cover image Voodoo Heart

Voodoo Heart

Scott Snyder, . . Dial Press, $24 (278pp) ISBN 978-0-385-33841-7


Reviewed by Francine Prose

Reading Scott Snyder's accomplished first story collection, Voodoo Heart , is a little like watching a magician pull rabbits out of a hat. No matter how many times you've seen the trick performed, you still marvel that someone has figured out not only how to do it but, more important, how to persuade the audience that no one has ever done it exactly that way before. Snyder's particular sleight of hand enables him to make the unlikely seem disturbingly familiar; he bends and stretches the laws of ordinary causality just enough so that, when his narratives snap back, there's a twang that reverberates after the final line. His protagonists are young romantics worried about the conflict between authenticity and adventurousness, torn between a self-protective longing for solitude and a longing for some deeper loyalty to another human being. What they mistake for life-changing passion may turn out to be simple—and terrible—misunderstanding, and a chance encounter may initiate a chain of events that will alter them forever. Many reside just outside odd or intentional communities (a boot camp for troubled teens, a summer haven for overweight kids) in which they take an almost anthropological interest. Others are in transit or in flight, reluctant to confront that what looked like a whimsical job opportunity or a brief vacation from ordinary life may in fact be a permanent dead end.

In the title story, a young couple renovates an abandoned Florida mansion that borders on a women's prison—a proximity that intensifies the hero's most secret and desperate concerns about his true nature. In another tale, an equally conflicted young man meets a celebrity convalescing from drastic plastic surgery and becomes involved in a meteoric affair that flames out as her recovery changes his sense of what it means to be injured. In "Dumpster Tuesday," a guy who seems to have everything (or just enough) loses it all when his girlfriend leaves him for a brain-damaged, improbably charismatic country singer, and in "About Face," a trumpet player working at a juvenile detention center learns a painful lesson about illness, compassion and the mysteries of sex.

Suffused with sly humor, sympathy and high spirits, the stories in Voodoo Heart are giddy with the thrill of discovering what can be done with words, what you can make happen on the page. The result is as irreducible and rewarding as making playing cards disappear or pulling gold coins out of thin air.

Francine Prose's most recent book is Caravaggio: Painter of Miracles. Her new book, Reading like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and Those Who Want to Write Them will be published in the fall.