I met Kate Folk at breakfast, at the MacDowell Colony. Over pancakes and bacon and cooked-to-order eggs laid by hens purring outside, our plates garnished with nasturtiums and paper-thin slices of lime, we witted and revved as the sun streamed through wall-to-wall windows and newcomer Kate, who had just agreed to attend a yoga class in town with another artist, flatly asked how anyone could handle walking to their studio through the woods at night.
Now that I’ve read her fiction I understand. Many of us have overactive imaginations, but Kate’s goes crooked and dark more rapidly than most. In her stories and novel-in-progress, bad, gross things happen, and her narrators report those bad, gross things with a pleasant Midwestern, yes, flatness. The opening of “A Scale Model of Gull Point,” for example, starts “I am the last survivor of the Gull Point Needle, an observation tower that looms fifty-six stories above the ruined city of Gull Point,” and ends “You’ll find our corpses piled in the walk-in fridge.” Short-short “Tahoe” hits its volta while the boys smoke with a stranger who happens by their bachelor party: “We took turns putting our lips on the little snake mouth. We asked the man if the rumors were true about the mafia dumping bodies in the lake…the man said he didn’t really know because he’d lied to us about living down the road.”
Folk’s facility with suspense and defamiliarization lend themselves to the fabular, and the stories mentioned above ride that line, using the unusual, if not impossible, to make their points about human awfulness. “The Head in the Floor” embraces the strange more completely. It doesn’t give us a shocking angle on something that could happen, but instead, explores how one might react if, say, a human head started emerging from the apartment floor. It’s this interest in reaction, in how one interprets the metaphors life relentlessly presents, that makes “The Head in the Floor” so emotionally invested in its observations about its narrator’s inner life, and how to navigate a world of half-baked dudes in the age of new-phone-who-dis.