It is difficult to analyze a collection of stories that starts out: “One morning, I woke to discover I had given birth overnight. It was troubling to realize because I had felt no pain as I slept, did not remember the birth, and in fact had not even known I was pregnant.” In this first story in Amelia Gray’s Museum of the Weird, when the narrator notes the above and subsequently sees that the “child had pulled himself up to my breast in the night and was at that moment having breakfast,” her reaction is to simply say “Hello.”
Truthfully, I felt the narrator’s confusion at that moment; hers at suddenly finding an unexpected baby feeding on her seemed a lot like mine at finding this on the first page of the first story in the collection. I fumbled for a reaction. I ended up resorting to the same response as the narrator- I merely said hello. Then I kept reading.
These stories seem like they should be so normal, well mannered and plainspoken if you will, but then they just keep walking past the top of the escalator and right out onto the sky. Moreover, when I read, I felt like many of the characters were having a similar reaction to the absurdity that I was. They were trying to make whatever has happened normal, though some were on a related wavelength in that they themselves were the absurdity and were trying to act as if it was normal.
In “Fish,” for example, “Dale was married to a paring knife and Howard was married to a bag of frozen tilapia. Each had fallen into their respective arrangements having decided independently that there was no greater match for them in life.” However, the two men encounter into a women as they are out on a fishing trip. When she pokes fun at the bag of frozen tilapia and acts as if she might open it, Howard merely stares helplessly but Dale “clocks [the woman] on the mouth with his Rick Clunn baitcaster.” Remember, Howard is the one married to the tilapia, not Dale. To Dale’s confusion, Howard and him argue about what he has done, leading to Howard opening the bag and flinging the frozen fish (which is his spouse) into the water. And, “[w]hen they finally came ashore, the police were there with [the] woman” and Dale wasn’t “immediately sure why.”
As I read them, these stories essentially center on normal, ordinary parts of life- procreation, relationships, trying to make some kind of meaning in life, and so on. However, Gray brilliantly and quietly knocks me for a loop each time, presenting these routine topics in such forms as an armadillo with a Miller High Life and a penguin drinking gin out of a highball glass. These absurdities are so strange, so marvelously imaginative and odd, that it makes me laugh (and/or weep, depending) and look at what is routine in a fresh, new way. They fill the world with wonders for those who can no longer see the wonders that are out there. In short, Gray makes the old new again and manages to delight her readers at the same time.
In short, I found the stories in this collection to be the sort of wild, unique fiction for which I often turn to writers like Etgar Keret and Huraki Murakami, though Gray is definitely her own animal. I am thrilled to see that there are still Americans out there who can still write in new ways like this, intrigue me with something I have honestly never seen before. I loved this collection and cannot wait to find out whether Gray has more like it.
David S. Atkinson is a Nebraska-born writer currently living in Denver. He holds an MFA from the University of Nebraska as well as a BA in English, a BS in computer science, and a JD. His stories, book reviews, and articles have appeared in Fine Lines, Gently Read Literature, The Nebraska Lawyer, and 2600: The Hacker Quarterly. The website dedicated to his writing is davidsatkinsonwriting.com