Manuel Gonzales - an exuberantly imagined debut that chronicles an ordinary world marked by unusual phenomena. The 18 stories run the gamut of surrealism and oddness: randomness, cruelty, isolation, transmogrification, unknown or unseen menaces and the opacity of others’ intentions

This book is like reading Kafka on Ketamine

Manuel Gonzales, The Miniature Wife: and Other Stories,  Riverhead Hardcover, 2013.

In the tradition of George Saunders and Aimee Bender, an exuberantly imagined debut that chronicles an ordinary world marked by unusual phenomena.
The eighteen stories of Manuel Gonzales’s exhilarating first book render the fantastic commonplace and the ordinary extraordinary, in prose that thrums with energy and shimmers with beauty. In “The Artist’s Voice” we meet one of the world’s foremost composers, a man who speaks through his ears. A hijacked plane circles a city for twenty years in “Pilot, Copilot, Writer.” Sound can kill in “The Sounds of Early Morning.” And, in the title story, a man is at war with the wife he accidentally shrank. For these characters, the phenomenal isn’t necessarily special—but it’s often dangerous.

In slightly fantastical settings, Gonzales illustrates very real guilt over small and large marital missteps, the intense desire for the reinvention of self, and the powerful urges we feel to defend and provide for the people we love. With wit and insight, these stories subvert our expectations and challenge us to look at our surroundings with fresh eyes. Brilliantly conceived, strikingly original, and told with the narrative instinct of a born storyteller, The Miniature Wife is an unforgettable debut.

It’s rare that a debut author is also a seasoned storyteller, but this is the case with Gonzales, whose first book is a deeply imaginative collection of short stories. With commendable skill, Gonzales seamlessly blends the real and the fantastic, resulting in a fun and provocative collection that readers will want to devour. A child born at 10,000 feet on a hijacked plane retraces the same route around Dallas for “according to our best estimates, around twenty years,” destined to follow this path forever, in “Pilot, Copilot, Writer”; and a man who works as a miniaturizer mistakenly shrinks his wife into a pint-sized but plucky foe in the title story. Gonzales delights and bends the mind with stories featuring a horror movie cast—zombies, in “Escape from the Mall”; the swamp monsters and robots of “Life on Capra II”; and a werewolf on a mission to eradicate any trace of his prior humanity, in “WOLF!” The mixture of the mundane and the surreal is hardly new, but Gonzales carries it off with a fresh voice. A quiet pathos spans the collection, and a well-timed glibness injects these stories with an undercurrent of dark humor. A surprising, delightful, and slyly didactic debut. - Publishers Weekly 

These stories are wrought with forceful clarity, Borgesian inventiveness and enchanting, devious wit—an unforgettable debut from a uniquely gifted writer."– Wells Tower
"These are beautiful, strange truths—mad, weird, funny and unforgettable. Manuel Gonzales possesses a brand new American literary voice. This is vital work from an exciting new writer."
Ben Marcus

“This book has everything you could ask for in a collection, and even things you hadn’t thought to ask for, but secretly wanted: unicorns, mobsters, swamp monsters and werewolves. Manuel Gonzales weaves the supernatural into the lives of everyday citizens, from anthropologists to airline passengers, and the result is pure magic mixed with humor and deep humanity.”–Hannah Tinti

"You know that feeling you get when you pick up a book and realize you are hearing a voice you have never heard before but will be hearing for a long time? I had that feeling on page 5. Please pick up this book - you will have that feeling. Dark, smart and strange in a way that initially had me grasping for comparison but that ultimately revealed itself to be something new."—Charles Yu

“Manuel Gonzales’s The Miniature Wife is a marvel—a beautiful, hilarious and moving reinvention of the gothic, a testimony to the sublime powers of the imagination and language. This a book of extraordinary joy, compassion, horror and grace all rolled into one.”—Dinaw Mengestu

