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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Book Review: Hart's Grove by Dennis McFadden

Hart’s Grove, by Dennis McFadden, Colgate University Press, Hamilton, New York, 2010. Review by Debrah Lechner. Fiction collection.

Every generation or so there’s a murder in Hart’s Grove above and beyond the usual run-of-the-mill, heat-of-the-moment killing, a murder with a certain cachet.

Hart’s Grove is a typical small town in America, populated with distinct characters – from those coping with old age to adolescents suffering through high school – who are also quite familiar. They flow through the locales of Hart’s Grove as generations pass. They grow up, grow old, hope, despair, bond with each other and break each other. They die. Sometimes they die in a way that has a certain cachet. It’s a remarkably full portrait of an entire community told in a series of snapshots in the form of short stories.

Each story easily stands on it’s own as a rich experience, but as the picture of Hart’s Grove itself emerges, mysteries deepen, and some are solved.

As murders and disappearances occur, are sensationalized, are both forgotten and remembered, life in Hart’s Grove goes on. In the story “Glitter and Grace,” neighbors war over the Christmas display of excessive lights, music, and animated characters one of them puts up annually. Put off by the hoopla and the carloads of gawkers that turn around in his driveway each year, a neighbor snaps and erects (as it were) an enormous penis made of snow in his front yard. What small town doesn’t have a story like this? In this case, God intervenes in the form of a warm front that melts the sculpture into the miraculous form of Jesus. Either that, or the miraculous form of Minnie Pearl.

“It was a freak of nature,” Grace said, “a cosmic accident. A happy coincidence.”
“Ain’t that what a miracle is?”
“Goddamn it, Bunny, I don’t know what Jesus looks like!”

But at the heart of this collection of short stories is the theme of consequences accruing over time. The first story, “A Penny a Paper,” is narrated by a child, and amid the innocence of his story the seeds of suspense and discomfort about Hart’s Grove are sown. In the next story, “The Other Sister,” after two little sisters disappear, the older sister develops a secret emotional instability that contributes in drawing her into a sexual relationship with her teacher. The teacher appears to narrowly escape what might have been a one-time mistake, but that’s an illusion, and it’s not until late in the book, in “Bad Actors,” that the reader learns to what extent this particular evil has developed. In “Painting Pigs,” the deeply flawed grandfather of another dead child grieves in his own chaotic but genuine way. In “Bye Baby Bunting,” the father of the same child grieves in his more repressed way. He is haunted by his daughter’s cat, who still lives, but is a persistent apparition nonetheless.

Hart’s Grove is a very satisfying collection of stories, complex and absorbing.

Dennis McFadden’s work has appeared in many publications, including Issue #25 of HFR. You can read part of his contribution in the archives at Also, check out this interview McFadden did with The Missouri Review. Purchase a copy of Hart’s Grove online from Colgate University Press.


Anonymous said...

Dennis McFadden is a sharp needle, having stitched together a series of every day, every year, small town experiences, into a delightful tale and tales of people, kinda like you and I.

John Fricker, classmate and boyhood friend of Denny McFadden

Anonymous said...

Can't wait to read it and see if my hahmtahn is in the pages as well as ahn the cover.