This collection of mostly older stories from the talented VanderMeer features a variety of tales that walk the border between literary surrealism and genre dark fantasy, many of them taking place in the author's two favorite locales, the haunted city of Ambergris, setting for the much-praised City of Saints and Madmen
(2001), and the even darker metropolis featured in the novel Veniss Underground
(2003). Perhaps the finest of the Ambergris stories is "Learning to Leave the Flesh," the tale of a writer who makes his living crafting individual perfect sentences whose life is transformed when he's assigned to write an epitaph for a dwarf who has committed suicide. Among the Veniss stories are "Balzac's War" and "Detectives and Cadavers," with their monstrous, sentient flesh dogs, and strangely mutated human beings. The title story may be the best of all, a surreal fable about the intrigues and battles among the employees who work in an office building, a struggle cut short when one woman's trumpet vine infiltrates the crawl spaces and ventilation shafts of the structure, pulling it down on the heads of everyone within. Not everything in the book is outstanding—a number of interesting but unexceptional apprentice pieces are included—but this is a solid collection overall and clearly points the way to the author's more recent, major work. Agent, Howard Morhaim.