In this modest first collection, the author is often incredibly specific in her descriptions, stretching them to absurd lengths, and melding the boundaries of literary and speculative fiction. Not all of the stories are brilliant in my opinion, but they are all different and eerie.
1. Fairy Tale 2/5
2. Lobster Dinner 5/5
3. The Dancing-Master 3/5
4 A Brief History of Weather 2/5
5. I May Not Be the One You Want, But I Am The One For You 5/5
6. Choking Victim 5/5
7. Jellyfish 5/5
8. Intimation 5/5
9. Fake Blood 4/5
10. Hylomorphosis 3/5
11. Rabbit Starvation 4/5
12. You, Disappearing 3/5
More than once, a sudden confusion of the semi-consistent protagonist persona sparks an epiphany about the absurdity of her situation and the threatening aspects of the man or woman in her vicinity. This pattern emerges in several analogs leading to a startling dramatic tension throughout. A menacing cognitive dissonance hovers over the entire collection.
As she does within her novel, Something New Under the Sun, Kleeman defamiliarizes the familiar and familiarizes the weird, here verging into the somewhat bizarro at times, but glossing it all with the texture of literary fiction. Wisdom lurks under quirks, and her meditations on modern life through an oblique lens are always fascinating, whether she’s pondering lobsters, history, feminism, or beachgoers.
I preferred the more traditional stories in this book, more than the experimental departures and abstract collages. The former had arcs perfectly channeling the slowly dawning dread of displacement, danger, or humiliation. There is a palpable nostalgia for youth, a recurring reliance on college drinking, the wild freedoms subsumed by responsibilities, work, family obligations, her characters feeling inhuman in their roles, underappreciated, but mostly misunderstood. Within them all is a search for meaning, a quality of longing, and a subtle regret.
The surprises start with a Ben Marcus-esque collage, then moving to a detailed slow-paced romantic episode about dairy farming, where loneliness and fear prevents a relationship from blossoming.
In one tale, speech is portrayed as a dislodging of internal blockages. Motherhood is cast as a horrifying dilemma of sacrificial disruption.
There is also a peculiar allegory on domestic life, motherhood, and wifedom, which manages to be abstract, compelling, disturbing, telling of a hostage of the home, like an amnesiac homemaker, trapped in a sick game.
We are treated to a couple ambiguous endings. The resort tourist story was elegant, entertaining, and robust, showcasing the alienness of jellyfish, contrasted with the inscrutable and self-destructive desires of human beings.
We are given a sense of poseurship, an interpretation of authenticity, in the context of relationships, amid the consciousness of the male in gaze in the form of staring men.
A fabulous collection of bizarre social situations and interpersonal awkwardness, which constantly subverts your expectations.