MONSTERS by Karen Brennan


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Structurally ambitious flash fiction that examines all the ways—great and small—in which characters can be haunted.

The monsters in this latest collection from multigenre writer Brennan (Little Dark, 2014, etc.) range from the recognizable (ghosts, zombies) to the whimsical (a talking cat) to the darkly realistic (brain damage, a cancer diagnosis). These 39 stories, many of which are only a few pages long and some of which clock in at just a paragraph, foreground their construction: they are as much about language and form as they are about plot and character. In the title story, a father tells the tale of his daughter’s traumatic brain injury, and as the story progresses, nonsense words get subtly swapped for real ones, mimicking the breakdown of language the daughter goes through. “Last Quartet” is about four characters on a road trip—one of whom is dying—and every paragraph is comprised of four sentences, each devoted to a different person’s perspective. But if this all seems overly dour or overly fussy, it isn’t. Each story is infused with humor, most often a wry treatment of character and a deadpan delivery. (“To Whom It May Concern in My Creative Writing Class: A ‘fascinator’ is a kind of hat,” one narrator abruptly explains.) The stories can veer into the absurd, too, as in “The Corpse and Its Admirers,” the story of three women, perhaps at a funeral home, who engage in increasingly outlandish behavior in the presence of the family patriarch’s corpse. And, as is so often the case with absurdism, if there aren’t many happy endings for Brennan’s characters (or, really, any endings at all), the reader is luckier: there is delight in merely reading these innovative and unusual stories.

An impressive mixture of emotional exploration and formal experiment.

Pub Date: Sept. 20th, 2016
ISBN: 9781935536796
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Four Way
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2016


by Lydia Davis