The poems in this collection by Gary Henry have an admirable range from wonder-filled lullabies to serenades of sporting events to ruminations on the vast mysteries of life itself. One of my favorites is the title piece "The Moon Poem" which depicts all the starry-eyed appreciation children feel for the cosmos while at the same time capturing the fear that can sometimes overwhelm them at being immersed in such a complex universe. But my all-time favorite is the extraordinary poem titled "The Crows." Exquisitely written, it marks the death toll at Gettysburg during the Civil War and the haunting aftermath depicted as a murder of crows, those "tattered souls" that take flight who "can't let go and can't move on." Are you shivering from the pathos yet? Henry's homage to the Civil War is delicate, heart-wrenching and perfectly balanced and will leave you sighing, "Yes, yes, this is the work a word master." ~Diane J. Reed
I was first awed by Gary Henry's writing talent through his wonderful book of short stories titled What Happened to Jory, where he proved himself a master of the genre. In his new novel American Goddesses, his unique craftsmanship is still evident in every line that is carefully wrought. And although his female protagonists loom larger than life (think DIVAS with surprising super powers), what I love most about Henry's work is the way he brings universal themes down to earth with the intimate details and nuances of people's lives that make each character palpable. Even though Megan possesses other-worldly powers, for example, she is still a wife, a friend, a lover--with her own set of quirky insecurities that make her fully human. What Henry is, at his core, is a careful observer of the foibles and contradictions of mankind, and though he at times revels in the wild and absurd, he always brings the reader home to the flesh and blood experience of real personalities who are as interesting squabbling over breakfast as they are trying to save the free world. Sometimes this irony is lost on the less discerning reader, but it's precisely this aspect that makes reading American Goddesses so much fun! I am eagerly anticipating his next book. ~Diane J. Reed
Oh my god--THIS IS WHY I LOVE LITERATURE!! Gary Henry's literary craftsmanship is stunning in this collection. As I was reading his widely divergent stories, ranging from the modern-day "advice column" of a bloodthirsty 15th-century Wallachian ruler to the creepy & supernatural experience of two backwoods moonshiners from the Ozarks, I was truly struck by his near virtuoso command of dialogue, characterization, atmoshphere, backstory, and pace (Hemingway, eat your heart out). Never before have I seen a writer cast his net so broadly across culture, time, and place and yet so perfectly inhabit his characters' souls and points of view along with the idiosyncracies of their dialect. I'm almost tempted to accuse the author of compiling stories stolen from other writers--how could one individual have written all of these? But after reading the entire collection, the common thread that proved to me that they all come from the same pen was this: Empathy.
Gary Henry loves these people.
This is not the tired and well-worn rut of a cynical, modern literary poser who only exists to show off his chops. What ties these stories together is
the tenderness with which the author treats each character's hopes and dreams and fears--as though he feels their emotions right along with them and regards their vulnerability as something precious--something that is perhaps the crux of being human. And to shine a light on that glimmer of humanity, Henry often delves into the fantastical realm of magical realism (imagine a Pushcart Prize winning short story meeting The Twilight Zone). By bringing his characters up against surreal circumstances, Henry forces us to see the inner workings of their minds and hearts in a manner that is as enlightening as it is oddly realistic. Yet despite his facile ability to navigate the very strange and supernatural (such as the brilliant story "Roth's Machine" that echoes the spiritual insight of Mary Shelley), one of my favorite stories in this collection is a piece of pure, gritty realism titled "The Good, The Bad, And The Hairy" that is reminiscent of Fight Club in its crushing brutality juxtaposed with courage. Yet nothing prepared me for reading Henry's extraordinary story of the frontier, "The Woman Who Sewed Wolves." This story is so perfectly crafted and heart-wrenching that as I was reading it I felt as though someone had combined the very best of Jack London's realism with Alice Hoffman's haunting magical prose that probes the depths of life's mysteries. "The Woman Who Sewed Wolves" ranks up there with some of the greatest short stories I have ever read--a genuine masterpiece.
But regardless of a reader's favorite genre, what you will come away with after spending time with Henry's stories is a new respect for what is the most fragile yet perhaps the most enduring quality in us all: our capacity for empathy and hope. Gary Henry is most definitely a writer to watch.