Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Museum of the Weird
There would be no more appropriate title for Amelia Gray’s bizarre array of fiction (mostly flash) pieces than Museum of the Weird. Trailer: two men, one in love with a paring knife and another with a bag of frozen tilapia, each learn about sacrifice throughout their oddly touching friendship; a nervous woman on a first date worries about the pile of hair on a plate the waiter has served her; an armadillo attempts conversation with a penguin over drinks at a dive bar; a cube arrives, unexplained, into a town and befuddles its clueless inhabitants; and so on.
One trait that marks a powerful and seriously potential writer is singularity, the idea that these hatched plots, these fictive people, these stylistic choices could never have come from anyone but this writer. And greetings, Amelia Gray, you are the perfect example of what I mean. Certainly, there were some stories that resonated with me less than others, but as a whole, she has a style (pithy length, lucid prose, contemplative characters in bizarre, unexplainable worlds) that is her own. The stories have running themes – I noticed almost every story used food in some perverse way, the grotesque juxtaposed with edibles (toe soup, eating tongues, swallowing hair, etc). The pieces also played with absurd twists on Christianity and domesticity.
I can yammer on about esoteric themes, but more importantly than all that, Museum of the Weird was impossible to put down. If my eyes fell on the first sentence of the next story, I had to read it. Examples:
“One morning, I woke to discover I had given birth overnight.”
“Roger’s assigned route had him picking up medical waste at most of the plastic surgery offices in town.”
“My first week on the force and that crazy guys starts killing men, digging into the chest cavity – with an actual bonesaw, we think, the cut is so clean – and removing a rib.”
I blew through this book. It piqued and puzzled me, and was unlike anything I’ve ever read. Amelia Gray is a young writer, too, who has already published another anthology of short stories, which I must now get my hands on. Her work has been published in many excellent small-press journals and webzines, which can be read online for free here.
This was one of the most fun short story collections I’ve read since Civilwarland in Bad Decline by George Saunders (also a damn fine book with stories I'll never forget). Like Saunders, Gray knows how to balance the thoughtful and the entertaining, the bizarre and the mundane, the hilarious and the resonant. And as a writer, I found her stories inspiring. She dares me to be a little stranger.