Genre: Adult Speculative Short Stories
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Release Date: January 10 2013
I just finished reading the stories in this amazing collection several hours ago, and they are still haunting me, tickling at the edges of my brain like the unholy tongue of a zombie (yes, two of the stories are about zombies). These stories were unsettling and disturbing at times, humorous and bizarre at others, but in all cases brilliantly written gems that look directly into the heart of what it means to be human. Each story seems innocent at first, but eventually things go horribly wrong, leading to that unsettled feeling I was talking about. The stories are all told in first person in a slightly detached way, as though the strange events the characters find themselves in the middle of are simply run-of-the-mill occurrences. The deadpan delivery and overall lack of emotion from these narrators might lull you into thinking these stories are safe, but they aren’t. Here’s a breakdown of some of my favorites:
Pilot, Copilot, Writer – One of my favorites, this strange tale is about a hijacked plane that has been flying in circles over the city of Dallas, TX for twenty years. The reasons behind what the hijacker wants and why he’s flying in circles go unexplained, but the curious way the passengers handle this problem is part of the charm of this story.
The Miniature Wife – A man accidentally shrinks his wife and then tries to atone for his horrific mistake by building her a dollhouse. What starts as an almost funny premise takes a darker turn when things begin to escalate out of control, and the narrator and his wife wage war on each other. I won’t go into details, because this is one story you’ll want to read for yourself, but let’s just say the family cat is involved…
The Artist’s Voice – A story about a man whose compulsion to compose music has not only resulted in him becoming nearly paralyzed, but has caused him to speak through his ears. One of the odder stories in this collection, and a great example of how Gonzales is able to convince the reader that the absurd is actually normal.
Cash to a Killing – I loved this one! It starts out like this:
We had spent the past hour burying the body and were on our way to grab a hamburger.
This story, written with dead-pan humor, is about two men who are burying a body and the comedy of errors that ensues when one of the men loses his wallet.
All of Me – The first of two zombie stories, this one is oddly sweet, a story about a very conflicted man who has recently become a zombie and how he tries to disguise that fact when he continues to go into the office every day. His human side and his zombie side are fighting each other, and one of them is about to win…
One-Horned & Wild-Eyed – A quirky tale about a man, his friend and a unicorn. A man yearns for a different life after an encounter with a unicorn makes him realize he isn’t the person he wants to be.
His claws fell away almost immediately upon his death, his snout shrank back to a reasonable size, his body returned to its previous near-bald state, and the madness leaked from his eyes, leaving small orange tracks, like painted tears, down his cheek, his innocent brown pupils surrounded once more by a pure white sclera.
Another of my favorites, this werewolf tale is bloody and terrifying, and once again, told by a very matter-of-fact narrator, whose father has become a werewolf and is devouring his entire family, including his eight children. As in many of these tales, Gonzales explores what it means to be human by placing his characters in not-so-human situations. By the end of this story I was crying…
Farewell, Africa – What starts as an absurd premise (a museum installation that demonstrates how the continent of Africa has sunk into the ocean) turns sobering when the reader begins to realize what’s happening…
Escape from the Mall – Another zombie story, with a nod to George Romero, about a group of strangers trapped in a janitor’s closet at the mall during a zombie attack. Both a horrific story of survival and metaphor for starting over, this was a great way to end the book.
Scattered throughout are very short “Meritorious Life” stories about fictional famous people. My favorite was William Corbin: A Meritorious Life, which is a bizarre and scholarly explanation of the history of clowns.
Manuel Gonzales is a unique new voice, and his first collection of stories should not be missed. These stories are guaranteed to linger in your mind long after you finish them. If Gonzales leaves you feeling slightly uncomfortable, then he has done his job well.
Many thanks to Library Thing for a review copy. Quotes from the book have been taken from an Advance Review Copy and may not reflect the final version.