The Interior Life

By Katherine Blake (Dorothy J. Heydt)

The Interior Life is a rather strange book, in many respects. It tells the story of a supposedly ordinary American housewife, a none-too-bright stay-at-home mom who married her high-school sweetheart. She has three children, a front and a back lawn, and, when the story starts, a very dirty house.

  • Author: Katherine Blake (Dorothy J. Heydt)
  • Title: Interior Life
  • Pages: 313
  • Published: 1990
  • Publisher: Baen
  • ISBN: 0-671-72010-4

Although I somehow doubt it is much more of a chaos than our own house. Anyway, it’s the very first morning that all three kids are at school — even the youngest has been enrolled. And when Sue with a kind of hopeless fatality starts doing the kitchen, again, she gets encouragement and visions from people in a fantasy world.

It appears that her own struggle in this world to attain order, efficiency, cleanliness and status is mirrored by the efforts of her counterparts in the fantasy world to combat chaos. Sounds both cherché and cliché when I write it down like this, doesn’t it?

Well, it isn’t, funny enough. Part of the attraction is the warm writing, full of human touches. Another attraction is the — presumably — accurate description of life in the American suburbs. Somehow, this milieu is much more alien, much more fantasy to me than the fantasy land from Sue’s interior life. Imagine someone who has a kitchen big enough to put an actual table in! And who still thinks that that’s too small… At first, Sue seems a bit silly, and her husband a stupid git, but they soon turn into people one cares for, as do Sue’s children, the baby-sitter, the boy from the record shop. And the villain is a truly horrible person, and very well drawn.

The people in the fantasy land, by contrast, really do seem nothing but reflections from Sue’s own mind; they never come to life, always giving a one-dimensional, card-board impression.

Fortunately, it’s quite easy to skip the fantasy-land bits, mostly, because the book is printed in about four fonts — not all of them easily distinguishable, though. This book was published by Baen, who promptly forgot to do anything about selling it, with the result that it’s really rare nowadays. Our copy is already disintegrating. Another result is that has become quite hard for Dorothy Heydt to publish her more recent novels. After “Point of Honor”, she completed another novel that I’ve had the privilege of reading in manuscript — but which still hasn’t found a publisher. The Interior Life got some good reviews, though, notably in the British edition of Dragon and by Jo Walton.

And that’s a pity, because Dorothy Heydt writes with a touch that’s as light as Connie Willis’, and her books often give the impression that there’s more substance underneath than Willis gives us. Oh, and on many pages there are eminently quotable snippets. But the cover is idiotic — it isn’t a princess clad in snow-white silk who rides through the lands of chaos, but a rather tough lady sensibly clothed. The book is quite explicit.