An assortment of quirky, intricate stories connected by the theme of the circus.
A serial-killer clown drives a group of friends around a small town in search of the most convenient place to murder them. A woman abandoned by her husband finds comfort and solace in a lesbian relationship with a body builder who can pull trucks with ropes. A dead circus elephant is dissected by its caretaker in a desolate town. Such are the unmooring, whimsical tales that make up Mayer’s debut story collection. Mayer’s skill is unquestionable, and his range is astounding; he can render absurdist parables about the internet right next to historical fiction about the Jewish experience in the Soviet Union during the fall of the Iron Curtain. His strength lies in his subtle realist mode, when his focus on the inner lives of his characters allows the unconventionality of his style and his narrative decision-making to shine through. Stories written in Mayer’s surrealist mode sometimes feel so self-referential and lost in their own calculus that they don’t come together as well. Mayer’s prose is so compressed and exact that its dedication to strangeness sometimes undercuts the story it is telling, but historical frameworks provide Mayer with enough structure to make the twists and turns of his writing additive where elsewhere they subtracted from the tale. Unfortunately, the collection’s dedication to having the stories cohere around the circus theme feels forced and coerces the stories in a direction they wouldn’t have otherwise gone—their thematic interconnectedness is too often a stretch. In the end, Mayer’s debut effort is a somewhat flawed but memorable book.
An ambitious collection of short stories that heralds the coming of a new voice in American fiction.