“It’s easy to compare Manuel Gonzales to George Saunders, but it would be just as easy to compare him to Borges or Márquez or Aimee Bender…He makes the extraordinary ordinary, and his playfulness is infectious.”—Benjamin Percy

“Is there a term for something that's sad, funny, and strange all at once? Sunge? Frad? Because that would describe this imaginative debut…even the most absurd emotional conflicts feel familiar somehow, which only makes them more moving.”—Entertainment Weekly

“Gonzales’ voice is so new and different and dazzling that you won’t be able to put down his book.”
Marie Claire 

“The stories are written so believably, they handle the strange and surreal so carefully, that you want to believe the impossible is possible.”—Tin House

“With clear, matter-of-fact writing and relatable characters who are forced to make heartbreaking decisions… you get crazy scenarios mixed in fine writing and profound thoughts about the human condition and the state of the world. Manuel Gonzales can make you believe anything.”—The Hispanic Reader blog

Usually it’s a good thing when a book is unforgettable. But Mr. Gonzales’s stories in this debut collection are so disturbing, you might wish to empty your brain of them more readily. In one of the more scarring tales, “Pilot, Copilot, Writer,” a plane circles the Dallas airport for 20 years. “As the years passed, I learned to pick out details, as if I were a hawk or an owl,” our narrator says, “I got to where I could see my parents’ house, my wife’s mother’s house, the church where my wife remarried.” In the title story a man accidentally shrinks his wife to coffee-mug size. One day he comes home to find her with a shrunken colleague of his in the dollhouse bedroom. Husband and wife become homeowner and pest; it’s war, and he’s unnerved when she disappears for a while. Surely there’s a metaphor here; but the delightful freakishness is enough. - SUSANNAH MEADOWS

This book is like reading Kafka on Ketamine

We're living in Kafka's world. Everybody from George Saunders to Terry Bisson has been mining a Kafkaesque seam of alarming strangeness. But what happens when you mix some especially odd story ideas with an almost supernatural sense of dissociation? You get something like The Miniature Wife by Manuel Gonzales, a book which feels as though Kafka fell into a K-hole.
Spoilers ahead...
The 18 stories in Gonzales' book run the gamut of surrealism and oddness. Besides the unicorn story we excerpted recently, there are stories about a zombie, a werewolf, a shrink ray that reduces a man's wife to the size of a doll, and a paralyzed composer who speaks through his ears. There's even a story about a world where the sound of people's voices is harmful to adults, in the vein of Ben Marcus' The Flame Alphabet.
But the thing that really stands out about Miniature Wife is the sense of dissociation that comes out in a lot of these stories, some of which are hilariously comic and some of which deal with super intense emotional stuff. In a lot of these stories, we never really learn much about Gonzales' main characters, and they remain ciphers, tossed along on the waves of inexplicable strangeness.
At one point, in the final story in the book, "Escape from the Mall," the first-person narrator says, "This story has nothing to do with me. I know this, even as I am in the middle of it." In another story, the main character starts to tell his new girlfriend Wendy about his past — and then the story skips over whatever he tells her. In many other stories, too, you sense that Gonzales wants us to know nothing about his protagonists, other than generic signifiers like "husband" or "son." His characters are men without qualities, unremarkable except for the bizarre shit they've found themselves dropped into.

