A review of Open Throat by Henry Hoke

Reviewed by Dr. Nicholas Havey

Open Throat
by Henry Hoke
June 2023, 151 pages, ISBN-13:

When I first moved to Los Angeles I met a friend in Griffith Park for a run. I brought a small water bottle; he brought pepper spray. ‘There’s a puma in the park,’ he said, as if the other dangers of the sprawling metropolis did not already warrant the deterrent. That puma, P22, or one just like him, is the narrator of Henry Hoke’s fifth book, Open Throat.

Living in the vast but not endless expanse below the Hollywood sign, Hoke’s unnamed narrator is nameless because his name is not made of ‘noises a person can make.’ Driven from his home by his violent father, Hoke’s protagonist embodies the millennial duality of being a thirty-year-old marketing executive who is also just a teenage girl who cannot be expected to know how health insurance works.

On the other side of the ‘long death’ (the road bisecting his territory), our protagonist lives closer to humans than the other wildlife and defines himself by his proximity to humans instead of in opposition to them. Across Hoke’s tightly plotted book, our protagonist eavesdrops on hikers and he mishears them discussing ‘a scare city mindset’, plays voyeur to a couple’s tryst which only makes him reflect on his own loneliness, and finds a sense of community, albeit one-sided, with unhoused people living nearby. His brushes with humanity imprint his own personhood on the reader, and Hoke’s witty prose digs its claws into readers through simultaneous poignance and joviality.

In a fit of wisdom, the protagonist quips ‘If you feel alone in the world, find someone to worship you.’ He takes his own advice in the form of a wealthy teenage girl who keeps him in a secluded room in her house. Her father is having a new baby with a wife barely older than her and she decides to make a baby for herself in the form of a 180 lb puma. That, naturally, does not go exactly as planned. But Hoke makes the absurd plausible. And he does it beautifully. At times Dracula, Thelma & Louise, and Nightcrawler, Open Throat is a captivating exploration of queer longing and kinship that is simultaneously an ode to the wild and to the humanity that, particularly in Los Angeles, can be so quickly glossed over in favor of the superficial. Hoke doesn’t dare to look away from what’s challenging and that is exactly what makes Open Throat a success.

About the reviewer: Dr Nicholas Havey is Director of Institutional Research at the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, a thriller and mystery writer, and a lover of all fiction. His work has appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books, Lambda Literary, and a number of peer-reviewed journals.