In the Valley of the Kings

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Overview

"One of the finest American writers alive . . . he is Melville + Poe + Borges but with a heart far more capacious."?Junot D?az
Praised for his "beautifully crafted and strangely surreal" (Peter Matthiessen) stories, Terrence Holt had been operating under the literary radar for more than fifteen years, placing award-winning stories in such noted journals as Zoetrope, Kenyon Review, and TriQuarterly. With the release of this debut collection, Holt's work takes its "rightful place besides those works of ...

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In the Valley of the Kings: Stories

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Overview

"One of the finest American writers alive . . . he is Melville + Poe + Borges but with a heart far more capacious."—Junot Díaz
Praised for his "beautifully crafted and strangely surreal" (Peter Matthiessen) stories, Terrence Holt had been operating under the literary radar for more than fifteen years, placing award-winning stories in such noted journals as Zoetrope, Kenyon Review, and TriQuarterly. With the release of this debut collection, Holt's work takes its "rightful place besides those works of genius—fiction, philosophy, theology—unafraid of axing into our iced hearts" (William Giraldi, New York Times Book Review). Whether chronicling a plague that ravages a New England town or the anguish of a son who keeps his father's beating heart in a jar, Holt's stories oscillate between the rational and the surreal, the future and the past, masterfully weaving together reality and myth. Like Poe or Hawthorne, "Holt is a gifted wordsmith, his sentences carefully shaped and often beautiful, and he spins these ancient, irresolvable dilemmas in an elegiac poetry" (Los Angeles Times).

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Editorial Reviews

Hannah Tinti
“In the Valley of the Kings does what all great story collections should: it challenges the mind while opening the spirit. Each of these short pieces sets a haunting scenario outside the ordinary realm—men traveling in space, or excavating the tombs of ancient Egyptian kings, or living through an apocalypse. The characters are all faced with mysteries to solve, but it is Terrence Holt’s careful exploration of the loneliness and obsession these men harbor that elevates this book, in all its uniqueness and beauty. Long after a reader finishes these stories, they will be puzzling and thinking and dreaming of the worlds Terrence Holt has created.”
Publishers Weekly
In this haunting collection, Holt's lush language pulls literary treasures out of dark places, bringing readers ice from the rings of Saturn “where seeing and vanishing are one,” a cartouche from deep within an ancient tomb and the late-night conversations of a married couple awaiting the end of the world. Magical realism tinges the grim “My Father's Heart,” about a man who keeps his father's heart in a jar on his mantelpiece, and “Scylla,” in which a captain returns from sea to find his home altered by an inexplicable force. An ominous future is the backdrop of “Eurydike,” in which an amnesiac wakes up in a place full of empty beds and incomprehensible clocks. “Aurora” follows the heartbreaking thoughts of a spaceship doomed to harvest ice. A tantalizing puzzle takes root in one story (its title is Greek) as a lonely survivor investigates the cause of a disease that marks its victims with a single word repeated over and over beneath the skin. This collection, with its allusions to mythology and tragic conundrums, demands intelligence and rewards the reader with Borgesian riches. (Sept.)
Library Journal
In his debut collection, practicing physician Holt takes on the big cosmological questions in stunning fashion, recalling writers like Conrad, Hawthorne, and Melville in the scope of his interests and the grandeur of his style. His characters, like the astronaut in "Charybdis" (an O. Henry award winner from 1982, first published in the Kenyon Review) and the archaeologist in the title novella, stand on the precipice of the unknown, whether the moons of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn, or the contents of an Egyptian tomb. Not surprisingly, "Charybdis" has its counterpart in a story called "Scylla," in which a ship's captain and crew are faced with an amorphous danger called "the Law" that keeps them from venturing out again once they've come back to port. Here, Odysseus meets Bartleby the Scrivener, and domesticity brings its own rewards. VERDICT This collection represents a life's work of stories that are not well known outside of the readership of literary journals. That's about to change, and it's a good thing.—Sue Russell, Bryn Mawr, PA
Kirkus Reviews
Arthur C. Clarke meets Edgar Allan Poe and Franz Kafka in these dark, dense stories. Holt is a crafter of words as well as a believer in the magical potency of The Word, for many of his stories have as their theme the power of a single word. In "? ????s," for example, a five-year-old girl is brought to an emergency room with bruises on her hands, cheeks, forehead and arms, bruises that form a mysterious word she utters just before she dies. The physical transference of this word (also in bruises) to others forms first an epidemic and then a plague. In "My Father's Heart," the nameless narrator literally keeps his father's heart in a glass jar, but by allegorical extension this artifact becomes an image of his love, guilt and pain. The chilling "Charybdis" introduces us to a mission to Jupiter gone awry. Two of the three astronauts on board go insane and leave the ship, with predictably fatal results, while the third, the narrator, has harrowing conversations with mission control that make it clear he is also struggling with issues of psychological autonomy. The title piece is more of a novella than a short story. Here a scholar of Egyptian antiquities has participated in uncovering the tomb of Nur-Mar, but he has also contracted a fatal disease borne by an unknown pathogen. His quest is to discover the meaning of a cryptic papyrus he has stolen from the tomb, a papyrus that he hopes will lead him to a mysterious "‘word of hidden meaning.'" The "dangerous madness" he attributes to the silence of Nur-Mar's dynasty mirrors his own obsession and paranoia. Stories for those who wish to enter enigmatic and uncomfortable spaces.
The New York Times Book Review
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....These stories will endue for as long as our hurt kind remains to require the truth.— William Giraldi
Gerald Stern
“Terrence Holt's prose is deeply original, evocative, transforming. I have never seen anything quite like it before. Though what I'm praising is not words, nor is it narrative, but something that is a compound of language, story, feeling, and knowledge—and something else. Something beyond his learning as a physician, at once meta-physical and physical, mysterious and terrifying, but not indulgent. Even undecipherable. He is amazing.”
Aleksandar Hemon
“In the Valley of the Kings is a work of terrific intelligence and terrifying imagination.”
Junot Diaz
“Holt is my favorite writer. Primarily because he's awesome but also (and no less important) because he is sui generis.”
Michael Gorra
“Like the tales of Poe and Hawthorne, these stories are claustral, eerie and entirely exhilarating.”
Peter Matthiesen
“Rare wonderful stories, beautifully crafted and strangely surreal without being merely cerebral—a very fine first book.”
William Giraldi - The New York Times Book Review
“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....These stories will endue for as long as our hurt kind remains to require the truth.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393339086
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/6/2010
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 223
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Terrence Holt is a writer and an internist specializing in geriatric medicine, teaching and practicing at the
University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

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Table of Contents

'O [Lamba]o[gamma]o[zeta] 11

My Father's Heart 27

Charybdis 33

Aurora 59

In the Valley of the Kings 115

Scylla 193

Apocalypse 203

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