THE KNIFE THROWER by Steven Millhauser


and Other Stories
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Twelve mesmerizing tales about the subterranean forces of artistic creation, and about the eruption of the uncanny into quotidian life, by one of the most idiosyncratic and inventive modern American writers. Millhauser, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his novel Martin Dressler (1998), typically works a narrow but deep terrain, focusing on such things as the allure of various kinds of underworld, the lives of obsessed artists, the shimmering mysteries of the natural world. All are present in this new collection. The title story examines what happens when a performer possessing almost supernatural skill in his craft feels driven by his own need to excel and by the desires of his audiences—to transgress, using his knives to explore the boundary between art and life, with fatal consequences. Art, Millhauser reminds us, is necessary (the knife thrower’s audiences crave his performances), but also necessarily dangerous. “Paradise Park” offers another version of the creator an transgressor, represented by the astonishing efforts of a designer of a turn-of-the-century amusement park on Coney Island to outdo his rivals, culminating in the creation of a vast underground park more like purgatory than paradise, challenging its audiences ideas about what art and technology should do. Several of the tales here, including “Flying Carpets,” “The Sisterhood of Night,” and “Clair de Lune,” issue from Millhauser’s fascination with the special receptivity that children and adolescents demonstrate for the mysterious potentials of life, for sensing the sheer strangeness behind the everyday. “Balloon Flight, 1870” mingles metaphysics with the traditional elements of an adventure tale, and “A Visit” offers an ironic reworking of an old folklore motif, involving the marriage of a man and an animal. Enchanting, often disturbing tales, written in a prose of deceptive simplicity, providing further evidence that Millhauser is a fabulist of rare power.

Pub Date: May 6th, 1998
ISBN: 0-609-60070-2
Page count: 258pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1998


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