A parade of eccentric women retreat into fantasy as they attempt to cure their loneliness.
There's a moment in this collection’s second story, “Selfie,” that tells readers much of what they need to know about the book. Violet is in her early 30s and runs a blog for goths. She decides, in an effort to up her readership, to live blog her attempts to summon a vampire lover from the local graveyard. And it works: while she's doing gravestone rubbings in the middle of the night, her undead boyfriend-to-be flits over and compliments her technique. Violet replies, “Thank you…I played with Fashion Plates as a child.” Like so many of the antiheroines Burns (Love Songs for Las Vegas, 2014, etc.) has created, Violet is an oddball, living largely inside her own imagination but desperate for approval, attention, and love. Violet's efforts to gain this love—like those of the other protagonists here—make for writing that is at once darkly funny and tenderly empathetic. In “Unwound,” Lara is inspired by a horror story about a woman whose head will fall off if her neck ribbon is removed, until she carries her playacting too far. In “Best of Show,” the wife of the world’s smallest man contemplates an affair. And in the book’s longest story, “The Unfortunate Act of Falling,” Joan, an upper-middle-class housewife, has a surprising reaction to the death of a local boy and becomes obsessed with its effect on her suburban town. Although many of Burns’ stories have similar arcs, there is such delight in the oddity of the details and the wit and precision of the writing that they each retain their sharpness.
Burns is an unmissable heir to writers of the peculiar, from Shirley Jackson to Roald Dahl.