A quietly bizarre collection of short fiction.
Cornejo’s (Different Coins in the Fountain, Volume I, 2013, etc.) second volume of short stories is peopled with ordinary people living in extraordinary circumstances. Using a direct, matter-of-fact style that belies his frequently strange subject matter, the author chronicles a variety of curiosities, including a marriage driven apart by the smell of fried chicken; a prodigiously intelligent (and inexplicably multilingual) baby; and a fierce—and fiercely loyal—invisible dog. Many of the stories’ plot elements suggest the tradition of magical realism, although the author crafts his tales with a delightfully nonchalant, deadpan humor and never quite acknowledges that anything unusual is going on. Although some awkward phrases occasionally bog down the prose, Cornejo’s unconventional way of saying things sometimes becomes an endearing quirk, as when he sums up a budding relationship: “From kissing, things progressed in the regular way that offered the bonding that such consequences enable. I obtained some space in one of her closets for some of my things.” Or when he reveals that a death has occurred: “The funeral took place as medically predicted.” Just as the stories’ peculiar events slyly destabilize reality, his sometimes-odd phrasing sheds light on readers’ preconceptions of what is “normal.” Throughout, Cornejo works to defy expectations and subvert narrative clichés; if a story’s building suspense suggests an inevitably grisly climax, he’s more likely to opt for a softer, evasive ending; an anticipated scene of romantic confession may be replaced by a character’s decision to move on. Most stories are about five pages long, and each makes for a quick, stimulating read. Although the collection could have been leaner, with a more carefully crafted arc including only the very best stories, the fact that it can be dipped into at random will likely appeal to busy readers.
Enchanting, nuanced, comic stories that provide a wonderful escape from the mundane.