Ten stories that reveal the strangeness and beauty of female experience.
Rarely has a book’s title set readerly expectations as well as the title of Colville’s debut collection of short stories. “Elegies” recalls that form in poetry; “uncanny” points to psychology. And, indeed, Colville’s prose shines when it is at its most lyrical and most psychologically probing. But also like the stories here, when the words in the title are all put together, meaning can be elusive. In “Other Mothers,” the opening story, a new mother fights debilitating anxiety about her newborn’s safety: “I sneak to her crib and hold my finger under her nose to see if I can feel the push of air, but her nostrils are merely decorative! The whorl on the door of a seashell, two holes in a button.” One day, she runs into another mother in a local cafe whose hands detach at the wrists. This sums up Colville’s M.O.: in the midst of beautiful writing and psychological acuity, the writing makes fabulist moves that end up feeling secondary in the face of Colville’s clear strengths. In “Jill, or The Big Little Lady,” a woman who randomly changes size and shape pitches a movie about mermaids to two movie producers in LA. In “Audra,” a little girl befriends a possibly imaginary playmate who boosts her self-esteem. But the most affecting moments of the collection come when Colville is making more ordinary gestures. A budding writer fixates on how she’ll fashion a seduction by her writing teacher into a story in “Details,” while in “Winona,” a family comes unglued when the teenage girl at its heart begins to express her sexuality. Readers may not be quite sure why these girls are uncanny, but when Colville is at her best, we’ll believe whatever she tells us.
An inconsistent, but frequently luminous, debut.