Bizarre, otherworldly tales and modern parables for contemporary life fill the 22 stories of Runkle’s debut.
Runkle excels at openings, delicately placing the reader into even the most absurd scenarios with only a few words. Take “Warmth,” a would-be Christmas tale in which Christ is actually a snow lizard. “We have to bobsled into this story,” it starts. Within Runkle’s highly imaginative and uncanny domain, the prose succeeds where the lens is most focused on a single character or event. Sherri, the protagonist of “Veterans Day,” is “a fat girl and everyone’s upset with her being fat.” She lives “in a wasteland,” “her breasts sag,” and “she spends half the day apologizing.” When they take on too wide a scope, the stories become alienating in their strangeness and density. “Face,” one of the longer stories, resists any attempts at classification. Here, an invention known as “the book” is in need of a leader. What is the book? It offers “freedom from the tethers of geography” and allows people to make “profiles” and turn friends to “followers.” It seems like an exaggeration of a social network, and the story at first reads like an extended allegory for our increasingly virtual lives. Such a reading is complicated by the overlapping subplots, a digression to New Orleans and an ill-fitting moral about the “many types of envy.” Several of the shorter pieces, including “Columbus Was Named for the Dove” and “I Am So Alone,” consist of trippy images more than any true plot or character and would frustrate a reader searching for a more conventional tale. Even these stories, however, are told with fresh, stunning language.
Runkle creates an array of worlds that will at different times surprise, confuse and entertain.