cover image Machines in the Head: Selected Stories of Anna Kavan

Machines in the Head: Selected Stories of Anna Kavan

Anna Kavan, edited by Victoria Walker. New York Review Books, $15.95 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-68137-414-7

Kavan’s inventive and chilling collection (after Ice), renders a sustained expression of despair from a writer who suffered from mental illness and heroin addiction, and died in 1968, at age 67. Many of the stories are set in mid-century psychiatric institutions. In “Airing a Grievance,” the unnamed narrator has been assigned to a psychiatrist-like “adviser” she hesitates to trust, and in “Face of My People,” the cruel Dr. Pope ominously compares his war-traumatized patients to oysters and decides “to try a little forcible opening” into the mind of a stubbornly taciturn patient. Bloody car accidents occur in multiple stories, offering a stage for the narrators to reflect on the world’s moments of random cruelty. In “Fog,” a driver seeks salvation in drugs, which only make her numb to an accident she causes, driving on “as if nothing had happened,” while in “The Old Address,” the narrator is struck by a car and drowns all the passersby in her blood, thinking, “at last I’m being revenged on those who have persecuted me all my life.” While the ceaseless inner torment can become a burden for the reader, flights of fantasy come as welcome relief, such as the freewheeling “Five More Days to Countdown,” in which the heroic Esmerelda and her lover escape a student revolt via helicopter. Fans of Doris Lessing will appreciate these shattered glimpses into Kavan’s creative mind. [em](Feb.) [/em]