Review – ‘Scratched Enamel Heart’ by Amanda Huggins

I received a digital copy of this book from the author.

This stunning collection of short fiction from accomplished writer Amanda Huggins charts a journey of love, loss and yearning. Through locations around the world, from Japan to India to the wild moors of Britain, what remains the same is the delicate balance between belonging and freedom.

From the very beginning there is a sweet wistfulness about these stories. The desire for comfort, to know one’s place in the world, is tangible:
He imagined being there at night, laying flat on his back at the top of the world, limbs stretched wide as though he were a stranded starfish, gazing up at the real stars in the endless velvet sky.
The images in these stories are rich and layered and Amanda Huggins does a sublime job of creating entire backstories with tiny perfect details, cutting straight to the heart of the action without ever leaving the reader lost. 

There is a strong emotional undercurrent in this collection and each tale pulls the reader in, finding what it is that motivates each character and giving a strongly coloured rendering of their spectrum of feeling.
Grief snatched her breath away, held her down with steel fists, before slowly re-settling at the heart of her. It was a dense sediment waiting to be shaken up by a child’s laughter, or the smell of roses.

What makes Huggins’ writing so appealing is that her settings and characters, and the turmoils they face, are realistic and believable. We might know someone who found themselves in a particular situation. We might have been, or be now, in the same places. The contemporary settings and realism of the plots allows the reader to focus on the depth of feeling captured here. There is a palpable sense of longing as people wrestle with how what they desire might also be a lodestone around their neck. Opportunity cost weighs heavily on minds. Amanda’s characters ask again and again: is the price of belonging worth the cost of freedom? And how do we make those impossible choices, and live with the consequences? The notion is captured so perfectly in this single image:
Yet the lights which entice me are the porch lamps that shine outside the houses high up the hillside. They’re the quiet lights that beckon me towards another unknown life, and yet they’re also the ones that make me feel so utterly alone.

Huggins enters and departs each story at the right moment, often leaving the reader in a moment of quiet contemplation. Ends may not always be neatly tied but her trust in the reader to do this for themselves, and the ease with which it can be done, is a testament to the quality of Amanda’s writing. 

Amanda Huggins has created a masterclass in short fiction with Scratched Enamel Heart. Whether the story is one page or ten, every one is an exemplar of the craft. Readers will be left thinking about choice and freedom, love and grief, sacrifice and self-preservation; and the book stands up exceptionally well to repeated reading. Huggins is definitely an author to watch.

Scratched Enamel Heart releases May 27th from Retreat West Books.

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