A collection of 13 dreamy, fantasy-inflected stories from the Arkansas author (The Brief History of the Dead, 2006, etc).
Brockmeier’s studiously lyrical prose resembles at different times the cloying eccentricity of Jonathan Carroll and the lucid grace of Steven Millhauser. His premises are traceable to Calvino, Borges and Cortázar. And not only to these masters. Brockmeier channels Chekhov in “The Lady with the Pet Tribble,” a fey homage bulked up with particulars borrowed from Star Trek. And Gogol is re-imagined in “A Fable with Slips of White Paper Spilling From the Pockets,” about a man who unknowingly purchases “God’s overcoat,” and, briefly, acquires with it modest divine powers. (The lengthy title, incidentally, is a device of which the author is entirely too fond.) Elsewhere, middling results are achieved in “A Fable with a Photograph of a Glass Mobile on the Wall,” which traces a dedicated cabinetmaker’s unhappy experience of success and celebrity, and in “Home Videos,” a satiric look at what results when the creators of an America’s Funniest Home Videos–like show set out to learn what is, and isn’t, funny (the story itself isn’t). Mainly, though, these tales efficiently charm, seduce and sometimes mystify. In “The Year of Silence,” an inexplicable aural phenomenon inspires a city’s populace to create and maintain a “noiseless world”; however, they find they miss all the commotion. A clever parody of adventure fiction (“The Human Soul as a Rube Goldberg Device”) is framed as an interactive fantasy which invites readers to choose among several narrative possibilities. There’s real poignancy in stories concerning a solitary mute living in a song-filled metropolis, who creates his own musical legacy (“A Fable Ending in the Sound of a Thousand Parakeets”), and in “Andrea Is Changing Her Name,” about a quiet girl who stoically grows out of her sheltered life; the story is told from the viewpoint of the young man who loves her unrequitedly.
Gossamer inventiveness: the work of a consummate stylist whose chosen limits are the source of his quirky fiction’s truest strengths.