By Joyce Carol Oates
The 16 short stories in SOURLAND manage to fascinate and repel at the same time. Coleen Marlo masterfully tackles the works' challenges, painting vivid portraits of loss, gothic extremes, and violence with the range these diverse tales require. She employs subtle shifts of emphasis while maintaining clear storytelling personas. Individual characters come to life as Oates weaves magical situations with clever analogies, sensual observations, sexual tumult, and her signature depictions of perversions and gory details. Marlo imbues even the many secondary characters with strong variations. We hear in her voice awed and baffled children, sad adults, frightened and resigned victims, harsh criminals, and all of their innocence, despair, tension, and anger. Her vocal urgency, tempered often by tragic whimsy, scales the heights of mounting violence, then descends into the depths of sorrow. A.W. © AudioFile 2011, Portland, Maine [Published: MARCH 2011]
"In these 16 stories, Coleen Marlo gives voice to Joyce Carol Oates’ gothic cast of abandoned women caught in limbo and fighting to break through. The tone is set from the first few sentences of the very first tale, “Pumpkin-Head”, where a recently widowed woman muses, “There is not one person to whom you matter now. This is the crossing over.” Marlo delivers these words in a voice dripping with self-accusation — a sense of guilt and personal responsibility at being left behind pervades Sourland, and sexual violence and degradation at the hands of others is welcomed by the victims as a deserved punishment.
There is also an arbitrary cut-off point for several of the stories, as if Oates loses interest in developing a story as soon as we become interested in her slowly unfolding characters. But this is remedied by the depth and shade given to each characterisation by Marlo’s performance, and her wistful voice can be as comforting as a hushed lullaby or as cutting as a thorn bush. The peripheral characters are also made into vivid cameos, and she is adept at the male rage that buffers the women. In “Honor Code”, listen as she spits out “Don’t you turn your back on me!” and feel the tension intensify by several degrees. She also clearly differentiates between narrative voice and character dialog — the tension between the two aspects of her performance tell their own story and add another level of drama to these urgent gothic parables that leaves the listener reeling." —Dafydd Phillips