Vivid, thought-provoking stories make an enjoyable and challenging book.

ENTRY LEVEL

STORIES

An intriguing, wide-ranging story collection with a hint of magic.

The real and the surreal drive the 15 stories in this debut, many of which have been previously published in other formats. “Passeridae” is told from the perspective of cruise ship staff members hiding out in a linen closet after an armed attack on their ship. In “Ghosting,” a woman sees her weight loss drugs work while other pills do nothing to stem her mother’s increasing dementia. “Fuse” is narrated by one-half of a pair of conjoined twins, and “Strange Magic” features an opening line that immediately embodies the story title: “When Mary Ellen’s left breast grew back on its own during our Saturday dinner break, we had confirmation that something weird was happening.” Oddities continue in “Seven Minutes in Heaven,” in which wishes are granted to those who kiss, making it difficult for the narrator to avoid unwanted attention. The letters that make up “Billet-Doux” are struggling San Franciscan Liz’s imagined conversations with her job, her local bar, and the attractive man she sees on the train every day but never actually speaks to. Relatives handle family conflicts, scientists investigate natural and unnatural phenomena, and overlooked children take action throughout the book. The protagonists tell their stories from a wide variety of locations and circumstances, with common themes that unite the collection, and the author uses a narrative tone that is consistent across the stories while also allowing each story to develop a unique voice.

Wimmer is a strong writer and fills the pages with elegant, evocative phrasing (“We said words of respect in our native languages, which between the eight of us totaled fourteen gods and six words meaning ‘grace’ ”). Her tone is often wry (“Evelyn thought of her bed like a trapdoor spider, capturing the interest and monetary resources of her romantic partners”), and even the book’s most sardonic narrators balance their misanthropy with a touch of curiosity. The stories vary in length and format but retain a clear aesthetic sense throughout, making it easy to imagine that the characters from “Flarby” and “Intersomnolence” might someday cross paths. The work educates without being didactic; readers learn about Wisconsin bingo regulations and Waardenburg syndrome in “INGOB” and the properties of sphagnum moss in “The Bog King,” with the bits of trivia blending seamlessly into the tales. The far-from-superfluous details bring Wimmer’s characters to life and add a layer of authenticity, convincing readers that the author knows what she is talking about (whether the topic is used car salesmanship, roller rink playlists, or the duties of sleep lab technicians). The elements of magical realism are presented without fanfare, and Wimmer succeeds in creating a world where they are entirely plausible. Fans of Karen Russell, Veronica Schanoes, and Connie Willis are all likely to find stories to enjoy in the collection, as Wimmer blends traditional literary fiction with a touch of the fantastic.

Vivid, thought-provoking stories make an enjoyable and challenging book.

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-63768-058-2

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Autumn House Press

Review Posted Online: July 6, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2022

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The range and virtuosity of these stories make this Mosley’s most adventurous and, maybe, best book.

THE AWKWARD BLACK MAN

A grandmaster of the hard-boiled crime genre shifts gears to spin bittersweet and, at times, bizarre tales about bruised, sensitive souls in love and trouble.

In one of the 17 stories that make up this collection, a supporting character says: “People are so afraid of dying that they don’t even live the little bit of life they have.” She casually drops this gnomic observation as a way of breaking down a lead character’s resistance to smoking a cigarette. But her aphorism could apply to almost all the eponymous awkward Black men examined with dry wit and deep empathy by the versatile and prolific Mosley, who takes one of his occasional departures from detective fiction to illuminate the many ways Black men confound society’s expectations and even perplex themselves. There is, for instance, Rufus Coombs, the mailroom messenger in “Pet Fly,” who connects more easily with household pests than he does with the women who work in his building. Or Albert Roundhouse, of “Almost Alyce,” who loses the love of his life and falls into a welter of alcohol, vagrancy, and, ultimately, enlightenment. Perhaps most alienated of all is Michael Trey in “Between Storms,” who locks himself in his New York City apartment after being traumatized by a major storm and finds himself taken by the outside world as a prophet—not of doom, but, maybe, peace? Not all these awkward types are hapless or benign: The short, shy surgeon in “Cut, Cut, Cut” turns out to be something like a mad scientist out of H.G. Wells while “Showdown on the Hudson” is a saga about an authentic Black cowboy from Texas who’s not exactly a perfect fit for New York City but is soon compelled to do the right thing, Western-style. The tough-minded and tenderly observant Mosley style remains constant throughout these stories even as they display varied approaches from the gothic to the surreal.

The range and virtuosity of these stories make this Mosley’s most adventurous and, maybe, best book.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8021-4956-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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