Mitchell (The Last Summer of the World, 2007) offers readers 12 distinct stories that combine the mundane and the very strange to turn ordinary life inside out, examining familiar feelings through a lens of bizarre and sometimes-magical details.
Mitchell’s stories range pleasantly across a spectrum of genres, from realism to surrealism to gentle, absurdist science fiction. A guidebook advises tourists on the sights of a fantastical America in “States: An Itinerary,” describing a country where New York homes have haunted mirrors, Louisiana is a myth, and visitors to California are often afflicted with a virulent form of dreaminess called Golden Fever. In “My Daughter and Her Spider,” a mother struggles against the distance that appears between her and her daughter when they acquire a giant robotic spider as a pet. Quieter stories dive into friendships, marriages, and a fleeting episode of adolescent violence, laying out events and images with a restrained, precise voice that sometimes flares into graceful fancies and comedic punctiliousness. Mitchell explores the marriage of Louis and Lucille Armstrong and the crushed defiance of a Japanese man faced with the loyalty questionnaire in a World War II internment camp. “Biographies” indulges the conceit of presenting various fanciful backgrounds for the author ("Emily Mitchell was born in London in the middle of a garbage collectors' strike"); the story is made endearing by the way even the most unlikely details pile up to an emotional truth. While the tales have varying relationships to normal reality, they each pull the reader into a vivid, focused contemplation of their characters’ longings and despairs. A few stories drift toward claustrophobic meandering, but as a whole, the collection is exceptionally readable, surprisingly varied, and held together by a striking authorial point of view.
A rich collection that takes the familiar obsessions of love and loneliness and views them from uncanny angles in ways that are magical, cutting, and intensely recognizable.