Book Review: Florida Gothic Stories by Vicki Hendricks
Vicki Hendricks is the most romantic fiction writer in South Florida. I’d always suspected this from her first novel, Miami Purity, and her subsequent works of fiction, Iguana Love, Voluntary Madness, Sky Blues, and Cruel Poetry. But it wasn’t until I read Florida Gothic Stories that I confirmed this suspicion. Many of the stories in Florida Gothic Stories, as the title implies, contain elements of horror and romance with the usual cast of characters that we’ve come to expect in Gothic fiction and the “Penny Dreadfuls” of the Victorian era: bandits, femme fatales, the beauty and the beast. But Florida Gothic Stories is far from your grandmother’s Gothic fiction.
Instead of Gothic architecture, try the Florida landscape in “M-F Dog”: “The broiling Key West sun was setting as Bob and I strolled the dog down Duval Street, the heat slapping our faces between buildings when there were high walls or borders of bougainvilleas for shade. It was a climate ripe for jock itch” (131). Or instead of ruins: “My ass was tired of driving, and I welcomed the sight of the dented, mildewed trailers on the east side of Lake Okeechobee. Miles of trailer parks with single and doublewides stretched down the road on the side by the lake, a few of them tidy, landscaped Florida retirement villages, but discarded refrigerators, and broken down cars were the landmarks of my interest” (146).
And you won’t find any persecuted females in Florida Gothic Stories. In fact, Hendricks has collected an impressive assemblage of femme fatales. These women use sex like a weapon to manipulate men into committing murder and armed robbery or to lure them into position in which they become prey. But the women also want love or to be loved. It’s just that their need for money or comfort often thwarts their desire, and the men are often willing accomplices in their own undoing.
In fact, my only criticism of Florida Gothic Stories is that the men are frequently one dimensional—they want only one thing. (Okay, maybe we do only want one thing, but it stings when it is so superbly demonstrated in a work of fiction.)
Finally, Florida Gothic Stories is not for the prudish. In Hendrick’s version of “the beauty and the beast” like the one depicted in “Stormy, Mon Amour” there are scenes of interspecies intercourse that some may find disturbing. Yet, ironically, when juxtaposed with similar scenes of sex between humans, they are some of the most tender passages in the book.
These eleven stories are well crafted narratives by a gifted storyteller. Each delivers what the kind of “sexual stealing” we expect in Gothic fiction, which according to Wendy Walker, has its roots in Jamaica and was once known as “terrorist literature”:
Structurally, gothic narratives are organized around “sexual stealing.” “Sexual stealing” can take many forms, but it always involves the illegal appropriation of a highly libidinized object: a person’s liberty, sexual consent, virginity, life, a sacred object, or a work of art. The stealing is performed by the powerful and is unacknowledged as stealing, indeed proclaimed as legal or honorable: the victim rises up as daemon to avenge the outrage. This is the only narrative solution in a world where justice does not function to protect people.
In Florida Gothic Stories, Vicki Hendricks has added another remarkable collection to her growing body of fiction.
Vicki Hendricks is the author of noir novels Miami Purity, Iguana Love, Voluntary Madness, Sky Blues, and Cruel Poetry, the last nominated for an Edgar Award in 2008. Her short stories appear in collections including Mississippi Review, Best American Erotica 2000, and Miami Noir. Florida Gothic Stories, a collection of her short works, is due out in May, 2010, by Kitsune Books of Tallahassee. In progress is the novel Fur People, a love story about animal hoarding and insanity that takes place in the woods of central Florida. Hendricks lives in Hollywood, Florida, and teaches writing at Broward College. Her plots and settings reflect interests in adventure sports, such as skydiving and scuba, and knowledge of the Florida environment.