Two books have been released in the last month that have blown me away. Both are written by ladies who know the power of a drawl and a hot whisper in your ear.
There are elements of these books that overlap: a certain bewildered, maybe even unrecognized sadness; density balanced by brevity; a unmistakeable acceptance that says: This is how things are now.
The collections couldn’t be more different though. They’re both absolutely cohesive and monolithic in their originality.
In Daddy’s, the stories add up, telling the tale of a time and place. I’m reminded of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milkwood or Salinger’s Glass Family if all of them had been separated at birth, dispersed across Florida. The stories are hilarious and sad. People constantly overindulge and redirect urges. Peer pressure wins out again and again. Everyone has secrets, peccadillos, kinks. Everyone is crying for help or resigning themselves for lack of better options. People manage. Everyone’s working out from under something. The voice is what will drag you under the table with it. It will stick its tongue in your mouth, and you’ll know it’s what you’ve been waiting for.
In Museum of the Weird, the stories combine to form a true wunderkammer. The first story of the collection “Baby” sets the tone: strange things are happening, babies being born and the characters stop just shy of reasoning out the ‘why’ of it; they accept it and the story continues out of sight. You live the unusual life you’re given. In “The Darkness,” an armadillo and a penguin make small talk in a bar, find it impossible to connect. In “Waste” a medical waste collector finds a partner in a woman obsessed with consuming flesh in a more carnivorous way. In “The Tortoise and the Hare,” the rivalry of the eponymous characters is both amplified and more gently considered. In “There Will Be Sense”, a man constructs his life from the meals he’s been served by a woman, items ordered from a religious supply catalog, his ability to look at his reality from a third person persepctive. Gray’s imagination and ability to bundle unlikely elements into a meaningful unit within her brain skin is exciting and truthful. There are lessons to be learned here, and sometimes the lesson is to learn that there’s no lesson at all.
Both collections are realistic in their lack of tidiness. Sure the language is well-hewn and the fat cut away, but there is nothing clear and certain to be found. Meaning is gathered up by the handful, much of it glopping through the cracks between fingers. It’s a salvage. It’s a fire sale. There’s so much, it’s overwhelming. Take what you can, but your arms can only stretch so wide.