Literary fiction old and new from one of the contemporary masters of the form.
Much of this collection has been selected from previous works, including stories from The Knife Thrower (1998) and The Barnum Museum (1990). Settings range from the contemporary to the indefinite to the historic. “A Protest Against the Sun” is modern enough to feature a character in Goth-like dress and a teenage protagonist so introspective and sophisticated as to seem coequal to her parents. Conversely, “Eisenheim the Illusionist” is set “when the Empire of the Hapsburgs was nearing the end of its long dissolution.” Millhauser’s latest work opens the book. In the first new story, “The Slap,” readers enter a bucolic suburban community where a nameless man has begun to slap people at random. Clad in a bland trench coat, the man may be striking out against self-absorption and self-satisfaction, or he simply may be unstable. He slaps. And then he stops. Readers are left to dream why. The second new story is “The White Glove”: Emily and Will, teenage partners in a deep platonic but not yet romantic relationship, are confronted by an odd disease that ends with Emily covering her hand with a white glove. Like much of Millhauser’s work, "The White Glove" touches upon the surrealistic and resonates with metaphors and allegories. A shorter piece is “Getting Closer,” six pages of exposition delving into a youngster’s reluctance to end the sweet anticipation of summer’s beginning. “The Invasion from Outer Space” offers near science fiction without robots and dying planets. “People of the Book” is a religious allegory complete with a virgin birth. Meanwhile, “The Next Thing” imagines a faceless corporation that builds a giant underground warehouse store—alluring and mysterious, a bizarre Sam’s Club submerged—only to take over the town above for its own executives.
Literary language, more introspection than action, much exposition, intelligent speculation about the human condition, all woven through sophisticated storytelling.