cover image Vanilla Bright Like Eminem: Stories

Vanilla Bright Like Eminem: Stories

Michel Faber, . . Harcourt, $23 (246pp) ISBN 978-0-15-101314-2

Scots author Faber (The Crimson Petal and the White ) practices a distinct and finally winning form of defamiliarization in these 16 short tales, creating characters with very low thresholds for overstimulation, so that the everyday, through their eyes, looks nightmarish or sublime. A man wakes in a pile of garbage in “The Safehouse,” strips off his fetid raincoat and then can’t understand why, as he tries to figure out what day it is, the townspeople want to help him—even after he discerns his name, an address and a phone number printed on his T-shirt. In “Serious Swimmers,” a recovering drug addict is overwhelmed with love for her son during a swim at the local pool. The homicidal wife-beater on a rampage (in “Someone to Kiss It Better”) is oddly sympathetic as his misguided coverup goes very wrong. More fantastically, legions of Western businessmen are held in ecstatic captivity by a machete-wielding Miss Soedhono (“Explaining Coconuts”), while the grotesque 1861 demise of Alchester’s richest man (in “Flesh Remains Flesh”) is freakish and deeply satisfying. Faber’s elaborately imagined stories often end at a moment of tension or ambivalence, underscoring his characters’ fragility and giving the book an uncanny coherence. (Sept.)