Kirkus Reviews QR Code


by S.P. Tenhoff

Pub Date: Nov. 12th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-60980-964-5
Publisher: Seven Stories

Borges meets Saunders in Tenhoff's debut collection of 10 cerebral stories that tilt toward fabulist and unfold in places real and invented, familiar and far-flung, contemporary and futuristic.

"Ten Views of the Border" establishes Tenhoff's interest in the arbitrariness of borders. Here, a town is divided in two by a painted red line for no apparent reason. More disturbing, the residents immediately obey the new restrictions on their movements. "The Involuntary Sojourner: A Case Study" tests the force of divisions as Victor, a scholar studying "involuntary sojourners," or people who find themselves in foreign countries with no memory of traveling there, seems to become the subject of his own research. Finally, in "Kurobe and the Secrets of Puppetry," puppets assume the role of masters as a celebrated puppeteer slides into dementia. The collection's more conventional character-driven stories flip the familiar narrative about the power of male desire and show just how weak and conniving men can be. In "The Visitors," a lonely dentist tries to win the affection of a recent immigrant by offering the woman's son free dental careā€”even though the boy's teeth are perfect. And in "Ichiban," a Japanese businessman steals money he and his wife have been saving for a house in hopes that the perfect (expensive) gift will secure the love of a woman he meets in a hostess club. Tenhoff's experimental bent occasionally yields overly abstract tales, but when humans and their contradictions take center stage, these stories soar and his insights deliver a visceral punch.

Fantastic (and fantastical) work from a writer who appreciates that borders of all kinds are often just a fiction.