These are stories about people who are helpless in the face of a world of illogic and craziness. Even when Gonzales' characters take action or drive the narrative, they never seem fully in control over events. This sense of absurdity and powerlessness reaches its climax in the story "Life on Capra II," where the main character seems to be fighting robots and swamp monsters on an alien planet but the scene keeps shifting wildly and nothing seems to have any real consequences — as if it's a holographic program gone mad or something.
Gonzales' writing often reflects this sense of impuissance — and the feeling of viewing all of this from a long way off — by loading on the irony and neurosis. Like, his story "All of Me" is from the point of view of a zombie who's trying to live like a normal person, with an office job, with predictably terrible results. And at one point, the narrator says:
Don't assume that I don't understand the difficulty inherent in trying to control what we cannot control or that I haven't considered the difficulties that everyday people face or that I haven't thought about the ways in which I am lucky, luckier than Barbara or Mark or Roger, that I haven't taken into account the fact that we are not really so different, or that I don't see Barbara's difficulties for what they really are or how they compare to my own, that I don't understand how hard it can be to keep our baser selves in check or how much easier it is, ultimately, to go back to the evil we know and understand, the evil we have lived with for so long that it feels an inherent and important part of ourselves that we had no other choice, that we didn't opt for this decision, but that really there were never any other options for us to take. I know about choices and about not having choices and how it feels when it seems you have no other choice.
This comes in the middle of us finding out that the narrator's zombie side has emerged and created a dreadful mess, and the narrator's nattering is meant to sort of pull us back from that horror by filling us with words, so that when we actually see the blood and guts the contrast will be heightened and intensified.
But irony is just one of the many distancing techniques that push us deeper into the zone of dissociation from Gonzales' weird stories. Gonzales is also obsessed with old medical texts and scientific oddities, and at times the book feels like a cabinet of curiosities — a number of the 18 stories in the book are just short little biographies of people who are either scientists or scientific curiosities, and those are each subtitled "A Meritorious Life." That's where we learn about the man who grows up speaking the dead language Ostrogothic , and the Civil War-era brothers who experimented with replacing human organs with vegetable matter. Also, Gonzales sometimes seems happier to write faux journalism that lets him hide behind a reporter's notepad, as in his story about an anthropological hoax about a fake island tribe.
In a few stories, though, Gonzales lets his main characters become obsessed with something or someone — like the zombie story, which is really about being obsessively in love with a coworker who's in a dreadful, abusive relationship. Or the werewolf story, which is about what happens when your father turns evil and you become obsessed with taking revenge on him. Or the unicorn story, in which the main character becomes completely obsessed with his neighbor's new pet unicorn, to the point where his marriage unravels.
This book is like reading Kafka on Ketamine
Also, some of the stories in this book are genuinely, insanely funny — most notably the gangster story "Cash to a Killing," which is just pure uproarious and violent comedy about what happens when you bury too many bodies in the same place. And at times, when Gonzales' narrator reconnects viscerally with the strangeness and awfulness of everything that's going on — especially in the werewolf story — the horror and misery become powerful and mind-blowing.
Most of the time, though, Gonzales book leaves you feeling at sea — like, out in the middle of the ocean, where odd shapes emerge from the waves all around you but there's no landmarks and thus no orientation at all. Just stinging water that pulls you under, granting you the occasional faceful of blinding sunlight as your head breaks the surface every now and then."

