A debut short story collection that treads the line between the speculative and the satirical with vivid prose, fatalist joie de vivre, and wild imaginative turns.
The worlds of Andreasen’s stories are as multitudinous as the worlds of the American experience. There are space worlds—“Rockabye, Rocketboy” and “Bodies in Space,” in which two middle-management adulterers have been abducted and then replanted on Earth as living recording devices for alien ethnographers. There are ocean worlds—“Our Fathers at Sea” and the delightful title story, in which a galleon of anachronistic scallywags is slowly scuttled by an amorous squid. There are fun-house worlds—“The King’s Teacup at Rest,” “Rite of Baptism”—and worlds in which the Southern California–flavored constants of suburban sprawl, lonely interstate connectors, and the isolated interiors of middle-class lives are interrupted by saints and saviors, headless sisters, and prepubescent psychopaths transformed into living gods of fire. Throughout, the author’s pitch-perfect sense of the linguistic weird—the “sort-of-otters already bobbing in dagger-toothed flotillas,” the “parable of the independent subcontractor and the hornet’s nest”—hones the humor of these stories to an uneasy keen. Andreasen’s style is reminiscent of George Saunders at his most cynical, and yet the collection as a whole is marred by a kind of cavalier misogyny that echoes through even the most sensitively wrought stories. The women of these fictions are caretakers, porn stars, and whores. They are absent wives and headless sisters. Erased by the relentless, boisterous boy-dom of the plots, the potential in the female characters’ identities is sacrificed in service to the sight gag, the fun-house parable, the cautionary tale of male predation. It is a disappointing flaw in an otherwise impressive debut.
Energetic and engaging, these stories benefit from the sheer vigor of their telling but ultimately propose more than they produce.