The Miniature Wife: And Other Stories by Manuel Gonzales – review

this is going to be undeservedly short because I was racking up fines on my copy and had to return it. Perhaps it is because of the hurried nature with which I had to reach the last few stories, but the collection dragged a bit at the end, and I wasn’t overly enthralled with the final story, “Escape from the Mall,” which is sort of like Dawn of the Dead II: Let’s Get The Hell Out of Here.  There are also a handful of orbits/bibliographies sprinkled throughout the collection that didn’t work for me.  It felt like Gonzales was aiming for something similar to Bolano’s Nazi Literature in the Americas or just the general oddness of a Michael Martone work, but they just weren’t interesting enough for me to really care about.

Which are the negatives. The positive is that the rest of the collection is a good read. The first story, “Pilot, Copilot, Writer,” is a gentle wading into the literary lake Gonzales put together. It is told through the eyes of the unnamed Writer aboard a plane hijacked by the pilot and forever circling in the air over Dallas thanks to a briefly mentioned perpetual oil. It’s something that makes for a nice short story,but also begs to be pulled out, expanded upon, to a novel about the drudgery of such an existence. This might be the biggest complaint against the collection – none of the stories feel solid, singular, as if they are one contained piece that says something. I don’t think this is something that is peculiar to Gonzales, but is fairly spread around contemporary short fiction.  A lack of definition seems to be in vogue right now, leaving stories open to radical interpretation or maybe meant to reflect the undefinable nature of modernity, though a lot of that hits a hollow chord for me, a noise that reverberates but doesn’t resonate.

The cover story is probably the most fully realized story that works best. In it, a man who works somewhere that specializes in miniaturizing things (literally shrinking fullsize objects down to much small scales) accidentally miniaturizes his wife. We’re then treated to a timeline of escalating violence between the two before we are given an ending where the man has apparently shrunk himself down to journey across the house to his wife’s “territory” with the desire to throttle her.

Maybe my favorite story in this collection is “Life On Capra II.” I might just be way off in my interpretation, but I swear it’s a story about a video game told from the perspective of the main character in the video game. There is a soldier on a wildly hostile planet with swamp creatures and robots, and endless supply of weapons and ammo that the soldier is amazed he never runs out of . The reason for being there is bland, characters seem to re-spawn with each new “level,” and the destruction doesn’t seem to affect some characters (such as the love interest) at all.  Maybe this wasn’t what Gonzales was shooting for at all, but it’s what I took from it, and I think the openness of the style works very well with the idea of a never-ending, continuously re-spawning video game world of fighting robots and swamp monsters, while seeing your fellow soldiers do wildly stupid things, get blown to bits, only to be there again at the next level.  Another direction I was curious about is if the name of the planet is in any way tied to the director Frank Capra. I can’t really find it, but maybe it’s there. It also closely resembles Caprica, the homeworld from Battlestar Gallactica. Maybe it’s a play on that, too.

This review ended up sounding far more negative than I intended it to. The thing is, despite the flaws that come up now, when thinking about it in retrospect, I enjoyed reading it more than the George Saunders collection I recently reviewed, The Tenth of December. Saunder’s collection was better, unquestionably better for my money, but it wasn’t as enjoyable. So, check this guy out.  It is a very good collection, he is a very good read, and it is most certainly worth the time and effort. Hell, I even accrued library fines because of my desire to finish it. And I’m a cheap bastard, so that’s a pretty big deal.

As always, the B&N link to the collection is below and I collect no monies from my suggesting/whoring them.  B&N Miniature Wife: And Other Stories

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