Heuler’s stories dart out at what the world is doing and centre on how the individual copes with it. Anything is possible: people breed dogs with humans to create a servant class; beneath one great city lies another city, running it surreptitiously. An employee finds that her hair has been stolen by someone intent on getting her job; strange fish fall from trees and birds talk too much; a boy tries to figure out what he can get when the Rapture leaves good stuff behind. Everything is familiar; everything is different. Behind it all, is there some strange kind of design or merely just the chance to adapt? In Heuler’s
stories, characters cope with the strange without thinking it’s strange, sometimes invested in what’s going on, sometimes trapped by it, but always finding their own way in.
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If you wanted something badly enough, would you sell your soul to get it?
"You’ll live a long time, if that matters, and I don’t see why it should, I think we’re talking about quality, aren’t we? Amazing about these long lifelines. They go to conservative, dried-up people, as a rule. Sometimes to crazies. Unfortunately, lifelines have nothing to do with lines of the mind or the heart. You can live to be a hundred and have your mind stop dead at ten. Not lovely. Your mind is all right, but your heart line stops right here—see it? Like a car crash. Only one survivor, not two.”
In Karen Heuler’s The Made-Up Man Alyson Salky is feeling trapped by her gender. She lost her boyfriend, and perhaps worse, her dog, to her “best friend” and was passed over for a promotion at work by a sniveling manipulative man who doesn’t have an original thought in his head. Someone must be blamed! Someone must pay! These thoughts lead her to a seedy storefront where she encounters Madame Hope, a fortuneteller with strange abilities. Alyson ultimately makes a pact with this woman for a single wish: to change her gender. All Madame Hope asks for in return is her soul.
And soon enough Al becomes Bob, intent on getting ahead in life—and getting even. But how do reversals work out? And can you really expect to get what you want when you’re dealing with a rather bored devil with a sense of irony? Inevitably, nothing goes exactly as planned, and in the process Bob/Al has to learn about what matters in life, and how to negotiate with a devil who has her own reasons for making a deal.
In this fascinating and utterly distinctive novel, Heuler creates an evocative dilemma, which poses interesting and challenging questions regarding gender, society, and personal responsibility.
5.0 out of 5 stars Be Careful What You Wish For - A Most Delightful Fantasy on Gender Relations
Karen Heuler should be viewed as an American literary treasure; she is among our finest prose stylists writing in the English language in any genre. With "The Made-Up Man" she has written a novel worthy of recognition with the best from the likes of Octavia Butler, Ursula Le Guin, Joanna Russ and James Tiptree, Jr.; in other words with some of the finest woman writers in American speculative fiction since the advent of the Anglo-American New Wave literary movement in speculative fiction during the 1960s. With "The Made-Up Man", Heuler has written a most compelling, often witty - and even, in places, humorous - dark fantasy on a woman's desire to be transformed physically as a man by striking a most Faustian bargain with the Devil, who has taken the human form of a cantankerous gypsy fortuneteller, the aptly named Madame Hope. Heuler's novel is a poetically elegant, yet terse, fictional exploration of what it truly means to be a man or a woman, subtly probing the emotional and psychological minefields which all too often separate the sexes. "The Made-Up Man" is a daringly provocative and intelligent novel, which should challenge a reader's assumptions regarding the nature of the sexes even if the novel is set largely within the urban landscape of the borough of Manhattan in New York City. "The Made-Up Man" is definitely a great novel worthy of as wide a readership as possible, and a great novel that needs to be read now.--John Kwok, Amazon
"The Inner City" is a collection of tasty mind-candy, offering inventive stories that stretch your imagination. -- Kirkus Reviews
(Starred Review) Heuler presents an engrossing collection of 15 tales of the ways individuals and society influence one another. ... Though the universally strong stories have no explicit connection, they blend to suggest a world that is at once recognizable and distorted, providing a new, clear perspective on the forces shaping contemporary Western culture. —Publishers weekly, Dec. 24, 2012
Whether you choose to classify The Inner City as science fiction, fantasy, horror, or literature, the book is just plain magic. -- Chadwick Ginther, The Winnipeg Review