A debut collection melds the European fairy tale with the American yarn into an assemblage of accidental magic, frustrated metamorphoses, and chance meetings with a bewildered divine.
Habermeyer’s stories inhabit the automated modernity of the 21st-century world in a way that recalls the lingering magic of the Grimm brothers’ deep, dark woods. In “The Foot,” an enormous human foot is tugged ashore and immediately becomes a focal point for gawkers, dilettante scientists, New Age worshipers, and feral children all focused on proving this miracle is more than just the sum of its part. In “St. Abelard’s Zoo for Endangered Species,” a controlling mother is mistaken for a snow leopard until she mistakes herself for a snow leopard and is then unceremoniously dumped back into her ill-fitting human life. Rife with this sort of untransformative metamorphosis, the stories linger in the forgotten spaces of the American mystique—hardscrabble towns that do not assume the dignity of their labor; bland suburbs that do not sanctify the families who inhabit them; miraculous visitations of God’s love or wrath that do not clarify the direction of the characters’ lives. In many stories (“A Cosmonaut’s Guide to Microgravitic Reproduction,” “Everything You Wanted to Know About Astrophysics But Were Too Afraid To Ask,” “What the Body Does When It Doesn’t Know What Else To Do”), Kafka’s surreal bureaucracies are blended with the particularly American myth of the homespun, and wholly unqualified, expert. Others (“Visitation,” “Ellie’s Brood,” “The Fertile Yellow,” “In Search of Fortunes Not Yet Lost,”) delve into the symbolic archetypes of woman as empty vessel, empty egg, source of arcane magic, castrating hacker of turkey necks and stacks of kindling. Crowded with metaphor and only loosely linked events, these stories can overwhelm the reader with the sheer vigor of their worlds; however, the total effect of all this ultrafamiliar strangeness is a provocative discombobulation that repays the patient reader’s perseverance.
A disturbing blend of fairy tale and Freudian strangeness which comments on the outlandish fatalism of the American myth.