cover image Dictionary Stories

Dictionary Stories

Jez Burrows. Harper Perennial, $15.99 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-06-265261-4

Uproarious and ingenious, Burrows’s debut is more than 150 shorts composed entirely from example sentences taken from 12 different dictionaries. Burrows crafts tense postapocalyptic scenarios, moody noir, fantasy, erotic science fiction, and “the double life of a freelance secret agent.” Stories come in the form of recipes, eulogies, math problems, answering machine messages, cocktail menus, mix tapes, and a coach’s motivational speech to his team. Anything can happen when a sentence needs to account for words like phantasmagoria, meeple, and rock spider, or when a definition includes evocative prose like “He perched on the edge of the bed, a study in confusion and misery,” the jarring “he is, in brief, the embodiment of evil,” or the hilarious “I never believed in love spells or magic until I met this spellcaster.” What sounds like mere novelty turns out to be a revelation in Burrows’s hands, as unlikely sentences generate even more unlikely narratives, oddball feats of lexicography inspire warped story snippets in which lions gossip, zombies intrude on a lackluster date night, and Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe makes a surprise appearance. This volume is a joyful celebration of idiosyncrasy and invention. Agent: Ted Weinstein, Ted Weinstein Literary Management. (Apr.)