From Our Staff | October 30, 2006

Earlier this year I was contacted by first-time novelist Robert Eggleton, asking if I would review his forthcoming e-book.  If people knew how many requests of this kind editors get, they would understand that out of self-preservation we sometimes… well, I ignored the request.

Robert tried again.  There was something in the tone of his e-mail: this mattered to him.  So I said yes, I’d take a look, though I didn’t think we could review Rarity From the Hollow.  This is all fogged somewhat in memory:  in the months since then our magazine moved its office, I was hospitalized for a cat bite (yes, they’re dangerous), we’ve published two issues, read hundreds of manuscripts, I went to Africa, etc., etc.  But as I recall, Robert sent me the first chapter, which begins with two impoverished schoolgirls (from the Hollow of the title) studying together and spelling the word for a sex toy.  It was quirky, profane, disturbing.  I said I’d look at the book, not entirely sure what I could do to help. 

He sent me the whole thing by e-mail.  I read portions of the book, which is subtitled “A Lacy Dawn Adventure,” after the girl protagonist, Lacy Dawn. I liked Lacy Dawn, who lives in a world of poverty, classmates with precocious sexual knowledge and/or experience, unemployed men, worn-down women, and cruelty so casual that it’s more knee-jerk than intentional. Maybe I was just too bothered by the content, but at a certain point I knew I couldn’t do anything.  My time was nonexistent. 

So I deleted the book from my desktop.

Robert contacted me again, and I got soft.  You see, there was something about the whole project in general.  Robert is a social worker who has spent at least a portion of his career working with child-abuse victims in Appalachia.  The book was partly about that, and mostly very strange. In the Hollow, Lacy takes up with an android named DotCom, from “out of state,” which really means off of this planet.  Under DotCom’s wing, she decides that she will “save” her family.  Little does she know she will end up saving the universe. The subject was not exactly run-of-the-mill. And Robert was donating the proceeds from sales of the e-book to help child-abuse victims. 

Robert is not a kid; he’s maybe my age, maybe older.  What was at stake wasn’t youthful ambition, vanity or reputation.  This was about some kind of personal calling.  I believe in those.  I also believe in people who are driven to get their writing out there to an audience, through whatever venue.  The e-book idea intrigued me.  The earnestness of the appeal got to me.  Send the book again, I said.  He did.  It’s still on my hard drive. (I suppose I should delete it, since I haven’t paid for it.)

Robert kept after me.  If I liked it, could I write a blurb?  Yeah, of course.  I was fund-raising for my African trip (a Habitat for Humanity build), teaching, editing, raising three kids.  But who is not busy and overwhelmed?  We set our own priorities.  I put Robert, and his book, lower than some other things, which really wasn’t fair because I had said I would do something, and I didn’t.

And it has bothered me.  Here’s another thing people don’t know about editors.  They sometimes have consciences about books/stories/poems/whatever that they’ve allowed to slip through the cracks, to get lost or neglected in the shuffle of what amounts to thousands of pages. 

So I’m belatedly giving Rarity From the Hollow a plug.  Among its strengths are an ultra-convincing depiction of the lives, especially the inner lives, of the Appalachian characters.  The grim details of their existence are delivered with such flat understatement that at times they almost become comic.  And just when you think enough is enough, this world is too plain ugly, Lacy Dawn’s father (who is being “fixed” with DotCom’s help) gets a job and Lacy Dawn, her mother and her dog take off for a trip to the mall “out of state” with Lacy Dawn’s android friend, now her “fiancé” (though as Lacy Dawn’s mother points out, he doesn’t have any private parts, not even “a bump.”)  In the space of a few lines we go from gritty realism to pure sci-fi/fantasy.  It’s quite a trip.

Rarity is published by FatCat Press, which has other e-books for sale as well.  You can find it here. The blurb on the website says, in part:

Lacy Dawn is a true daughter of Appalachia, and then some. She lives in a hollow with her mom, her Vietnam Vet dad, and her mutt Brownie, a dog who’s very skilled at laying fiber-optic cable. Lacy Dawn’s android boyfriend, DotCom, has come to the hollow with a mission. His equipment includes infomercial videos of Earth’s earliest proto-humans from millennia ago. DotCom has been sent by the Manager of the Mall on planet Shptiludrp: he must recruit Lacy Dawn to save Earth, and they must get a boatload of shopping done at the mall along the way. Saving Earth is important, but shopping – well, priorities are priorities.

Yes, priorities are.  I should have had mine in order.  Robert Eggleton’s book deserves your attention.  Check it out.