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HUG CHICKENPENNY: The Panegyric of an Anomalous Child

By S. Craig Zahler

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HUG CHICKENPENNY is a quirky little story whose heart is in the right place, though it sometimes gets in its own way.

Hug Chickenpenny’s life doesn’t have an easy start. Found by his mother’s best friend Abigail Westinghouse, after his mother died giving birth to him, he is quickly left at an orphanage-  but his body is abnormally shaped and his screams are horrifying, so his only friend is the gentle, loving orphanage caretaker, George Dodgett. A teratologist (specialist in deformed and anomalous specimens) adopts him as a study specimen, beginning a life of bouncing back and forth between safe havens and cruel abuse. Can he maintain his loving, generous heart throughout, and is there room in this world for an anomalous boy?

HUG CHICKENPENNY is a rather eccentric biography with a good heart at its core, and a protagonist who is heartrendingly kind despite having every reason to be otherwise, and whose traumatic and abusive childhood leaves him physically but not morally weak. The wry humor of the book and its fantastical oddities add color to the book’s message, and offer intriguing possibilities that keep the book interesting. However, the author’s somewhat stilted language and careful focus on sometimes irrelevant details can bog down the book a bit – sentences like “Inside the living room, he hopped onto the upholstered chair that was next to the wall telephone, hung the receiver upon his nubbin, inserted one of his four fingers into the 9 of the rotary dial, drew a clockwise circle, and repeated this latter-most action twice with the number 1” venture on the ponderous, even pretentious.

The characters are rather stilted as well, each given a few personality traits that are regularly referred to, and sometimes a nickname – “the anomalous boy,” “the portly phrenologist,” “the lank mycologist”, “the scrappy youth” – but not much inner depth or character growth. People and events pop in and out of Hug’s life rather suddenly, and he adapts with a quiet resignation that almost makes you want him to punch someone instead. These stylistic choices, taken together, have the effect of distancing the reader emotionally from the tale, which may be deliberate – it does foster a certain philosophical perspective – but detracts from the full force of the story, especially its final resolution.

HUG CHICKENPENNY is a quirky little story whose heart is in the right place, though it sometimes gets in its own way.

~Catherine Langrehr for IndieReader

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