He’s got the blurbs, but now here’s a review of Terrance Holt’s collection “In the Valley of the Kings.”

American short fiction in particular — from Poe and Hawthorne to the present — unfurls at midnight: a dark affair emphasizing our want of health in a civilization gone sick. Terrence Holt’s first story collection, “In the Valley of the Kings,” now joins the brigade. Holt works as a physician at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, and he understands the nexus between disease and dejection, between corporeal damage and spiritual ruin. He understands that storytelling rises from that ruin.

God’s absence is nowhere stated but everywhere felt in Holt’s terrifying fiction. His stories seem an amalgam of Lovecraft and Poe, Barthelme and Beckett, unsatisfied with mining human relationships for quotidian truths or with a mere reworking of E.R. melodrama. Most of the dates and locales are indefinite or unfamiliar: Everytime, Everyplace. Dialogue is scarce and the plotlines often enigmatic or apocalyptic. Settings include a spacecraft to Jupiter — “Jupiter speaks syllables, sibilants, subsides” — and a ring of Saturn, a plague-ravaged land and a New England fishing community visited by a cryptic force nobody can describe. Holt’s people are beyond help, and medicine has only an ancillary role in this forsaken world: science can devise no potion for malaise, for hubris, for the disintegration of God. One of his unnamed narrators — they are all unnamed; to have a name is to have a place — puts it plainly: “Science is a consolation only to the ignorant.”

The answer to the question above would be, “so good.”

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