Mark (Tsim Tsum, 2009, etc.) turns her poet's eye to the sublimely surreal in this collection of domestic oddities.
Over the course of 24 short, strange tales, Mark exposes the reader to the woman who loses her baby in the blizzard created when his caretaker begins to snow; the woman who marries Poems; the woman who becomes a tree to float her giant daughters to safety; the woman who does not eat the child. Though each of these characters is embroiled in a different danger, the sense of them as archetypes (the woman rather than a woman) and further as facets of the author's own lived experience filtered through a private symbology renders the stories at once both more universal and more personal. It is a fine slight of hand which Mark performs over and over throughout the collection: Language as precise and bitter as a pill is used to describe both the unknown and the unknowable; utterly impossible characters remind us uncomfortably of ourselves. The stories drift in the way of the best fairy tales—released from dependence on narrative sensibility to become both more odd and more true than any mere fiction. Many utilize a dream's abrupt authority. "Louis C.K., my husband, piles all my seahorses in the middle of our king-sized bed and starts shouting," begins "Let's Do This Once More, But This Time with Feeling." Other stories deploy a poet's love of words for words' sake in long, luxurious taxonomies: "The husband doesn't want his seventh wife to be sad and so he brings her Flounder. He brings her Mullet, Snook, Pickerel, Salmon, and Perch. He brings her Grunt. He brings her Bitterling and Milkfish. He brings her Tuna." Regardless of their form or feel, each is a fully rendered exploration of impossibility that loses nothing in its translation from the author's imagination to the reader's eye. It is a common cop-out to label the vagaries of nontraditional fiction written by women as experiments in language or voice and thus dismiss their agency in the "real" world in which plot-based fictions thrive. This collection, however, through both its humor and its sorrow, rings a universal chord. How to make sense of a world that refutes all sense and yet murders us when we cannot anticipate its next move? How to love in a world that uses our love as a weapon?
Stories in which laughter is sometimes the only response to sorrow, beauty is strange, and love is fierce and unending. A necessary book for our perilous age.