SHORT FICTION REVIEW: Ordinary Folk by Kat Heckenbach

Ordinary Folk by Kat Heckenbach

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The like the idea of a woman struggling to figure out why she has rage issues and a sense of smell for meat that is so advanced that it scares her, but her character was not likable enough, the plot was not surprising enough, the description failed to evoke a sensual connection to the experience, and the climax wasn’t extreme enough for this action/horror story. Also, the overall message of being “ordinary folk” did not really move me or make me feel like reading the story was worth the time.

The story begins with Janey having a tiff with her husband, and unfortunately disinterested me right off the bat with her as a character. It sounds like her husband is trying to help her and she just wants to be left alone to figure it out herself. “Not ‘we,'” she said. “Me.” I just didn’t like her, and wouldn’t have kept reading if I didn’t know the author and want to give this story a shot. I didn’t care until 43% in when she cries about Mr. Stidolph’s story, but that’s too long to read before caring.

So then she goes on an investigation to her hometown to figure out what really happened to her parents and why she has these extra human abilities. The way she doesn’t talk to her husband for three days (btw, it wasn’t clear for a while that they were married, which confused me about how much allegiance she should have to making their relationship work).

In short, it’s obvious she’s a werewolf, so taking as long as it does (35% in) for her to realize this was an anti-climatic revelation. I questioned whether some scenes revealed any new information (what we learned from the librarian wasn’t significant enough to really change her reaction, it seems). Did the biker scene make any difference? I couldn’t tell if he helped or ratted them out, and I wasn’t sure if it mattered. It felt like action for its own sake, but didn’t change anything. I already knew she was in danger from the coverups. I guess the stakes rose, but people had already been killed for this secret, so not much changed there. The whole investigation aspect to this story failed to entertain, and wraps up with her finding the bad guy rather easily, or at least without the reader having the pleasure of fitting the pieces together.

The climax of Janey’s character arc, and the big battle involved, ended too easily. That’s all I’ll say so I don’t spoil anything. In short, I was disappointed.

The description told instead of showed in ways that left me separated from what Janey was really feeling.


He gripped her forearm with strength beyond that of someone a quarter his age. Janey felt her eyes widen, but she didn’t move. Electric heat burned her skin and the familiar bubbling of rage triggered her entire body to tense.
But the rage wasn’t directed at Mr. Stidolph, and she didn’t struggle.
Morbid curiosity locked her eyes to the claws that pressed her skin. The rage ripped at her from the inside, and it took all her effort to rein it back. But she felt no fear.
Why doesn’t this scare me?

“strength beyond that of someone a quarter his age” tells me her interpretation of the strength instead of telling me how his grip feels.

The use of words like “rage,” “anger” “morbid curiosity” did not resonate in a first-hand type of experience. What does she feel? What does it feel like for rage to rip at her from the inside? Instead of telling me “she didn’t move” and “she felt no fear” I want to know what she actually did and what she actually felt. Small details, but examples of a style consistent throughout.

Another example:

Janey studied the cars in the parking lot as thoughts rolled around in her mind, mixed with a stew of emotions. Minutes passed, as each emotion took its turn boiling to the surface…

What thoughts? What emotions?

The use of “as” was also noticeable, and often confused the cause and effect order that would help me feel something before I read what happened after.

The dialog tags slowed the story down and drew attention to itself. Stuff like, “Mr. Stidolph clicked his tongue and gave a slight nod” is rampant. I get that this sentence is not bad in and of itself, but the frequency of these small interruptions became annoying very quickly.

Here were my notes for the final message. (view spoiler)[
Will their children be werewolves? Shouldn’t she tell him? What is the point of the ordinary folk title and theme? Ordinary is not true, they are werewolves. She’s lying to her husband, covering the truth just like the people she hated. (hide spoiler)]

If I may add, I’ve read other stuff by Kat that I enjoyed, and know that her novel, Finding Angel (Toch Island Chronicles, Book 1), was a Compton Crook Award Finalist, (no small matter). I believe in her and will by no means let my thoughts on this story hinder me from reading more of her stuff.

View all my reviews

About Timothy C. Ward

Timothy C. Ward is a former executive producer and Hugo Nominee of Adventures in SciFi Publishing. He has been broke and lost on the other side of the world and now dreams of greater adventures from his keyboard in Des Moines, Iowa. This summer, he released his second Sand Divers book, Scavenger: A.I., where two parents use an ancient technology to fight a reproducing A.I. while trying to resurrect their deceased infant, and a new series that begins with Godsknife: Revolt, an apocalyptic battle for godhood in the rift between Iowa and the Abyss. Sign up for his newsletter for news, sales, giveaways and more:

2 Responses to SHORT FICTION REVIEW: Ordinary Folk by Kat Heckenbach

  1. Well, Tim, can’t say I’m not a little disappointed that you didn’t dig the story completely, but I do appreciate your honesty. And thank you so much for the shout-out for Finding Angel. It’s a whole different genre, of course, and a much longer work–a totally different beast, so to speak :).

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