"Manuel Gonzales has an imagination that's as expansive and open as a Texas prairie.
The Austin-based writer creates fantastic worlds, often from the raw material of life in very ordinary corners of the Lone Star State — a mall in suburban Houston, for example, or the skies over Dallas.
His first short-story collection, "The Miniature Wife and Other Stories," is an entertaining romp through all sorts of implausible situations rendered with meticulous pseudo-realism. He tells stories of people with everyday desires caught up in freakishly strange conundrums that involve zombies, werewolves or an animal that might or might not be a unicorn.
Gonzales also concocts a delightfully bizarre ailment of the brain that sounds like something from a book by the neurologist and author Oliver Sacks.
"Karl Abbasonov is one of five known sufferers of the musculoskeletal and neuropsychological disease locomotor ataxia agitans libertaetis," Gonzales writes in the story "The Artist's Voice." "In this affliction, a kernel of an idea infects the brain, like the spore of a fungus might infect the brain of an ant."
Abbasonov composes classical music, but every time he thinks of a musical note, it causes his muscles to wither away. Music is so much a part of his being that he can't stop himself, and he eventually becomes a shriveled, wheelchair-bound mass of flesh the size of a 4-year-old boy.
"The Artist's Voice" can be read as an allegory about the self-destructive qualities all artists possess. Like all the other stories in this collection, it's written with wonderful precision and understatement.
In a similar vein, the story "Pilot, Copilot, Writer" is an existential tale about a man stuck in a holding pattern — literally — in a jet over Dallas.
"We have been circling the city now at an altitude of between seven thousand and ten thousand feet for, according to our best estimates, around twenty years," says the narrator of "Pilot, Copilot, Writer." The plane has been hijacked, and yet life goes on — babies are born and people age, onboard a jet that never lands.
Even after a generation in flight, the narrator tells us, flying feels the same: "I have decided that anything besides boredom and thirst and a dull, physical ache is beyond the reach of airplane passengers."
At its best, the literature of the fantastic can be a window into the dark and hopeful corners of the human experience. But Gonzales' aims in his first story collection aren't quite that lofty.
More often, Gonzales is content to be a fabulist who loses himself in the simple pleasure of making the crazy things feel real, and constructing worlds with their own beautiful and bizarre order. A few of these stories take place in the kind of pseudo-historical realm mastered by such diverse artists as the writer Steven Millhauser, and the creators of the Museum of Jurassic Technology.
"The Disappearance of the Senali Tribe" is an amusing, matter-of-fact account of a great scientific hoax. Two ambitious academics invent an entire tribe, their rituals and their language, going so far as to create fake villages and then causing the tribe to "disappear."
"It seems men and women … have engaged in such hoaxes … from time immemorial, whether for fame, notoriety, money … or as nothing more than an elaborate joke," Gonzales writes.
At times, Gonzales' stories slip into the glib tone of mere parody. "Escape From the Mall," for example, feels like a scene from a B-movie, as zombies, being zombies, devour people without rhyme or reason. (This reviewer thinks our zombie-saturated culture would be better off if we declared literary fiction a zombie-free zone.) In "Escape From the Mall," as in a few other passages in this story collection, the writing loses its soul.
Gonzales does give a living human heart to one zombie in the odd and affecting "All of Me." And there are several moments of dystopian wonder in "The Animal House," along with lots of luscious revenge and gender conflict in the title story, a fable in which a man accidentally shrinks his wife.
But all the achievements of those stories pale in comparison to the extraordinary "One-Horned and Wild-Eyed," in which two working-class guys in suburban Houston obsess over the animal one of them has in a shed. It's a creature that looks "like some kind of pearlescent undersized horse or over-large goat." And it possesses a single horn.
Unlike the characters in the other stories in "The Miniature Wife," the two friends in "One-Horned and Wild-Eyed" inhabit a recognizably real American neighborhood and possess the foibles of authentic American knuckleheads. The unicorn comes between men and their wives, and between the old buddies themselves.
The protagonist of "One-Horned and Wild-Eyed" sees in the appearance of the unicorn a chance to capture the innocence and magic of his youth, the sense of wonder of a boy who could tell and retell a story, "embellishing it to ridiculous and impractical heights."
As he plots to save and then steal the unicorn, the protagonist reflects on the emptiness of his adult existence: "I wondered when we had come to some reckoning of ourselves, some reappraisal of our personal narrative, when we had stopped thinking of ourselves as guys who did exciting, adventurous, childish things…."
"One-Horned and Wild Eyed" ends with a moment of transcendent comedy and weirdness. "I waited for something else, anything else, to happen," the narrator says. One senses that character is a kind of stand-in for the author himself.
Manuel Gonzales is a writer who can't wait for the next, magical thing to surprise him — so he makes them happen, in the big Texas sky of his abundant imagination." - Hector Tobar

