She has done them now. Or rather the first of them. And I’ve gone from being an admirer to being someone in awe. And maybe a little afraid. But that’s a good thing. Seriously. Museum of the Weird is kind of a masterpiece in its own right. It reads like a series of very long jokes where the punchline is screamed at you by a guy with Tourette Syndrome and also the punchline is scary and also it is not that funny but the guy is trying to hard to smile at you while he screams it that you sort of applaud because you feel so sad for him.
I don’t know if that sounds like a thing that you would want to read, but I found it marvelous and magical and bizarre and delightful. These stories were sometimes so painful to read, in a really great way, like lancing a boil. They felt like what would happen if Christopher Durang wrote short stories. Gray is always being compared to other writers, like Rikki Ducornet, and I get that but I’d say her real literary twin is Durang. I say that because, like in Durang’s plays, the narrators and protagonists in Gray’s stories don’t know how to exist. They always do the wrong thing, scream when they should whisper, eat hair and create snake farms and blaspheme and secrete desperate, lonely passion over diner waitresses. They don’t know how to be in love. They don’t know how to be people. Even the penguins don’t know how to be penguins.
Here’s what happens when you read one of these stories. You turn the page. You find life forms who are aggressively, sometimes angrily trying to be normal. They try so hard. You want to love them for trying. You feel so sorry for them. But then they fall into such strangeness that you take a step back, you are repulsed, you are crying for them to be saved and rooting for them to be burned. You are exhausted. You are disgusted. You feel saved. You feel burned. You feel so normal your teeth hurt. You turn the page and it begins all over again.
The weirdness of just being alive is clearly not lost on Amelia Gray, and nearly all her stories reflect that. She plays with form much more in this book, and uses history, plays, ads, jokes, half-jokes, mysteries, fable, and letters to lead us into the creepy back bedroom in all of our houses. She lights up all the hidden corners and shows us new exits, scratches and scars, windows and doors we never knew were there. Killers in our mirrors and monsters under our beds. Closets full of razor wire.
Everyone should read this book. Even children. Even bees. Everyone. I think Amelia Gray has done great things now, and will continue to do them. Her new book, Threats, is going to be published by FSG, which is really exciting. And I look forward to reading more and more of her stories, grilled as my heart may feel for a while afterward. I kind of like the smell of charred meat, anyway.