Belly Up

Rita Bullwinkel. A Strange Object (SPD, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-0-9985184-3-5
The uncanny and the macabre reign supreme in Bullwinkel’s debut, in which high concept meets cool, stylish prose. There are strong biblical and mythical undertones in these stories, in which two teenage girls contemplate cannibalism (“Arms Overhead”) and a snake who masquerades as a poisonous pear has a crisis of identity (“Concerned Humans”). The characters have a tendency toward reticence and Bullwinkel has a tendency toward omniscient description; the stories at their best have an air of allegory and at their worst feel stagnant. This is especially evident in the very short stories, which are strewn throughout the collection. Though some are quite good (such as “God’s True Zombies,” a Saundersesque short in which Florida is made up of “ghosts who are being held in Limbo for punishment of gluttony or for charging interest on loans”), some read more like writing exercises, as in the case of “Passing” and “Nave.” The best stories are the longer ones, in which the characters have room to grow and Bullwinkel’s keen imaginative powers are on full display; in one of these, “Burn,” Joe Engel combines his knacks for cooking and for confronting the supernatural. It comes with a killer first line: “People kept dying and I was made to sleep in their beds.” Despite some unevenness, Bullwinkel’s collection hums with sharp sentences and observations, introducing a startling, off-kilter voice in fiction. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/28/2018
Release date: 05/01/2018
Genre: Fiction
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