Review: The Miniature Wife and Other Stories, by Manuel Gonzales

15815337>>Published: January 2013

>>Finally got around to it: September 2014

To pick up where we left off: Her body bent awkwardly over the desk, the soft gurgle escaping her lips.

I want to tell her, It wasn’t supposed to happen like this, you know.

I want to take her head in my lap. I want to smell her hair, smell her wrists. I want to kiss her neck.

I want to say to her soft, lovely things, whisper unyielding truths in her ear. I want to run my finger along the length of her nose, from the bridge to the tip, and then over and onto her lips.

I want to feel the warmth of her as her living body warms my thighs and my feet and the lower part of my stomach, makes my skin, which is cold and rubbery to touch, feel pliant and lifelike again.

These are the things that I want. These are the things I have wanted for some very long time now. I imagine that these are the things I have wanted since even before I became the kind of thing that could not have them.

But the zombie in me wants something else. The zombie in me wants to eat. The zombie wants to eat and he wants his horde, and as much as I try to deny it, there is no zombie in me, there is only me, and all of me is zombie.

***

The Miniature Wife and Other Stories, the debut short fiction collection from author Manuel Gonzales, is a surreal, sometimes absurd collection of mostly slipstream stories that hit far more than they miss. Across the eighteen stories collected in this book, Gonzales touches on such subjects as spousal neglect and abuse, substance abuse, misogyny, jealousy, and the often-heavy price of creativity.

In “Pilot, Copilot, Writer,” a plane is hijacked and flown in a circle over Dallas for twenty years (thanks to the advent of perpetual oil), forcing its passengers to reflect on the endless, unsatisfying loops they’ve all seemingly become trapped in in their lives before getting on the plane. “The Artist’s Voice” introduces us to Karl Abbasonov, a musician whose body should not still be functioning, and does so primarily through artificial means. Karl suffers rather vicious seizures directly tied to his creativity—the more he composes, or the longer a composition takes, the more extreme his seizures. Because of this, his body has brutally contorted over time, to the point where he needs help merely to breathe, yet he is able to communicate, even speak quite beautifully—from his ears. “The Disappearance of the Sebali Tribe” offers an account of one woman’s uncovering of a fraudulent anthropological discovery regarding a tribe (the titular Sebalis) created by two con artist professors. In what I can only imagine is a nod to Jurassic Park, the con artists’ names are Hammond and Grant. One of the darker pieces, “Wolf!” follows the lone survivor of a family destroyed by their father, who has turned into a werewolf. The father’s ability to dismember his family one person at a time seems a strong analogue for alcoholism and its ability to both destroy and infect those around it either by sharing the disease or merely spreading its malignancy.

Of the eighteen stories in this collection, five stood above the rest. In “The Miniature Wife,” a man working in miniaturization accidentally shrinks his wife to three inches tall. As is to be expected, she’s a bit upset by this and begins attacking him, dulling his razors and ascending him as if he were a mountain. He tries to make her more comfortable not by rectifying her condition but building her a dollhouse, which she detests though he is certain she will grow to love it. As with several of the stories in this book, there are multiple ways this entry could be read: as a tale of a woman forced into an unhappy, unhealthy relationship with an overly controlling man; or as a wife whose penchant for control lowers her in the eyes of her partner, based on a shifting perception of worth. The last line is especially sinister.

“The Sounds of Early Morning” presents a haunting abstraction of a stillbirth, or of a young child’s death, via cracks in the house and the protagonists’ aversion to noise—especially that of children. Theirs is a post-apocalyptic wasteland with no details as to the cause of the apocalypse—one suspects the world outside has warped to match their personal torment.

Staying on the subject of parental torment, “The Animal House” can also be read in one of two ways: as a young couple forced to deal with a dead child (in this case, it’s the result of an abortion); or as the tale of a father-to-be growing preternaturally protective of his family, whose future is uncertain. This was one of the more lyrical stories in the collection.

Masquerading as a zombie narrative, “All of Me” focusses on the why-not-me-I’m-a-good-guy misogynist so unfortunately prevalent these days. The protagonist’s entitled attitude toward the woman of his desires, for whom he is that perfect friend, that shoulder to cry on when everything goes wrong—when her husband cheats on her—allows him to be picked apart piece by piece as a rotting shell of a man who has confused what he wants with what he believes he deserves. In the end, however, he reveals himself as much a slave to stereotypical carnal desires as the cheating husband, only, you know, instead of fucking another woman he just wants to eat her flesh. Wicked, disgusting imagery.

Lastly, “One-Horned & Wild-Eyed” is an amusing piece about the dissolving of a friendship by way of an honest to goodness unicorn. Because if anything’s going to pit friend against friend, it’s going to be a goat with a spire on its forehead that lives off a diet of crushed up fairies and beer. On a slightly more subtextual level, the story is about the jealousy that develops between two adults who’ve been friends since high school when one brings home a unicorn that he starts spending all his time with, thereby neglecting his wife and kids. Meanwhile, the other friend, who wishes he had a unicorn of his very own, begins to resent the first friend’s ability to shrug off his adult responsibilities and do something so utterly ridiculous as spend all his time drinking beer in a lawn chair outside a shed, watching his new not-so-mythological pet. A surprisingly poignant tale, given its subject matter.

The stories “Cash to a Killing,” “Life on Capra II,” “Farewell, Africa,” and “Escape from the Mall” were interesting enough, though they didn’t leave the same lasting impression as the stories mentioned at the start of this review, or the five outlined in the previous paragraphs. Two of them in particular, “Life on Capra II” and “Escape from the Mall,” hew a little too close to certain pop culture touchstones (All You Need is Kill/Groundhog Day and Dawn of the Dead respectively) without really crafting an essential narrative of their own. Additionally the shorter narratives, the various “A Meritorious Life” entries, while amusing, did not manage to strike a chord with me.

Although the tales mentioned directly above didn’t leave as strong a mark as the ones more thoroughly outlined in this review, the overall quality of the book is stellar, with no one story feeling unnecessary or wholly out of place—some were merely less exceptional than others. Start to finish, this is a fantastic collection of slipstream fiction, which is something I feel I don’t see enough of. Highly recommended.

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