Randomness, cruelty, isolation, transmogrification, unknown or unseen menaces and the opacity of others’ intentions are some of the common elements running through Gonzales’ stories, which he cuts with an astringent wit. The bar joke-length “Cash to a Killing,” about a couple of hit men forced to dig up the guy they just buried when one of them discovers his wallet is missing, is outright hilarious.
The longer stories are all narrated in the first person by males who are shuttered in some way, who struggle to see outside their immediate purview for reasons ranging from cluelessness to arrogance to being a zombie. The narrator of the title story works in miniaturization — though he can’t disclose what he makes or how small he makes it. When he inadvertently shrinks his wife to the size of a coffee mug he is taken aback by her fury then angered when she cheats with a shrunken colleague. After she launches a series of inventive attacks, the two descend into all-out war in which her smallness unexpectedly gives her the upper hand.
Animals and monsters, or a combination of the two, make frequent appearances. Gonzales demonstrates his attunement to the cultural zeitgeist by featuring zombies in two stories — though one, “Escape from the Mall,” strikes me as the book’s weakest — and werewolves and unicorns in two others. When Margaret Atwood announced to George Stroumboulopoulis recently that “no zombie story is ever told from the point of view of the zombie” (their having no brains posing obvious impediments language-wise), she clearly hadn’t read “All of Me,” which is indeed narrated by a zombie who tries, Dexter-like, to keep things together for the sake of a woman he admires at his office.
Borges’ influence is apparent in both Gonzales’ magic realist style and in his “factual” portrayals of fake lives. In “The Disappearance of the Sebali Tribe,” two men pull an elaborate anthropological hoax on their prestigious American universities before disappearing without a trace. “The Artist’s Voice” is presented as a case study about a classical music composer whose creative output seems paradoxically tied to his physical deterioration. A series of brief faux biographies, each subtitled “A Meritorious Life,” profiles men with unusual ambitions and abilities ranging from DIY organ replacement to a native ability to speak extinct languages.
“One-Horned & Wild-Eyed,” seems the fullest expression of Gonzales’ talents and preoccupations. In it, a layabout suburbanite named Ralph shows his friend Mano an animal he bought resembling a “pearlescent undersized horse or overlarge goat” that he claims is a unicorn. Although Mano is initially skeptical, he soon finds himself obsessed by the beast, which seems to wield a mysterious, sinister power over the two men.
The impact of these stories can be tempered by Gonzales’ ironic distance, but the intelligence and versatility of his writing suggests he could, and perhaps should, take it to darker, longer places. - Emily Donaldson

