The minute details of life are memorably rendered in surreal and sometimes grotesque ways.
Many of the stories in this collection are set in a formerly familiar corner of the world that’s been turned on its head. “It was my idea to rent the girl,” writes the narrator of “House Heart,” and the story that follows takes familiar elements and pushes them toward an eerie, transgressive place. A couple living in a space that was once "the preparation wing of a garment factory" rents a young woman for a game called House Heart, in which the threat of violence looms and the industrial remains of the residence become hiding spaces. This is Gray’s fourth book (and third story collection), and it features the widest stylistic range of any of her books to date. Its predecessor, the novel Threats (2012), blended surreal imagery with questions of crime, violence and perception. Here, Gray combines those aspects of Threats with the concise and sometimes-absurdist tendencies that characterized her earlier collections. The irreverent “Go for It and Raise Hell” is metafiction walking into a bar for an unheard-of bender, while “Year of the Snake” begins as a riff on folk tales and shifts gears into something stranger, laced with body horror. There’s also a grim, bittersweet comedy that comes to the forefront in stories such as “Device,” in which a scientist creates a device that predicts the future; after two decidedly specific predictions, the inventor asks it what his future spouse will be like. “ ‘Skin, hair.’ The device buzzed lightly. ‘Fingernails.’ ” The response is both comic, with the machine eventually enveloped in a fit of pastoral reverie, and emotionally harrowing.
The best of Gray’s stories find that balance between devastation and humor and navigate an uneasy territory with agility; in this book, there are many that reach that mark.