Over-exposed

Jonathan Adams covers up under the blankets with a flashlight to read Mike Heffernan’s Exposed!

No one could have been more tickled, piqued, or (let’s be frank) aroused than myself upon learning there was a new writer in town claiming to lead the parade of a new school of fiction certain to shake up the literary scene: Newfoundland Horror! This is probably the wrong perception to have of Mike Heffernan, however, and one he might never have intended – which is just as well, because he also doesn’t entirely live up to it.

Here is the good news about Heffernan.

He has edited an anthology of World War II horror fiction called A Dark and Deadly Valley which was released in December and appears to be selling very well in horror circles.

He has already edited another anthology for the same publisher that will appear in October.

If that weren’t enough, he has also started up his own local publishing house, Hard Ticket Press, which is currently soliciting original works for an anthology of Atlantic Canadian fiction. (Heffernan seems to be trying to distance this volume from his other books, however, and has asked writers to refrain from submitting genre pieces. For more info visit postcardsfromthewastelands.blogspot.com).

Finally, Heffernan has somehow found the time in the midst of all this to release his own fictional debut (as author), a collection of short stories called Exposed!

In other words, he does not seem to suffer from a deficient work ethic.

Here is the bad news. Exposed! is not nearly as interesting a book as you might have hoped. Much of the energy Heffernan has spent on it seems to have gone into acquiring rhapsodic blurbs and a fulsome introduction by John Everson which takes great pains to explain exactly what is so prophetic, perceptive, and groundbreakingly original about the stories you are about to read. When you’ve finished this introduction, John Everson also has a car to sell you.

Of the ten stories collected in Exposed!, none is altogether successful at what it sets out to do, whether that be simply to frighten or to convey some sort of muddled political message. This is not to say, however, that Heffernan has no talent whatsoever. In “Hard as Rock” he shows that he sometimes has a keen eye for detail as well as an ear for townie speech. (“Move, I has a go,” says one young man to another as they are out in the woods having rifle practice.) And it’s hard not to admire his courage in setting another story, “Home Is Where the Heart Is,” in New Orleans during the height of Katrina – although his New Orleanians also seem to have townie accents.

“Open 24/7” contains his most capably drawn protagonist, an insomniac working the night shift at a corner store who becomes convinced of the existence of another dimension back in the stock room. Heffernan also has the gift (if you want to call it that) of being truly repulsive when he feels like it, although this is compromised by a tendency to repeat certain tropes.

Heffernan’s greatest gift is his ability to undermine all his other gifts .

This is most apparent in his inability to write a satisfying ending to any of his stories. He usually resorts to a kind of wish-fulfillment dream sequence or revenge killing, usually enacted by a monster of some sort.

His writing style is conversational, but humourless – it is the conversation of that aggressive person at a party who won’t shut up about his rock climbing adventures and is far too impressed by the number of adjectives he is able to use.

Nevertheless, the worst that can be said for Heffernan is that he is not a precocious talent. (Few writers are.) He still has much to learn, but he has shown a willingness to work, so it’s not unreasonable to hope that by the time he comes to write his second book he will have matured enough to be embarrassed of his first.

Mike Heffernan’s Exposed! is published by Silverthought Press. Introduction by John Everson. Cover art by Darren Whalen.

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