Hair Hat

by Carrie Snyder
ISBN: 0143015370

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A Review of: Hair Hat
by Steven W. Beattie

Carrie Snyder's dbut collection, Hair Hat, also flirts with mystery, but of a less existential variety. Snyder's volume of eleven stories is linked by the presence of a mysterious figure whose hair is sculpted into the shape of a hat. This nameless figure keeps cropping up-on a beach, in a donut shop, returning a lost wallet-but remains a peripheral figure, as though inhabiting the blurred edges of a photograph. Until, that is, the penultimate story in the collection, when the hair hat man is brought front and centre.
Before becoming the focus of attention, he wanders aimlessly into and out of the lives of a seemingly disparate group of characters: a young girl consumed with guilt over her complicity in the drowning death of her best friend; a mother taking her two children on a day trip to the beach; a female graduate student who flirts openly at a bar in the presence of her boyfriend.
The connections between the characters are occasionally self-evident: the young girl with the drowned friend in the opening story, "Yellow Cherries", reappears in "Comfort", which tells the same story from the point of view of the girl's Aunt Lucy. When the hair hat man shows up at Lucy's farm, he recognizes her as his daughter's best friend in school; the two girls appear together in the collection's final story, "Chosen".
But there are less readily apparent connections running throughout Hair Hat. Absence dominates these stories: The characters in Snyder's collection are all, in one way or another, missing something. The young girl in "Yellow Cherries" is haunted by the absence of her dead friend. The mother in "Tumbleweed" suspects her husband of being unfaithful, but engages in a program of avoidance and denial-indeed, the husband himself remains absent throughout, never physically appearing in the story. The daughter in "The Apartment" loses her wallet, and in "Third Dog", the titular canine, symbolic of a kind of malevolent destiny, hovers over the entire story, but never actually appears in it. The central absence in the collection, of course, afflicts the hair hat man himself-it is no accident that the story in which he finally appears in the foreground is titled "Missing". The way these characters deal with loss-both physical and spiritual-provides the thread that weaves these stories together, lending them a subtle thematic cohesion.
Hair Hat is not, however, simply a collection of short fiction thematically unified by a concern with absence and loss or an examination of the specific responses and repercussions these states have on a particular group of characters. The book is avowedly a collection of linked stories, and it is the very device that links the stories-the presence of the hair hat man-that ultimately sinks the collection.
Unlike Alice Munro's Who Do You Think You Are?, Margaret Laurence's A Bird in the House, Michael Winter's One Last Good Look-linked story collections which are actually variations on the traditional Bildungsroman-Snyder's stories are yoked together through the presence of the hair hat man in a way that is highly artificial and intrusive.
Snyder's preferred mode of storytelling is mimetic naturalism of the "kitchen sink" variety. But the eccentrically coiffed interloper who keeps reappearing seems for most of the book's duration like a cartoonish figure; he feels out of place and is distracting for the reader. Even when we are finally allowed in on the hair hat man's story, his essential ludicrousness is inescapable. The sense of longing and loss that his story insists on is overwhelmed by the reader's curiosity about how he sleeps or what kind of styling mousse he uses.
It is clear that the author intends the hair hat man's unorthodox appearance to act as a catalyst of sorts for the other characters in the book, a means of dragging them out of the very ordinariness of their lives, and forcing their situations into sharper relief. Here is Lucy's reaction to the hair hat man in "Comfort": "His presence, his hair hat, were uncalled for, an accident, a misfortune, a blemish on an otherwise clean, calculated day that should have held nothing but the ordinary reminders and warnings." But even this feels forced and heavy handed, and is insufficient to make the character seem like anything other than an artificial authorial imposition linking together stories that would have been better left discrete.

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