Cultural pointillist and novelist Tillman (No Lease on Life, 1998, etc.) continues to trace the writhings of her conflicted literary personae in these disembodied downtown tales tenuously connected to artwork that introduces each of the 23 tales.
The writer moves fluidly in out of the voices in these short (sometimes two-page) stories, interrupting and correcting her characters at random or whenever she grows bored. In the first story, “Come and Go,” inspired by a Peter Dreher painting of an empty glass, the movements of three diverse New Yorkers collide in a hospital emergency room: Charles, a publicist, is receiving the news that he does not have cancer; Emma is having her ankle treated after running into Charles at a greenmarket; and Maggie, a beautiful young junkie, has come to dry out. What do these characters want? Tillman probes continuously: “They didn’t want to be themselves, they wanted to be someone else.” A so-called Madame Realism is the protagonist for several of the pieces (inspired by the art of Kiki Smith and Jeff Koons, for example), and becomes a source of observations on mindless TV shows and the dynamics of the dinner party. In “Lust for Loss” (introduced by a Diller & Scofidio reproduction ad infinitum of one suitcase), Madame Realism actually travels to Normandy to visit the beaches of Operation Overlord and record the stories of loss she unearths there. Tillman has an acute sensibility to the treacherous nuances of desire between the sexes, and in stories such as “Hold Me” (inspired by a Gary Schneider copy of a child’s hand) and “Phantoms” (introduced by a Laura Letinsky photograph of an alluring couple behind curtains), she explores obsessively the hunger that drives people to each other.
A disorienting ride through a postmodern hall of mirrors, leaving the reader wishing Tillman had taken one story and developed it more fully.