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.