Suspended Heart
by Heather Fowler

Aqueous Books
First Collection

"My brother was born with a patch of loam under his left nipple. When I was very young, I often asked to touch it, and Jimmy would pull up his favorite green polo and turn before me proudly like an older person with a tattoo."

Reviewed by Angela Readman

Sometimes, just sometimes, from the scrolls of work I read online, I stumble across a story different enough to make me remember a name. Heather Fowler's such a writer. I encountered her work a few years ago online. It's almost impossible not to. Fresh, vivid, her prose is fluid. It flows like a river. Never static. The work moves characters and perceptions. The heart is revealed and swept away. A single can story can be strange, beautiful, moving, dark, then funny. Stories that may seem quirky on the surface of subject matter have layers and deceptive depth. Fowler's anticipated debut, Suspended Heart, is light and enjoyable, funny and intense, magical realism at its strangest, sexiest, and best.

The seventeen-story collection begins life with Suspended Heart:
The suspended heart became an oracle of sorts. Hung from a string, immersed in the kind of glass container in which tulips grow, it was located between Bath and Body Works and Kleinfelter's Jewelers at the north entrance of the mall. Someone had lost it.
Instantly, we are in Fowler's world. Throughout the collection description will be meaningful, weird stuff will happen, sharing elements of myth and fairytale, but this is firmly America. The magical aspects of the stories don't exist in isolation. Locale and full character make the fabulist seem essential symptoms and products of our modern world. In The Time Broker, people approach a broker who can give people an extra hour. One woman wants it to sort out her grandfather's will. Another, wants one hour a week to claim as her own. Versatile work, subjects range from dark antique lamps and mysterious haunted lakes, to addictive TV channels. Fowler plays with psychic pigeons and crack smoking parrots. A recurring theme in the book is transformation, handled with sensitive variation.

In Bloom in any Season a woman's body blossoms and withers in a relationship. The writing is seductive, "on my thighs, magenta roses bloomed; gerber daisies covered my breasts", yet, isn't all roses. A shamed character must put on her shirt, go to work and hide. Magic's hard to accommodate in the Western world. In Fear of Snakes, a woman feigns commitment issues to disguise nightly transformation. In Godiva, a woman on the horse can alter her appearance to make her beauty appeal to different eras in history, but nakedness comes at a price. Transformation is no act of whimsy, it's never cute. The body here is urgent, powerful, and delicate. Hearts may be suspended, modern life may create people without time or means to deal with feelings, but the body takes care of things in astounding ways...

One of the strongest stories in the book, My Brother, Made of Clay is a heartbreaking story of unfulfilled potential. A sister narrates the story of her brother who slowly turns to clay as he slips into his teens and moral decline.
My brother was born with a patch of loam under his left nipple. When I was very young, I often asked to touch it, and Jimmy would pull up his favorite green polo and turn before me proudly like an older person with a tattoo…I suggested he plant a bean sprout in his loam, but he refused because once a mustard seed had embedded in his skin and been painful
Possibly my favourite, The Girl With the Razorblade Skin, is also an edgy story of a girl on the edge. She is not just what it says on the tin. Other characters, vividly drawn, are heartbreakingly part of what makes her. Metamorphis of the girl's body into metaphor grants her fleeting empowerment, but takes on a darker reality. She must address her life and self to adjust and make her body work with her.
Ginger began to ask herself questions like: What would a razorblade make love to? How would a razorblade have children? If Ginger wasn't destined for family life after college what would she do with her new and incredible state?"
Such fearlessness is reminiscent of Joyce Carol Oates, yet the work is surprising moving and full of humour. Cat/Bird Love-song explores the nature of love. Tender, sassy and wry, the story of a cat in love with a parrot is sadly inevitable, but the life of the bird's owner isn't. In the context of the greeting card industry, dark humour is used to explore repressed emotion, contrasting with how we express feelings. The boss, who harbors irrational phobia's of, "[b]irds. Paperclips. Maybe even unclean panties", addresses Megan about her greeting card for wives whose husbands are away on business.
On the cover the card says, "In a better world," and then the inner flap reads: "You'd be raising our children with me." Maybe it's blamey. Just a little? Ya think?...
Megan adjusts the card to:
"You'd be at home with me..." She did not add the rest of the sentence she conceived, which was "instead of with the two-bit Pennsylvania hooker you left me in the suburbs to fuck."
Fowler's writing isn't coy. Sex, the body and uneasy aspects of human nature, are handled with shameless finesse.

Cock-sculpting is a powerful story about an artist who makes a deal with the devil for people to see to her work, "her cocks were beautiful-designed to highlight each vein, each wrinkle, each curling strand of pubic hair. When moving them, she still remembered the names of the men." Brazen as its subject appears, however, Cock-sculpting is a rich, sad story about fame and the psyche of the artist. The female artist here is bold, but alone. She creates male members sympathetically, but they do not empower. They're an art that isn't easy to bare and share.

This won't be the case for Heather Fowler. Suspended Heart is an outstanding work by a uniquely gifted writer. It's a gift magical realism lovers will be too excited about not to share.


Read a story from this collection on Fictionaut

Angela Readman secretly loves short stories. She won Inkspill’s short story competition and has had work in Southword, Crannog, Fractured West, Pank, Metazen, Pygmy Giant and The Journal. Her poetry has been commended in The Arvon International Competition, placed in Mslexia and published by Salt.
Angela's other Short Reviews: Flannery O'Connor "Complete Stories"

Mary Hamilton "We Know What We Are"

Craig Cliff "A Man Melting"

Rachel Kendall "The Bride Stripped Bare"
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Heather Fowler received her MA in English and Creative Writing from Hollins University. Her fabulist fiction has been published online and in print in the U.S, England, Australia and India, as well as recently nominated for both the storySouth Million writers Award and Sundress Publications Best of the Net. She was guest editor for Zoetrope All-Story extra in 2000. Her story Slut won third prize at the 2000 California Writer’s Conference. Her second collection, People With Holes, will be published in 2012, and her third, This Time We're Awake, in 2013.

Read an interview with Heather Fowler