cover image The Girl with the Peacock Harp

The Girl with the Peacock Harp

Michael Eisele. Tartarus, $45 (240p) ISBN 978-1-905784-89-9

The 14 stories and one poem in this first collection are all well-wrought studies of characters enmeshed in experiences that include the dramatic and the fantastic. Several works are set in a vaguely feudal Russia, including “The Eyes,” in which an ingénue flees the boring suitors at her 18th birthday ball for a more exciting chase by wolves on her sleigh ride home, and the diptych formed by “The Beginning” and “The Music,” in which a young scion of an aristocratic household finds his mother’s secret Romani blood expressing itself through the innate musical talents that make him an outcast from his family. The supernatural, when it erupts in several stories, manifests in ways that elaborate the vulnerabilities of the characters confronting it: the lonely lighthouse keeper in “The Lighthouse,” who finds himself seduced by an increasingly vindictive mermaid; an unstable businesswoman in “What Dreams May Come,” who discovers that her dreams of an alternate world in which she is a formidable avian creature are overwhelming her waking life; and the selfish title character of “Gloria and the Selchie,” who so fancies the human form assumed by a being of Irish folklore that she steals the magic sealskin that would allow him to return to his animal shape. Eisele demonstrates uncommon skill at exposing the hearts and minds of his characters and giving their conflicts an emotional immediacy, no matter how weird their circumstances. His tales bear out the observation of the narrative voice of “Gloria and the Selchie” that “You can look at a stranger’s face anywhere you may be and behind that face is a story, their own story that is like no other.” (Oct.)