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It’s cookies for dinner tonight. Have you ever tried to make kiefles without flour and cream cheese? Basically what you end up with is abandoned tofu and a handful of lonely jam. I’m trying to perfect a few gluten free recipes for my nephew. He’s heading back for a sixth round of chemo and doctors advised him to cut gluten and dairy from his pizza burger-loving diet, which is hard enough to do when your body’s not pumped full of poison.  Between batches I’m begging my current WIP to finish itself, go ahead without me, I’ll just stay here and read awhile.

My reading choices are on thin ice these past few days. I have this irrational need for every book I pick up to be more than great, to cut through my grumpiness and maybe even make NY’s health insurance site function. Is that too much to ask of a novel?

With extremely high expectations is probably not the best way to approach a new-to-me author, but that’s exactly what I did with Susan Hill. I loved The Woman in Black movie, based on her book by the same title, so when the cover for The Small Hand and Dolly caught my eye it felt like destiny flaunting its flair for the mundane. “I’m coming, destiny!

The Small Hand and Dolly by Susan Hill

The Small Hand and Dolly by Susan Hill

Bargain hunters, this is a two-for-one deal. That’s one creepy cover and two very short novels written by an author who’s had a long, ghostly career.

The Small Hand

Adam Snow is an antiquarian book dealer working exclusively a the top end of the market, which sounds like a dream job. Naturally he travels a lot. It’s during a late night trip home to London that he loses his way. He comes across an enormous, delapidated white house with a ticket booth. What could he do but get out of the car and explore? He’s all alone out there when a small hand slips into his.

The feel of this hand stays with him, draws him back to the physical memory, haunts him across Europe and back. But why? I loved the simple concept at first, but then the story kept going. This would have made a superb 20 page short story. The 100+ pages felt more like 1000. It’s easy to see that Hill is a skilled author. My dislike for this story is due to personal taste. The acute details about every object went beyond building a Gothic atmosphere; here the sum came across as dry and uppercrusty.

Here’s a line I loved:

She seemed to belong with those dried and faded flowers people used to press between pages, or with a bowl of old potpourri that exudes a faint, sweet, ghostly scent when it is disturbed.

Dolly

Who doesn’t love the odd story about an ugly little doll coming back to haunt those who violently rejected her? Edward is a frail young boy invited to spend the summer at his childless aunt’s home with his entitled cousin Leonora. He wants dearly to make his vain cousin happy and her wish seems pretty obtainable. All she wants in the world is a very specific Indian princess doll that seems to exist only in her mind. When things don’t go as intended, the girl mindlessly curses herself and those around her.

‘Dolly’ was less scary and more like an odd Twilight Zone-style tale built around an idea that unravels by the end. This is faster and tighter than ‘The Small Hand’. While I found this one more engaging, I can’t say I enjoyed either of them. I like that Hill doesn’t explain the strange happenings that ensue, they simply happen and the characters have to find a way to live with it. At the same time, the characters’ passive acceptance killed the tension and my own investment in what happens to them.

This story kind of reminded me of ‘Fritz’, an excellent Satyajit Ray story also about a buried doll. I’ll have to go dig up that collection (I think it’s called ‘Stranger Stories’) AFTER sampling some sweets.

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