“. . . clearly the work of a promising writer.”
This collection of 18 short stories displays a fertile imagination and a penchant for strange situations and unlikely heroes. The Miniature Wife and Other Stories is the work of a writer willing to take risks.
Mr. Gonzales experiments with registers and styles, most of which fall into one of two types. The first is a mock-scholarly account of an esoteric subject for its dramatic or humorous interest.
“William Corbin: A Meritorious Life” tells of a 16-century Englishman who was fascinated by the street show performances of “the Klouns,” a mysterious tribe who spoke the now-lost language of Klounkouvan and hailed from what is now modern day Moldova. Corbin became their disciple and the father of modern-day clowns.
In “Henry Richard Niles: A Meritorious Life,” a Cleveland-born boy cannot learn English but expresses himself in the dead language of Ostrogothic and emerges as a poet, in an allegory about the nature of literature as a language within language. Another story, “Juan Manuel Gonzales: A Meritorious Life,” is an O. Henry-ish narration of a 19th century Mexican with a name that echoes the author’s.
In all, there are five such mini-biographies, each artfully written in a language of cool detachment from its subject. It’s easy to imagine these stories, along with a few others of a similar style (“The Artist’s Voice” and “The Disappearance of the Sebali Tribe”), standing confidently on their own in a much smaller and more aesthetically unified book, and never mind the marketing pressures.
The Miniature Wife, however, is a larger book that features popular genres, too. The author returns repeatedly to the effect created by filtering generic conventions through the deadpan reporting of a first-person narrator. There are two zombie stories, a werewolf tale and, in “Life on Capra II,” a concoction of swamp monsters, robots and a besieged narrator who seems not to be playing but living in an ultra-violent video game.
In these stories, brains splatter and ooze. Eyes get sucked from their sockets. There are uncontrollable fantasies to eat your acquaintance’s face.
At the same time, these genre pieces do more than merely reproduce conventions or offer spoofs. They assert a highly stylized, Tim Burton-ish surface, and whether or not this is interesting probably depends on whether one likes Tim Burton.
The author also tries to tease out some social or moral implications from this fantasy or nightmare fabric, which is itself an expression of human needs. This approach would’ve been more successful had Mr. Gonzales given more room to the problem of pain, which is neither a matter of style nor an abstraction. These genres have plenty of pain to offer but here, despite the gore, a sense of personal hurt is not very palpable.
But it would be misleading to suggest that all of these stories fit neatly into the aforementioned categories, because this collection is too eclectic to be pigeonholed. There are exceptions, and these include some of the most appealing stories in the book.
These stories are less mannered than the mock-scholarly accounts, and more original than the nods to popular genre. The title story, “The Miniature Wife” in which a man tries to cohabit with his pixie-sized spouse, invites comparisons to Charles Bukowski’s famous battle of the sexes, “Six Inches.” “Pilot, Copilot, Writer” and “Cash to a Killing” are pleasantly idiosyncratic, where strange or accidental events feel all the more true for being strange or accidental.
My favorite, “One Horn & Wild-Eyed” (an agreeably daft tale about a unicorn), shows Mr. Gonzales’ imagination at its best. The narrator is both brash and vulnerable, and the conclusion bizarre and satisfying.
The overall effect of The Miniature Wife and Other Stories is uneven, but the better stories are intriguing. It is clearly the work of a promising writer. - Charles Holdefer

