Unassuming characters meet confounding and uncanny situations in Galchen’s first collection of short stories. “The Lost Order,” which opens the collection, features the unemployed wife of Walter Mitty, who takes a food delivery order over the phone from a person who has dialed the wrong number. It is one of the many stories in the collection that approach classic tales from the perspective of a female character. The title story reimagines the plot of Nikolai Gogol’s “The Nose” with a library sciences student at the center; but rather than losing her nose (like Gogol’s narrator), she finds that a third breast has grown on her side. And in “The Region of Unlikeness,” which considers Borges’s “The Aleph,” an engineering student becomes spellbound by a duo of effusive self-proclaimed professors cooking up equations for time travel. Many of Galchen’s characters are trained in the hard sciences—quantum mechanics, epigenetics, dangerous molds—and bring an empirical authority to off-kilter situations. Coming eight years after her widely acclaimed debut, Atmospheric Disturbances, Galchen dips further into the dazzlingly disorienting. These stories balance on the surreal, striking the borders of the logical and the hypothetical. There is the author of a self-published book of correspondence who meets one of his few readers in Mexico City; the furniture that flees through an apartment window one night, only to reappear in the nearby market the next week; the remembrance of a painful first love: a McDonald’s clerk with the one shining white tooth. Here, language and humor lift the ideas off the page. With her second book, Galchen continues to secure a place for herself among today’s great prose stylists. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/03/2014 Release date: 05/06/2014 Genre: Fiction
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