Voodoo Heart

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 4)

In Voodoo Heart, Scott Snyder constructs a world in which the bizarre becomes typical and the ordinary seems almost strange: a silver blimp with six white fins chased by a love-crazed man in his Tin Lizzie Model T Ford; a disgraced New York businessman armed with a speargun, guarding a dumpster outside a Florida pawn shop; a barnstorming pilot who lands his Curtis Jenny in a pumpkin patch, ruining a country wedding he mistakenly believed was a reception for him; a misanthropic sporting goods salesman in love with a Hollywood starlet, her face in tattered ribbons with a drainage bag under her chin; a fat farm for wealthy children; a plantation prison holding an elderly woman serial killer; a seedy tourist spot called The Home Wrecker. These are not mere stories of the absurd designed simply to shock or to titillate. Thanks to well-conceived plotting and a gift for image-laden storytelling, layered with irony and heartbreak, Snyder has produced a collection of stories that evokes comparisons to J. D. Salinger and Flannery O’Connor.

However, where Salinger remains grounded and O’Connor ventures deeply into the darkness, Snyder chooses to soar above the clouds in blimps and biplanes and to shine an occasional ray of comic hope into the black spaces of isolation, abandonment, and despair. Not to say that each resolution to these stories is pat or predictable. On the contrary, his heroes and villains crisscross through their schemes and dreams, adrift in a topsy-turvy version of Disneyland as might have been conceived by Edgar Allan Poe. Nothing is certain, nothing preordained, but all is dependent upon existential choice in a universe where chance, it appears, has the upper hand.

Escape, a recurrent motif in these stories, is the controlling device of “Blue Yodel,” the opening tale in which Pres falls madly in love with Claire, who works in a wax museum, posing among the dummies and coming to life to scare the customers. Pres’s job is to watch for people trying to go over Niagara Falls in barrels, and soon he finds himself going over the falls for Claire, who escapes their relationship in a silver blimp, which Pres pursues relentlessly across the United States, armed with a .38 to shoot it from the sky. While Pres escapes from himself and Claire escapes from Pres, the barrels continue to roll toward Niagara Falls, piloted by a self-destructive community of escape artists with one overriding purpose: to chase themselves and each other into and out of the maelstroms of their lives. Like John Barron, the handsome barnstorming daredevil in “The Star Attraction of 1919” who falls in love with stowaway Helen, Pres convinces himself that the only means to salvation lies in absolute surrender to the eternal feminine, an elusive ideal pursued in the skies far above the mechanical world fled from below.

Snyder’s protagonists are all men in their early to late twenties, isolated, fractured from choice and circumstance, at a crossroads in their young, but seemingly old, lives where each decision is predicated on a misbegotten past or a desperate hope to lay claim to the future. Woman, as the goddess, is central to their lives, and throughout the stories she assumes different shapes. In “About Face,” Miles “Nunce” Fergus, sentenced by the court to be a squadron leader in a boot camp for wayward teenage boys, falls in love with Lex, the daughter of the commandant, a pale, sickly girl whom he drives every week to dialysis treatments. In Snyder fashion, Miles’s sentence is based on a good deed gone wrong. One dark night, believing he was rescuing an elderly woman from a knife-wielding assailant, he attacked her son, who was merely testing her hearing aid with a sonic wand.

Miles believes he can help Lex, too, but she is enamored of Haden McCrae, a nineteen>year-old inmate whom Miles dislikes but inadvertently endorses. Mounted on his cousin’s steed, Captain Marvel, Miles follows McCrae and Lex into the snowy woods, determined to rescue her. His resolve fails, and so his chivalric dreams collapse. The goddess, out of reach, attempts to reconcile with Miles, who has sunk into despair and will not see her. Oblivious to Miles’s plight, Lex returns to dialysis. Miles is discharged from his sentence, going to work in a museum of natural history near Albany. There, an unexpected visitor brings him to a shuddering realization, leaving him pondering the two-million-year-old skull of Paranthropus, an early hominid with a brain about 40 percent of the size of modern peoples’, a creature whose only source of promise was scavenging from other hominids. Lex, the fey goddess, dissolves into a prison camp dream, and the real answer to Miles’s self-questioning reside in the empty eye sockets of the ancient hollow skull.

If women are not present or are ultimately unavailable, then they may be invented,...

(The entire section is 1987 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 4)

Booklist 102, no. 18 (May 15, 2006): 26.

Kirkus Reviews 74, no. 9 (May 1, 2006): 436.

The New York Times Book Review 155 (July 16, 2006): 17.

Publishers Weekly 253, no. 13 (March 27, 2006): 52.