When we read fiction, there’s an implicit negotiation between reader and writer. The writer is going to share a story that might not be at all plausible in places we don’t know filled with people we cannot ever know, but the writer will do their best to make you forget such impossibilities. The reader is going to know certain elements of a good story might not be plausible, that really, everything they’re reading is part of an elaborate fiction, but they’re going to trust that the writer will find a way to make them believe that which, in other circumstances, could not be believed. Readers are going to have a little faith. In The Miniature Wife and Other Stories, a debut collection from Manuel Gonzales, that faith is well rewarded. What is particularly impressive about this collection is how Gonzales manages to be both a writer and a storyteller. The words lift from the page much as if you were sitting in a room with Gonzales himself, as he tells you the most engrossing stories you’ve ever heard. The stories inThe Miniature Wife are full of wild imagination and powerful heart. They are about the extraordinary and the ordinary. This is one of those books where the writer demonstrates palpable commitment to his imagination, and how that imagination interprets the world we live in.
In the title story, a man who works in miniaturization accidentally shrinks his wife to the height of a coffee mug without knowing how. There are consequences, of course, to such a calamity and the story follows what happens to their marriage, how the narrator learns to live with an angry, miniature wife who focuses her attention on avenging her condition. There are many strong stories in this collection but the title story is probably the strongest because it’s a fantastic, in the true sense of the word, story but it’s also a story about marriage and how how similar love and hate can be, how people can become unknowable to one another in an intimate relationship.
What’s also lovely is the attention to detail, the world building and how utterly believable it becomes that life goes on for this husband and his miniature wife. He watches her sleeping through a magnifying glass. He builds her a dollhouse where she can live that the wife vandalizes, “the graffiti (nail polish, easily removed), the torn curtains (easily replaced).” The longer she stays miniature, the stronger his wife grows, the angrier, the more unknowable. The husband begins finding dead flies around the house. “Under the magnifying glass—borrowed from my office—most of the flies look to be stabbed through, a small sliver of wood running through an abdomen or eye. One of them looked caught, tortured, its legs removed, wings twisted back. At normal size, my wife was never this cruel.” There is so much implied in that statement about the state of their marriage before the wife became miniature and throughout the story, we can see the ways in which both husband and wife failed each other before the unexpected altered their lives.
Hostilities intensify, the wife raging from her diminished state, the husband passive aggressively enduring until the end, where the narrator realizes size is not what makes a partner formidable.
In “Wolf!” a son chronicles his father’s transformation into a werewolf, how their family is destroyed by this transformation, quite literally, how for a long time, it is only the mother and narrator who survive as the father hunts and kills his “brood,” how they try to kill him to save him, and how doing so is fraught with unexpected challenges. Again, Gonzales uses the fantastic to tell a story about family, and the complexity of the relationships therein. The story is haunting and even beautiful, with an ending that stuns because it is so dark and so very human.
If I have another favorite in this excellent collection, it’s “All of Me,” a different kind of zombie story. Because we’re so culturally saturated in zombie stories, I love those that are truly original. I wrote a different kind of zombi(e) once, or I tried. Gonzales manages to strike a wholly original note with a story about a zombie who is living in the human world but struggling to suppress his zombie urges. At his job there is the elevator, which is, “a dangerous place for someone like me. It is a place full of urges, of somewhat violent urges.” There’s a woman, Barbara,who is married, who the narrator covets. “All of Me,” is a story where an undead understands most what being human is all about—the torment of wanting what you can’t have and wanting the terrible things you want even when you know you shouldn’t.
How do we live good lives when our basest instincts are always clawing at us. In each of the eighteen stories inThe Miniature Wife, Gonzales tries to answer this question with confident writing and an uncompromising willingness to make the impossible feel as real as everything we know. Gonzales reveals that he is the kind of writer in whom a reader’s faith is well placed. How do we survive our basest instincts? As the narrator in “All of Me,” reflects, “It’s a fine line. It’s a tightrope. It’s a balancing act.” The same could be said for this outstanding book. - Roxane Gay

