When I think of Terrence Holt’s one and only book, In the Valley of the Kings*, I think of someone abandoned at the bottom of a long well, echoing cries into a void. I mean that as a compliment.
In the Valley of the Kings is a short story collection fraught with enigma and elements of absurdist fiction (i.e., the inevitability of death towers over characters’ actions and renders them meaningless). Some of his stories retain a mystery throughout that requires the reader to rely on self-interpretation. For example, my favorite story, Aurora, involves a reincarnation of a former human’s soul, but the logistics are left to the reader’s imagination. I envision the soul as a semi-conscious satellite cruelly manipulated by earthling scientists. Who knows what Holt meant (but does that really matter?)?
Junot Díaz praises the work, saying, “There is no one in the wide sea of English who writes like Holt.” He’s correct. I don’t have the language to communicate how Holt uses language. His stories emphasize the power of voice; intonation is important and the manner in which speech is conveyed has a special, inherent power. Silence has its own unique weight. The process of naming things has a Genesis-feel in which letters and sounds wield prophetic meaning.
Common themes you can find in this bad boy: falling, forgetting/misremembering/re-remembering, darkness, attempts at describing an indescribable despair, chaos.
I like books that are experimental; they might not be perfect, but they’re different and thought-provoking. Holt brings that in spades. He’s really out there, and I’m into it. Like any collection, some stories are AMAZING, some are fine, and some are not that great. While I think that Holt has some preternatural talent, I understand that his work is not for everyone. Overall, In the Valley of the Kings receives 4 out of 5 camel humps.
*Holt, Terrence. In the Valley of the Kings. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2010. Print.