cover image Imaginary Museums

Imaginary Museums

Nicolette Polek. Soft Skull, $15.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-59376-586-6

In Polek’s deliciously unnerving debut, the mundane is made very strange, as everyday objects or normal people are considered in new and unsettling ways. The collection is divided into four sections—Miniature Catastrophes, American Interiors, Slovak Sceneries, and Library of Lost Things. In the opening story, “The Rope Barrier,” a woman buys the title object and can’t seem to stop assembling it; it becomes a compulsion, as she does it while at work, while driving, and while feeding her child. It’s an excellent introduction to Polek’s ability to escalate normal-to-weird situations in a matter of paragraphs, as in “Winners,” where one misunderstanding about Ezra Pound mires the protagonist in an increasingly strange lie. In American Interiors, there’s “The Dance,” in which a couple whose inability to communicate or determine what the other truly wants leaves the reader fist-clenchingly anxious. “Flowers for Angelika” starts off with what appears to be a meet-cute between the narrator’s grandfather and a widow named Angelika at the fish market; a mere two pages later, he’s in her home, which holds all the grief he hasn’t yet been privy to. Polek’s collection is a surprising and potent catalogue of small, eerie discoveries. [em](Jan.) [/em]