A volume of short fiction offers thought-provoking tales of technology and morality.
In the Control Room that oversees the course of human history, a new shift arrives, hoping to direct people by means of science and the scientific method. Unfortunately, things don’t go exactly as planned. A businessman driving to meet his family at the seashore gets caught in some fog and stops at a diner. He soon discovers that the restaurant exists in a different dimension and that there is a lot more on its menu than just food. A man and his vacationing family visit a bowling alley, where he overhears a young mother being berated by her boyfriend. The man wishes he could help the mother by buying her a lottery ticket—but once he wins, will he actually give it to her? From the mist-filled, post-death void where you are likely to meet the man who murdered you (or the one you killed) to a calendar app on your phone that tells you the day you will die, Center (God Is an Elephant in Orthopedic Shoes, 2017) explores hiccups in reality that highlight humans’ self-destructive tendencies as well as the universe’s ironic sense of justice. The concluding story, “DreamLife Inc.,” succinctly captures the author’s interests and sense of humor: The entrepreneur who created a life-extending corporation is confronted by a pair of angels nicknamed Penn and Teller. Center’s prose succeeds in building tension via unease, as here in “The Shadowman”: “Danny experienced all this, and yet he did not—because he knew at some level that he was asleep in his bed. He knew that this was just a horrible nightmare, but in another, somehow equally real way, he knew this struggle was real.” But while the author attempts to evoke The Twilight Zone, his twist endings rarely work. They sometimes veer into the ridiculous, in fact, as when a man who seeks to have a woman fined for being rude to him is revealed, confusingly, to be O.J. Simpson. Center’s self-congratulatory intros to the tales will add to the audience’s sense that these pieces just aren’t as smart as they want to be.
A spooky but uneven story collection.