In her dark, violent, envelope-pushing debut story collection Heartbreaker, Maryse Meijer cuts through the mundane and the taboo with the sharpest of knives. She writes fearlessly about love and family, fear and violence, the fantastical and the Gothic. These 13 stories, written with conviction and urgency, offer a fresh take on every type of person: obese, unhinged, feral, cruel, deformed, and obsessed, all on paths of self-destruction.
In “Home,” an underage girl wades into dangerous territory with a stranger, flirting with the idea of a future she knows is impossible. Seductive and reckless, she speaks to the teenage spirit with sharp retorts and honest observations. “You have to go home,” the stranger says. “Why?” she whispers. “I don’t want to.”
Burning conventions about love to the ground, “The Fire” takes us cross-country with a man named John after he starts a forest fire and falls in love with ‘her.’ In beautiful and tactile prose, Meijer unfolds the entire arc of a relationship, from the first spark to the ashes of what once was. Parched and broken, John is unwilling to move on and let go. “The hills were fireless as far as the eye could see,” John reflects. “I was dry inside, so dry I could burn.”
“Pain is not the point, though it tags along,” Robert says in “Stilleto,” speaking to his masochistic tendencies and one of the collection’s main themes. Each story is crafted with precision and care, tinged with melancholy and bleeding desperation. Here, Robert struggles with his height and his self-confidence, lathing on to whatever helps him feel more powerful. It is truly heartbreaking to watch him wrestle for a place in his family, to be accepted in a society that is so superficial.
In “Fugue,” a female gas station attendant faces intimidation factors from a group of boys. By embracing and exaggerating their perverted ideas, even encouraging them, she gains the upper hand and comes out unscathed, at least physically. “Do you know how many times there isn’t anyone?” she asks the boys, referencing her past and her loneliness. “Once, I counted… [No one] stopped, even though I was screaming as loud as I could.”
A few stories are downright opaque, such as “The Cheat,” where Amber shares desserts with a fox in opposition to Fat Camp rules, or “Love, Lucy,” where a furry child fights the love and compassion of her adoptive father in order to unleash her animal instincts. Amber’s romantic feelings for the fox are troubling, but we’re all familiar with the desire for forbidden love. “We would eat,” she says, “and then we talked a little, and then we’d go quiet, and then, when I thought it might not happen, that it would never happen again, his tail would start to swish across my thighs.”
Lucy, too, has a passion, but hers is for violence. “I lifted the knife. He leaned way back to look at me… and in the darks of his pupils I saw that I, too, had become dark.” Lucy welcomes this darkness. Like Meijer’s other stories, Lucy’s is so strange, you can’t help but keep coming back to it in your mind, puzzling over why these bizarre people are so recognizable and human.
In stories about shoplifting, arson, and fetish websites, Meijer’s prose is at once unrestricted in scope and uncomplicated in its ease. With honest and brittle characters, Heartbreaker is a unique and powerful look at the broken and the still-fighting. When hidden demons come to light, you may be surprised to find they look a lot like you.
FICTION – LITERARY, SHORT STORIES
Heartbreaker by Maryse Meijer
Published July 12, 2016