In a debut collection of short stories, Trunkey (The Incredibly Ordinary Danny Chandelier, 2008) offers a broad assortment of surreal conceits ranging from animal transformation to a series of events narrated in the voice of a gun.
The nine stories in Trunkey’s collection seem determined to investigate the literary possibilities of the odd and grotesque. A single story, “Hands Like Birds,” constrains itself to the relatively mundane idea of a deaf 12-year-old girl struggling with the gradual loss of her sight to Usher Syndrome. The other eight tales tackle a variety of fantastical elements while clinging to reality to varying degrees. “Double Dutch” recounts the life of a veteran devastated by war who becomes Ronald Reagan’s body double and falls in love with the president’s wife. “Second Comings and Goings” dips into the thoughts of members of a Lutheran congregation that gives refuge to a Slovakian child refugee who may or may not be the Second Coming. “Winchester .30-.30” describes the events that eventually led to the first Canadian trial of Inuit men in dreamy, disconnected scenes recalled by a murder weapon. Although the diversity and ambition of Trunkey’s ideas make for an entertaining sequence of stories, they frequently fall prey to a knowing and maudlin despair. Characters are unhappy, selfish, or insensitive but in ways that feel like overt devices meant to engineer a sentimental haze. Stories that attempt to confront a fear of otherness, like “Night Terror,” in which a mother becomes convinced that her child is the reincarnation of a terrorist speaking Arabic, seem to stumble over a lack of conviction. The most pleasurable moments in this collection are the ones animated less by mannered gloom and more by a delighted curiosity.
An assortment of well-written but often dreary stories of the imagination.