Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Millhauser Cordial

Encountering a Steven Millhauser story in a magazine is like unexpectedly finding a portal into an alternate universe. A man writes a letter to his wife in which he explains why he's elected to stop speaking because of the inadequacy of language. A miniaturist pursues his art past the threshold of the visible. Suicide becomes a popular fad in a suburban town.

Reading Millhauser's 2008 collection
Dangerous Laughter, I found that consuming an entire book of Millhauser's eerie stories in some way dampens the pleasure of his weirdness. The tricks are different (at least somewhat) in each story, but you're more expectant, prepared to read about worlds where women's clothing designers liberate themselves from attention to the human form, or domes are constructed over entire houses, neighborhoods, and finally countries; where a tower is constructed that reaches heaven, but it takes longer than a human life to ascend it.

Millhauser's best work ignores the conventions of contemporary fiction, causing us to look differently at our world and our perceptions of it. But it's best if consumed in small doses, like a delicate liqueur. Here's his most recent
story, from the anniversary issue of the New Yorker. In it, Millhauser gives us an invasion from outer space that defies expectations. It's very short: an aperitif. Enjoy.

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