Women come to in rooms with no clear sense of how they got there and a very vague sense about how they’re supposed to behave in this situation. Animals seem to take out some kind of cosmic revenge on humans. Characters find apocalyptic omens in weather patterns and the disappearance of everyday items. In the middle, a series of more normal-seeming stories reveal themselves, in aggregate, to be just as odd as all the rest. As a complete work, the theme-and-variations structure and Kleeman’s elegantly multifaceted writing makes for a surreally funny and disturbing debut collection that has the unified air of a novel.
No recent writing has wrapped me up in its world as much as this short masterwork by French writer Nathalie Leger. That’s all the more impressive because essentially half the book is a fragmented shot-for-shot retelling of the movie Wanda, directed by Barbara Loden. You don’t have to have seen the film for this to work—I hadn’t—because Leger’s writing captures its images in a way that can only be done in writing, the kind that lets you imagine yourself onto the screen, feeling what the character feels. Those imaginative flights have real-world reflections, too, in Leger’s beautifully rendered memories of her mother. It’s one of the most effectively empathetic books I can recall about how art inspires empathy.
Paula Parisot’s award-nominated Brazilian story collection doesn’t have the measured feel of what we might typically expect of an award-nominated story collection. The book, most of whose pieces top out around six or seven pages, feels both minute in its scope and overpowering in its erotic danger. Marriages fall apart, lovers contemplate murder, and aging terrorizes the unsteady young, with sex the force that roots even the most ordinary moments to the edge of a cliff (or, in one haunting story, to the ledge of a high apartment window). Parisot’s work is confrontational, but there’s a clean craft to it that keeps the pages turning through the discomfort.