Short Story Club: “Oh He Is”

We start the discussion of this week’s story with Lois Tilton’s comments:

Strangely unsettling tale of enchantment and jealousy. The tone is sufficiently surreal that it doesn’t seem too strange to see the enchanted children kept in storefronts, that they seem to have no parents, that there seem to be no other adults in the town but Walter, Fleur and Nina. But it’s not quite enough to keep me from wondering why the piper abandoned the children in the first place, which leads to a whole lot of wondering about other matters. Are there other flocks of children on the hilltops outside other towns?

Commenters on the story liked it:

R.J. Isle Burroughs said: Brilliant. Haunting. Beautifully told.

Liz Catalano said: Mesmerizing. I was impressed with how the tone of the story mimicked the theme… drawing you on and in (although not, I have to say, against my will!!). Well done, Karen.

Martin didn’t care for it:

When, at the conclusion of the story, the piper is strangled, “his face flew from scorn to pity to lust.” Even in a fable I find this an unlikely series of facial emotions for someone being murdered. His murderer then “built a cottage next to him and planted herbs and spices at the head and foot of his coffin, starting with lavender, thyme, anise, lemon and rue.” Leaving aside the fact lemon is not a herb (lemon balm is), Heuler is again relying not on the precision of her prose but on an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach.

‘Oh He Is’ is one of those stories which requires its world to be unpopulated. The three characters who live in the town appear to be the only residents and they are allowed to play out their little drama in isolation. This betrays a lack of interest in the world Heuler has created; how it fits together, how it came to be, how it might really smell. Into this void she simply throws anything she thinks might stick.

Neither did Maureen:

The ending, with Piers’ body incarcerated in a glass-lidded coffin, reminds one of Snow White, and the cottage built next to the coffin, heads off into fairytale realms, but to what purpose? And that is the problem I have with this story. What is its purpose? I don’t want to be grimly utilitarian about the uses of fiction, but I see no developing argument in this story at all. There are nice images, images that don’t work, there are fragments of story that sometimes vaguely link up, but I do not believe this is a postmodern fairytale so much as someone striving for effect, it not being entirely clear what that effect is. Of all of the stories so far, this is, I think, the one I like least, because it tries so hard and delivers so comparatively little.

And green_knight in the comments there:

This is a writer who fails at the very basic level of _writing coherent sentences_. And she’s overfond of ‘there was.’ Considering how often we writers are told that there’s a fierce competition for very few publishing slots out there, I’m kind of completely baffled at the thought that this made anyone want to acquire it. Reading her biography, I see that she’s doing reasonably well, which puzzles me, because for me there are fundamental things missing from this story; it fails in ways that I cannot get past.

See also Heuler’s own comments on her story in this interview.