Manuel Gonzales’ first collection of short stories was a truly unique but quick read. Ranging from the speculative to the supernatural, Gonzales’ subject matter ranged from plane hijackings to zombie attacks, but to varied levels of success. Some highlights:
Pilot, Copilot, Writer: The premise: the main character, a writer, is on a plane that is hijacked. Instead of the hijacker holding the passengers for ransom or rerouting the plane to a different location, the hijacker chooses to circle Dallas. For about twenty years. Now, the premise alone presents so many obstacles and creates so many parameters for a writer, but Gonzales manages to shatter them and creates a truly original piece. One of the strongest pieces in the collection.
The Disappearance of the Sebali Tribe: Brilliant! Love love LOVED this story. The premise: Two anthropologists almost pull of a hugely successful hoax on academia: they publish study after groundbreaking study on a deeply isolated tribe THAT DOESN’T EXIST. Superbly woven together. Tight, purposeful plot structure. Bravo
Almost there:
All of Me: The first of two (TWO!) zombie-centric stories in the collection, this piece is from the perspective of a zombie, disguised as the very much alive, going about his nine-to-five life, trying to resist the urge to eat the faces of his coworkers. He also has a crush on a female coworker. The voice is incredibly original and very funny, though I feel like the plot devolved from something super original to something super expected.
Skip these:
Life on Capra II: The voice Gonzales employed for the main character in this piece really didn’t work for me. He felt more like a caricature than a character, and maybe that was the point. There was a distinctly video-game-esque feel to the piece, as the action seems to progress, then regress, as if player one lost and the game reset to the beginning of the level, and the reader was inside the brain of the avatar. Regardless, the voice was just so over the top at times that made it hard for me to care about him or what happened to him. Then there were the guns. And the robot attacks. And the swamp monsters. It just got to be a little much. I’m the wrong kind of nerd to appreciate that story.
Escape from the Mall: A story about a group of people trapped in a janitor’s supply closet during a spontaneous zombie uprising at their local mall. I feel like, even if you’re not into horror/zombie movies, we’ve all seen this movie. Over the past 3-5 years as pop culture became obsessed with all things zombie , this plotline somehow found its way into America’s collective unconscious. When I first started the story, I was excited. I thought Gonzalez was going to do something really original with this very done premise. Nope. Personally, I feel like Gonzales took such creative risks and thought so outside the box for many of the other stories in this collection that this story just felt too easy. It was a great starting point, but I feel like if, as an author, you choose to take on a premise that’s been done to death, you better bring something original to the table, and unfortunately, in this case, Gonzales does not.
My personal feeling: Gonzales shines when he sticks to more to the realm of speculative (particularly when the speculative topics delve into academic topics…it’s clear Gonzales is, himself, super intelligent and very well read!) but struggles when he veers to far into the land of science fiction. All in all, some blazing moments of brilliance tucked in between pieces with potential to be developed into something worth reading. Definitely worth checking out from your local library.-
Manuel Gonzales's new collection of short stories, The Miniature Wife, will stick with you. The places and characters will ring daily in your mind and occur to you with neither invitation nor impetus. And when they do, you'll let your mind rest on those thoughts and think them for a while, maybe for whole blocks of the street you're walking down. Sure, that kind of second life is what pretty much all art aims to accomplish, but it's a surprise that The Miniature Wife achieves it.
It's a surprise because the stories are about unicorns, shrink rays, werewolves, and zombies. "Pilot, Copilot, Writer" is about a hijacked plane that circles Dallas for 20 years as the occupants age, die, and consume vials of liquid that meet all their nutritional needs. In "The Artist's Voice," a brilliant composer, who has seizures when he writes music, is able to talk—as in, literally verbalize—out of his ears. There is absolutely nothing in my quotidian life that resembles any of that, and no reason I should ever be reminded of these stories.
And yet I am, and frequently. The unicorn, especially, from "One-Horned & Wild-Eyed" comes back to me. Ralph buys it "off a goddamn Chinaman. And for cheap, too." And his friend, the narrator, is seized by an inexplicable and life-rending fascination with the creature in Ralph's shed.
It looked like some kind of pearlescent undersized horse or overlarge goat or some bastardization of the two, with maybe something else—moose? sea lion?—thrown in for good measure... it was thin and sleek and strong-looking, with something rounded and unhorselike about its face... it was an unsettling thing to look at, not ugly, but not pretty, either.
I thought about this goddamn unicorn for days. I thought about how the unicorn ate phosphorescent "fairy dust" that "looks like play sand you can buy at Walmart," but which the "Chinaman" said was ground-up fairies—the unicorn needed half a cup of it four times a day, mixed into a paste with either beer or whiskey. I thought about the two friends and their rivalry over the animal, and how Ralph would fall asleep in his lawn chair in front of it with his bathrobe draping open, and the narrator, despite their rivalry, would delicately cover Ralph up again. I thought about how the narrator felt when he touched the unicorn's coat for the first time, and the way it looked in the moonlight on the night it escaped.
This must be the difference between good and bad magical realism. Even though Gonzales is presenting me with things I've never imagined before and will never encounter again, they feel important, relevant, and tangible. It'd be easy to impose Aesop-like morals on the stories and read them as allegories for the real world they're not part of. Indeed, The Miniature Wife is so well-suited to providing platforms for considering the human condition that tropistic themes like jealousy, impotence, the mundane, relationship failure, etc., are unavoidable for any reader. (A unicorn? Duh, it's about the unachievable.) But to Gonzales's credit as a storyteller, the reason his work might resonate with a reader is not because it's a good foil for talking about the human condition. It's because his images are so haunting and clear, it is as though he's brought them to life, and I find it impossible to unsee the things I've seen in my mind's eye. - Cate McGehee