Audiobook Review: The World Ends in Hickory Hollow by Ardath Mayhar

3 08 2012

The World Ends in Hickory Hollow by Ardath Mayhar

Read by Dennis Holland

Audible, Inc.

Length: 6 Hrs 4 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic

Quick Thoughts: The World Ends in Hickory Hollow is a simple, straight forward tale of survival that stands out from other classics of the genre by its strong female characters. For me, it is the quintessential example of a Cosy Catastrophe, where the residents of Hickory Hollow, despite some conflict, find a new rewarding way to live in the ashes of the modern world. Sadly, any effectiveness of the novel is obliterated by the unforgivable decision to cast a male narrator for a tale told from a first person female perspective. Shame on you Audible!

Grade: C  (B for the Book, F for Casting the wrong narrator.)

I recently read an article on the Cosy Catastrophe subgenre of Post Apocalyptic fiction. Cosy Catastrophes have always been hard to define for me. The term was created by legendary science fiction author Brian Aldiss as a sort of criticism of the works of John Wyndham. He decried that most of Wyndham’s major works were about people "having a pretty good time… while the rest of the world is dying off." I definitely feel this was an unfair criticism of Wyndham’s work, and quite limiting for a definition of this subgenre. Jane Rogers, novelist and author of the article I read, agreed. She expanded her definition of Cosy Catastrophes to be fiction set in a "recognizably realistic world, familiar and therefore cosy" that then suffers a catastrophe. I also had issues with this definition. First off, where Aldiss’ definition was too limiting, Rogers is way too broad. Under her definition, almost any Post Apocalyptic novel set in modern times would fall under this definition. Yet, and this is my most important point of contention, it defines the genre based on external factors, how the reader views the world, as opposed to internal factors, how the characters of the novel view the world. In Roger’s definition, as the novel ages, and is no longer set in a recognizable world to the reader, it would no longer fit in the subgenre. So, I have thought long and hard about my definition of cosy catastrophes, and I think I came up with one. For me, a Cosy Catastrophe is a Post Apocalyptic novel where the characters feel by the end that they are better off in the world they now inhabit then the world that was destroyed. It doesn’t mean that their path was easy, or that they don’t morn the multitude of deaths and destruction, just that the world left behind, and the simpler unencumbered life is inherently better. Under the definition I posit, the subject of today’s review, The World End in Hickory Hollow by Ardath Mayhar, fits nicely.

When the bombs begin to fall, in The United States and Asia, the Hardeman family didn’t even notice. Years earlier, they left the hustle and bustle of big city Houston, to live a simpler life on the outskirts of Hickory Hollow, TX. Yet, their weekly trip into town revealed it to be nearly abandoned. Already used to a life without the luxuries of the modern world, Lucinda Hardeman prepares her family and the few remaining resident of Hickory Hollow for what needs to be done to survive the transition. Yet, the Ungers, a group of hard women who where outcasts before the bombs, begin to cause trouble for the survivors, and the town must join together to protect what is theirs. The World Ends in Hickory Hollow is a simple tale of survival and adjustment in rural Post Apocalyptic America. Hickory Hollow reflects many classic tale, like Malevil, Earth Abides and Alas, Babylon, yet where it stands out is in its strong female lead. Mayhar has a straight forward story telling style, as simple as the people she is writing about. The tale is told from the perspective of Lucinda Hardeman, who has a quiet confidence, and an affecting manner. Unlike the typical male leads of Apocalyptic tale, there is no swagger or demagoguery, just strong will and competence. The Ungers are a disturbing group of antagonists. This group of women who survived pre-Apocalypse by government assistance and prostitution, have almost gone feral, and must prey on the townsfolk to survive. The contrast between Lucinda and the Ungers are striking. Hickory Hollow is full of anti-establishment messages, yet it comes off as a character traits, and not Mayhar pushing some sort of agenda. Yet, Hickory Hollow also suffers a bit from an imbalance of descriptive depth. She describes in loving detail each task that the survivors need to perform to survive, but when it comes to the action, the depth falls off, giving it an almost glossed over feel. The World Ends in Hickory Hollow is a simple, straight forward tale of survival that stands out from other classics of the genre by its strong female characters. For me, it is the quintessential example of a Cosy Catastrophe, where the residents of Hickory Hollow, despite some conflict, find a new rewarding way to live in the ashes of the modern world.

I am really, really upset with Audible for what they did with this audiobook. There really isn’t any excuse for it. For a company who is the leading distributor of audiobooks, and one of the major producers of audiobooks, a mistake in casting this bad should never be made. The book is told from the perspective of a woman, with the many strong female characters, and the main antagonist are also female, yet, the narrator is a male. Not just a male, but a male with a pretty deep baritone voice. I can not tell you how many times in this 6 hour production that I had to remind myself that the narrative voice should be female. The funny thing is, when the book originally started, I thought that perhaps the Hardeman’s were a homosexual couple, until I found out that our perspective character’s name was Lucinda. Now, Dennis Holland isn’t a bad narrator. He did a great job giving the book a Texas feel, but it was a male Texas feel. Having a male narrator was simply asinine. There are so many great female narrators that could have taken on this role, Xe Sands, Cassandra Campbell, Khristine Hvam… Hell, Tai Sammons would have been brilliant here. It angers me to no end how simply wrong and lazy this casting was. It would have been like casting Tom Arnold to star in Pretty Women, or to have Carrot Top star in a Malcolm X biopic, or cast Tom Cruise to play Jack Reacher… oh, wait… So, yes. WRONG. I just wonder if anyone at Audible actually read the novel. Harrumph…

This review is part of my weekly Welcome to the Apocalypse series.

Also, Presenting Lenore is again hosting a celebration of Dystopian Fiction on her blog.



4 responses

3 08 2012

I think the Aldiss’s key point is that the cosy’s main themes tend to be positive. There may be hardship, but the plucky band of survivors are going to build a better, almost always simpler future world. The death of 90% of the world’s population is usually gone over early in these stories to set the table, and then forgotten about so that the adventure can begin.

One reason I might not call Hickory Hollow a traditional cosy is that it already starts pretty cosy. They are fairly close to allready being prepared for the event. Obviously they go and round up some more supplies, but this is balanced by there need to help a number of people.

The novel illustrates well that widely seperated homesteads are not particularly defensible which was a very common “discovery” for a variety of waves of settlement by English, and than later American homesteaders during the expansion west. The “forting up” -every one temporarily leaving there current abode to collect at a stronger location until danger passed, was also a pretty common tactic.

3 08 2012

I have issues with that if that was Aldiss’ true intent. The term was created to apply to the work of Wyndham, and I just can’t see how that definition applies. In Triffids and Kraken Wakes, the cause of the die off was not instantaneous. The blinding was one aspect but the Triffids continues as a threat. The solution to dealing with the problem was to concede ground, surrender the main land and live on a small island. Sure, for the most part the survivors are plucky, I guess, but I have trouble placing the label positive on the experience of any of Wyndham’s apocalyptic work, I struggle to think of very many Post Apocalyptic tales that fit under Aldiss’ definition. I’m not saying that wasn’t his intent, I’m just saying at it’s core it fails as a literary critique, in my opinion. Take Greybeard, Aldiss own Apocalyptic work.The cause, infertility, isn’t any more or less messy than Wyndham’s works, even if the overall tone is a bit more somber.

And, I won’t say that Hickory Hollow is a traditional Cosy, just that it fits well underr my perfered definition. I think it fits well under many definitions, but of course, that;s just my opinion.

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