Something in My Eye: Stories

Michael Jeffrey Lee, foreword by Francine Prose. Sarabande (Consortium, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (184p) ISBN 978-1-936747-05-4
The world of Lee's debut collection of short stories is grotesque and absurd: its atmosphere seems calculated to be noxious to human health—moral, spiritual, and psychological. The winner of the 2010 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction, and graced with Prose's generous foreword, Lee's stories are consciously experimental in form and content. The title story is an impressionistic address to a lover whose failed suicide attempt has left her in a coma; in "Warning Sign" the roommate and lover of a mass-murderer exploits the prurience of the media; in "Whoring" three men go "a-whoring" to push away the specter of their mutual attraction, resulting in disease and decay. The range of genres is wide, with satires of country music lyrics, Kafkaesque parables about the anxiety of the living to avoid death, and a disturbing dialogue between a murderer in hell and his victim in heaven. Lee cannot be faulted for literary ambition, but he can be faulted for lines like "I came from a place of no history to a place where history has no place for me," which encapsulates the pretentious tone of the collection. Lee is very successful in creating a dream-like, emotionally disconnected state throughout, with intentionally stilted dialogue and plots that tend to revolve around forms of symbolic gestures, physical violence, or sexual deviance. The range of characters, however, is limited to angst-ridden loners and the psychologically disturbed, as though Lee is striving to win intellectual bona fides based on sheer weirdness alone. Lee's stories hit one note effectively, but ultimately fail to offer anything more than self-serious ruminations on death and perversion. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 01/02/2012
Release date: 01/01/2012
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