Baby Leg, like last year’s Last Days, starts in medias res. Kraus: the protagonist, the wrong man and the man caught in the middle, is in a cabin alone. He is waiting for someone to come and kill him, though he doesn’t know who—his memory fails. Night after night, he dreams of a woman with a normal leg and a baby leg who carries around an ax. As these visions continue to accost him, the woman known as Baby Leg starts telling him to do things. Kraus becomes a man of action—a very dangerous man, though he has only one hand. Soon he wanders around the unnamed town, ends up at a deserted gas station, and has a tense conversation with the female cashier. He leaves but returns after remembering there was a flyer posted of his face. It’s now gone, but the woman had been on the phone when he came back in. Soon she is dead, though Kraus and the reader don’t exactly know how. Evenson isn’t one for shock value; he knows what is sometimes most chilling is that which is not described.
I’ve read over 120 books in 2009, and by the time the year is up I’ll have reviewed over fifty. At the risk of being redundant, I’ve put together a list of the books I thought were this year’s best. I’ve also included links to the ones I reviewed. But before that, I should mention some great books that weren’t published this year: Eugene Lim’s Fog & Car, Eugene Marten’s Waste, Mary Caponegro’s first three books, Ken Sparling’s Dad Says He Saw You at the Mall, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Lavinia, and Michael Kimball’s The Way the Family Got Away and Dear Everybody. And then there’s Shane Jones’s The Failure Six, David Shields’s Reality Hunger, and Ander Monson’s Vanishing Point, all of which won’t be released until next year. By the way, while the so-called major presses churned out a whole lot of fluff I did enjoy John Haskell’s Out of My Skin and Anne Michaels’s The Winter Vault. Oh, and I should mention The Complete Cosmicomics, by Italo Calvino which is playful and inventive in that inimitably Calvino way. Each chapter is a combination of pseudo-science (as far as I can tell) and fantasy—a weird mishmash of fable and fact. They sound like entries from an encyclopedia sometimes, albeit a whimsical one. This was the best way to close out the year. So, besides beautifully-crafted language, eddying narratives, evocative imagery, and provocative characters—whose quirks, thoughts, and comings and goings remain with me—what the books on this list have in common is that they were published by independent presses.