Published by Riverhead Books on January 8, 2015
Genres: Magical Realism
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.
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A wild, inventive ride of a short story collection from a distinctive new American storyteller.
The stories in Thomas Pierce’s Hall of Small Mammals take place at the confluence of the commonplace and the cosmic, the intimate and the infinite. A fossil-hunter, a comedian, a hot- air balloon pilot, parents and children, believers and nonbelievers, the people in these stories are struggling to understand the absurdity and the magnitude of what it means to exist in a family, to exist in the world.
In “Shirley Temple Three,” a mother must shoulder her son’s burden—a cloned and resurrected wooly mammoth who wreaks havoc on her house, sanity, and faith. In “The Real Alan Gass,” a physicist in search of a mysterious particle called the “daisy” spends her days with her boyfriend, Walker, and her nights with the husband who only exists in the world of her dreams, Alan Gass. Like the daisy particle itself—“forever locked in a curious state of existence and nonexistence, sliding back and forth between the two”—the stories in Thomas Pierce’s Hall of Small Mammals are exquisite, mysterious, and inextricably connected.
From this enchanting primordial soup, Pierce’s voice emerges—a distinct and charming testament of the New South, melding contemporary concerns with their prehistoric roots to create a hilarious, deeply moving symphony of stories.
It’s no secret that I love offbeat short story collections. Add Thomas Pierce’s Hall of Small Mammals to the list. Many of these stories have fascinating, wildly imaginative premises: a woman hides a cloned miniature woolly mammoth in her home; a man deals with his feelings about his wife’s “other” husband, who lives in her dream world; a possum skull haunts a couple. Others are more subtle: a father yearns to connect with his son through an unusual scout camping trip; a seemingly apathetic passenger takes a solo hot air balloon ride. My favorite by far was “Videos of People Falling Down,” interconnected shorts within an already short format. That title sums it up pretty well, but what I found brilliant was the way those connections were crafted and revealed.
A dash of social commentary, a bit of magical realism, a pinch of surrealism. Pierce’s writing is completely absorbing, so much so that when a story ended, it felt sudden, like being jolted awake. This is great storytelling so grounded in reality that you are swept away into believing the unbelievable. I thoroughly enjoyed this dark and delightful collection.
I keep hearing the term “Southern Gothic” in reference to this collection, which is a genre I thought I wasn’t much interested in. Thomas Pierce has convinced me to give it a try.
Do you read Southern Gothic literature? Any recommendations?