In her debut, Polek delivers a wide-ranging batch of 26 very short stories.
Rather than settling for one or two guiding themes, Polek offers an enjoyable balance of light and dark subject matter, sweet and bitter characters, cuddly and cruel moments. A handful of the stories veer into fantasy and fable. She has immense talent for sudden, quietly affecting turns of phrase, luminous details, and word choices that firmly pin images down. A mathematician awakes one morning with a headache and finds “a gray lump, translucent like a cube of gelatin” on her pillow. At an office building, a dropped ball "dwomps down the staircase, blinking around corners.” In “Pets I No Longer Have,” there’s “a turtle from Florida, forgotten on the rooftop of my parents’ car.” Other memorable animals include a 90-pound rabbit, an albino wolfhound named Mercy, and a pet owl named Squash. “The Dance,” one standout, is a love story haunted by a couple’s laziness: “It is as though the lexis of their feelings is a separate creature within the house. Like a fat cat that holds all their secrets and stolen glances.” In the title story we meet Annie, who “had large pores and spent a lot of money covering them up. Annie also had unspeakable grief and a master’s in history.” Several of the longer stories do less with more. Some offer sharp social commentary, a bit like Diane Williams but with more warmth and vulnerability. Even the more academic or abstract pieces have a core of compassion, as in the half-page list story “Girls I No Longer Know,” in which the entrancing catalog includes, “The girl who emptied flower food packets into her lotion” and “The girl in my mother who disappeared over time, and the girl who tried to find her.”
A moving, impressively varied first collection.