By: R. Garth
Reviewed by: Veronica Kennedy
Elk River Review Press, 2007
R. Garth’s novella is part stream-of-conscious, part horror tale—and somewhat confusing. The story jumps from past to present, from third person to second, much like the shaky-handheld camera effect of The Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield.
Garth apparently uses his real-life return home to Athens, Alabama, as the frame for the story of Sarah, a four-year-old kidnapped by a sexual predator and eventually "purchased" by a bitter couple for $60. (How she got from Kentucky to Athens is not revealed.) Sarah is abused— physically, emotionally, and sexually—and, when she is fourteen, she murders her adoptive parents after her mother throws the teen’s newborn (the result of incest) down a well.
Sarah becomes the Hatchet Woman because of her chosen weapon. She uses the hatchet with equal vigor whether defending herself, hunting for food, or taking a pleasurable break from her miserable life. Along the way, she becomes part-monster, part-Earth Mother, equally at one with Nature.
Garth builds up the tension, then drops it like the flame that begins the physical disfigurement process of his story’s title character. Subsequently, his attempt to weave the past and present falters at times.
Garth’s writing isn’t bad; in fact, he turns a few good phrases: "Revenge was sweet as Vegemite on buttered bread." Here he describes hook-handed Gerald Hardy as he views a deadly assault on one of his wife’s many lovers.
This thin paperback offers two stories, the title tale and "The Hook Man" (about the previously mentioned Gerald Hardy). Garth promises readers more to come, and perhaps the future installments will provide more insight.
Veronica Kennedy is a copy editor at The Birmingham News. She also teaches writing and literature at UAB.