cover image An Agent of Utopia

An Agent of Utopia

Andy Duncan. Small Beer, $16 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-61873-153-1

Zany and kaleidoscopic, the 12 stories in Duncan’s third collection draw on Southern traditions of tall tales and span time periods, continents, and the realm of human imagination to create an intricate new mythology of figures from history, literature, and American folklore. The title story is told in ornate, antiquated language from the perspective of an operative from Utopia who retrieves the decapitated head of Sir Thomas More and winds up haunted by his thoughts. Young Flannery O’Connor finds Jesus Christ in her chicken coop and trains him to walk backwards in “Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse.” Heavyweight boxing champion Jess Willard travels through time to the night he met Harry Houdini in “The Pottawatomie Giant.” In “Senator Bilbo,” Tolkien’s hobbit is cast as a racist, reactionary politician. Zora Neale Hurston, the folkloric figures Daddy Mention and Uncle Monday, the Devil himself, and all the inhabitants of the Big Rock Candy Mountain also make appearances. Duncan aficionados may be a touch disappointed that there are several stories in common with his 2012 U.K.-published The Pottawatomie Giant and Other Stories, but anyone who lost track of Duncan in the 18 years since his last U.S. collection will be thrilled to rediscover him here. This is a raucous, fantastical treat. (Nov.)