“We collected their shells in our shirts and made necklaces that we wore around like witch doctors.”
Something about the first story, Brood X, hit me with nostalgia. My guess, the cicada necklaces. I was one of those strange kids that used to marvel at the empty husks they left behind, clinging to branches, trees, walls, you name it. I was a bit of a tom boy, running around barefoot and in love with nature. When the cicadas take over in this story, it seems every animal (human too) goes a bit crazy with it. I wanted this short story to be a full novel, I loved everything about it. As the boy in the story tells us of his mother, “Normally a lovely and compassionate woman, she took a devout interest in the deterioration of other people’s homes.” I laughed. It’s because everything about the characters in the story are believable, even in their obnoxiousness. The children are funny, talking about the ‘screwing’ bugs. Sometimes I forget how shocking information is to young ears, even something as natural as the fact that bugs ‘joined’ together are having sex! I admit to once telling my little cousin on a walk that we had now entered Russia. I wasn’t a mean kid, just silly but it scared her – kids love to see what they can convince others are true. I was sad when it ended. Somehow it managed to give off a strange feeling, then sadness hits you for the strange new family that moved in, inspiring rumors.
Each story has it’s own tinge of disturbing, even in small ways. I think I loved Beautiful Monsters as much as Brood X. It comes off as terribly sad but creepy too. In Mothership, Jess comes off as selfish but troubled- she’s always wanted to crawl into the seeming perfection that is her sister. She is damaged, and in staying with her sister and her precocious children she may just see her sister’s life in another light. Doesn’t seem strange but an encounter she has gave me a gasp, because the ideal of it, what it reveals about her sister’s ‘perfect’ life. Who really has it all together? Who doesn’t have struggles? Something is wrong with Jess, for some people the simple things are a big struggle. It’s just a reality for some people. If I am honest, I have to admit I would eat up a full novel about the family in Mothership, I even loved the precocious niece. If you can write a short story with characters people would love to follow longer, I think you’ve nailed it. Nothing enormous had to happen, it was the small stuff that moved me.
These stories are ordinary and not. The youngsters are confused, and misunderstand so many things as they slowly shed the skin of their youth, as in the story where the young boy thinks his mother is a robot. Maybe a robot mother is easier to believe in than one that has human failings and needs. The writing is lovely, and the stories made me feel as ‘off’ as the characters, and I think that’s what I liked most about them. They just made me feel strange, and in many ways most of us are- at our core- a bit strange. From crippling depression, a world where parents no longer exist, mothers that may or may not be robots to a dad partying with his baby this collection takes a skewered look at the ordinary. What is stranger than being a creature with the ability to think so much about the meaning of everything, and to ponder the roles of everyone we are connected to? I really enjoyed this collection, it’s the first book I have read by Puchner. This wonderful book of short stories will be available to buy next week.
Publication Date: February 21, 2017