cover image The Gnome Stories

The Gnome Stories

Ander Monson. Graywolf, $16 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-64445-012-3

This offbeat collection from Monson (Letter to a Future Lover) touches on suburbs, relationships, and, yes, gnomes. The titular gnome first appears in “The Reassurances,” in which a man adopts a stretch of highway to propose to his girlfriend, Sharon, who turns him down right before she gets into a fatal car accident. The man remembers a story he heard from Sharon, in which a pair of campers on hallucinogens come across what they think is a live gnome in the woods and bring it back to their campsite; the next morning, they discover they’d actually found a human child. This kind of unexpected yet mundane horror is prevalent in all of Monson’s stories. The outward ordinariness of the characters always belies something deeper and darker, as in “Weep No More over This Event,” in which a man whose wife has recently left him gradually displays a penchant for violence that may have contributed to his wife’s decision. “Our Song” is about a man whose job it is to delve into and embody other people’s memories in order to help parse or preserve them; the narrator’s attempts to fix past wrongs ends in tragedy. Monson shines in his longer stories, where he’s able to work the magic of his sleight of hand—shorter, more experimental pieces like “In a Structure Simulating an Owl,” which finds inspiration in a patent application, are a little harder to land. Nevertheless, this is a strange, unnerving, and intelligent collection. (Feb.)