cover image The View from the Seventh Layer

The View from the Seventh Layer

Kevin Brockmeier, . . Pantheon, $21.95 (267pp) ISBN 978-0-375-42530-1

Brockmeier follows up the acclaimed The Brief History of the Dead with a collection of 13 stories possessing the enchantment of his two children's books, but with adult twists. In the title story, Olivia lives in a “little red cottage” on an unnamed island and sells maps, umbrellas and candies to the tourists. She also sells prophylactics and believes that, in a glorious moment, she was abducted and examined by an alien “Entity” who came from the seventh layer of the universe. In a more O. Henryesque story, “The Lives of the Philosophers,” Jacob, a philosophy grad student, is trying to understand why certain great philosophers ceased to do philosophy. He finds the answer when his girlfriend, Audrey, becomes pregnant with a child he doesn't want. In “The Air Is Full of Little Spots,” the narrator, a presumably Afghan tribal woman, writes of her tribe's belief that “we see the world only from the back,” but at moments, by the grace of God, “the world turns its face to us.” While many characters reach such moments of clarity, the stories often falter when they do. At their best, though, the tales show Brockmeier's mastery of the tricky intersection between fantasy and realism. (Mar.)