The 33 stories in this collection are bite-sized samples of weird worlds we never quite inhabit but suspect are out there. The style has much in common with the Karen Joy Fowler and Aimee Bender collections I recently reviewed, but Vukcevich has a tendency to break the story down further, stripping away all of the befores and afters until only the singular moment remains. He does the Gallagher thing with the sledgehammer and the watermelon but only actually shows the wet, pink, bits dripping off the plastic-covered woman in Row 2, Seat 6. All of the rest you have to guess at, but given the parts we do see, the context is clear and the rest of the audience can be imagined, if necessary.
Some of my favorites from the collection are:
- “Grocery List” – this is nothing more than a hand-scrawled grocery list for things like tofu and beer and blunt objects and poison and apologies. Wait, what? Read it again. Somewhere in between those words scribbled down the page is a story.
- “Over Here” – the author notes that this story was originally written for an anthology. The structure of the book was that it was entirely made up of stories to honor a little girl who’d been hit by a military convoy truck in Iraq. The editor of that antho was a soldier who’d been there when it happened, and wanted to find a way to bring some closure to event. Vukcevich responded by giving us his trademark weird self, talking about anime characters and clavichords, but also turns the dead girl’s ghost into a superhero and gives her a best friend. The story is kind and affectionate and more than a little sad.
- “Human Subjects” – what if aliens took over our brains and made us do stuff? You know, in the name of science. And what if you had met a girl that turned your head inside out and made your heart dance and she had an alien too? This story is the answer to that question.
- “Wages of Syntax” – Vukcevich plays with PoV here, showing us three different main characters in a single short story, but it works. Fate, language, romance, and rubber ducks.
- “Cold Comfort” – It takes a certain kind of lonely to pretend to be a freezer.
- “Fired” – Vukcevich writes as much science fiction as he does anything else, but this is one of the few set in the far future. Space liners, augmented dating, and alien fire women, all making it very hard for one man to get lucky.
- “Gas” – It’s hard to fit into society when your breath can actually kill people, but when your choices are “give up” or “make it work”, what can you do? Mixes in music, gas mask performances, and the things we do to find the right husband for our offspring.
- “Glinky” – I loved this story. Noir and children’s television and the ability to change your world one step to the left at a time.
- “Love Story” – one of my favorite pieces. I, too, want to have lived a good, long, life, be old with someone I adore, and scandalize the children.
- “Some Other Time” – Again, Vukcevich shows you the results of a tragedy, the effects it has as the sorrow leaches into your daily life and the things you do to forget the pain. The story just happens to take place on an alien world, with a handful of colonists struggling to survive, but the act of being a parent – even a bad one – remains the same.
- “Strong Suits” – Ah, traumatic brain injury, and the relationships we have with our lover’s clothes. Read this, and then think about what your significant other’s wardrobe means to you.
- “Tubs” – Strip a man’s life down to one room, some torture, and a bathtub full of cold water, and this might be what you end up with.
The stories in this collection are short, quirky, quick to read, and almost all of them will make you think sideways for a moment. I’m so glad I read it.