripping off them as they plod through sticky summer days and long, dangerous nights. However unpleasant these people may be, Hendricks keeps you right at their side, and you’ll always know you’re in Florida. As a Floridian (Key West), I can appreciate this authenticity.
Florida Gothic Stories may mark a slight departure for Vicki Hendricks, but don’t be fooled. These plots are original, the characters breathe, and her ear for dialogue is unerring. You can’t ask for anything more than that.