REVIEW (January 2019)


‘Nineten strange and intriguing stories, brilliantly written’

The Clockworm and Other Strange Stories by Karen Heuler


WHAT more can you ask for? Nineteen strange and intriguing stories, brilliantly written by an experienced writer whose work focuses on the perception of reality.

Karen Heuler is an award-winning writer and has published over one hundred stories in various literary magazines and anthologies, Clockworm being her second collection of short stories. In addition, she has published four novels.

Although she was born in New York, her stories are not place or time bound as are some other writers of short story collections where every story is set in the same environment and which become tedious.


Practically every story in this collection is a page turner yet written in a literary style so that you can enjoy the plot, as well as the language, as in the first story ‘Here and There’ where the protagonist Nola:

                ‘… moved indoors and built wispy arches around her mother’s bed. Listening to the rhythm of her mother’s breath, intent on building a bridge that would cause her mother to stay. She never succeeded.’

There was, however, a satisfying end to Nola’s story, so often missing in modern short stories that can leave you confused.

Many of Heuler’s stories have an intrinsic message, yet not one that preaches.

David Attenborough would enjoy the story ‘Egg Island’ where a woman is taken to an island, Sister Island, built entirely from plastic waste. There, they wait for another small island to reach them, and they are privileged to watch turtles climb on to that little island to lay their eggs. Only people with plastic parts to their bodies were allowed to be there, one with a plastic arm or leg, another with a plastic heart. Heuler showing that plastic can be good if used for the right reasons, as one of the characters, Wes says:

               ‘…how much damage we’ve done with plastic; how much we’ve destroyed. And how plastic   might turn around and save us, in return.’

And again, Heuler’s language is beautiful:

               ‘A few oil slicks picked up muted rainbow colours and the merest movement of the waves broke them up into a sophisticated painting … on Sister Island, they joined hands and rejoiced at the beauty of the world.’

Heuler often interweaves the strange with current affairs, good wins over bad, occasionally makes feminist statements as in the story ‘Alien Corn’:

               ‘There was a woman in uniform, but she stood last in line.’

Yet, in the first story, of Nola, intent on building bridges her whole life, there is a throw away sentence where Nola was raped, and the rape kit had been lost, and no more was made of this what should have been, a major incident in her life.

There are a couple of amusing writer related stories. ‘Give me Strength’ is about the writer’s scourge:

               ‘…some of the really bad ones lose their endings. They just stop somewhere in a book or story and that’s it.’

Or in a clever and amusing story ‘Figaro, Figueroa’, which is a conversation between the writer and her character, Jack, and her jealousy as he falls for the heroine, the ending is worth waiting for.


A couple of the more scientific stories toward the end of the collection I found a bit boring, and I was also disappointed that the last story ‘A Thing of Beauty and Light’ was the last story as it was one of the weakest in the collection and left me wanting more of her better stories of which there were many. For example, you could not fail to be drawn into the pathos of the protagonist in ‘Searching for Penny’ coming to terms with her mother’s stroke and approaching dementia, or the twin that lived inside her twin in ‘The Reordering of Tonia Vivian’ or become engrossed in the mirror stories, one in which people in the mirror foretold gruesome futures, the other with a door into an unknown world.


Heuler could give us a Masterclass in beginnings, they immediately draw you in, but as in the story of the writer mentioned above, who stops too soon in a story, Heuler cannot be accused of that, which to my mind is a heinous crime. I may be old-fashioned, but I like satisfying endings, and Heuler certainly delivers on those.

The Clockworm and Other Strange Stories by Karen Heuler is published by Tartuus Press. The hardback edition of 252 pages has been printed in a limited edition of 300 copies, price £35. The collection is also available as an Ebook, price £4.99. Click here for Tartarus Press

Reviewer Wendy Holborow is the author of stories that have been published in numerous journals. Her awards include the Philip Good Memorial, Aber Valley and Allen Rayne prizes. She recently completed a Master’s degree in Creative Writing at Swansea University, Wales. She has written six poetry collections and is currently working on a collection of stories.