The Universe In Miniature in Miniature, Patrick Somerville, featherproof books, 2010
Sometimes you're in just the right mood for a short story. I have been reading a lot of longer pieces recently, and when the FridayReads Modern Love Anthology for book lovers came out a few weeks ago, I so enjoyed it- the writing was very refreshing. So with a thirst for the new and different, I dove into The Universe In Miniature in Minature by Chicago author Patrick Somerville.
I loved this collection. All the stories explore, in one way or another, love and the intensity of human connection.
The book opens with the "The Universe In Miniature in Miniature," in which three students of the mysterious and elusive School of Surreal Thought & Design are on a surveillance stakeout at the home of one student's former boyfriend. Each of the students has a school project to complete: our narrator makes models, she is in love with the writer, who is dating the surveiller. At first, the quirky absurdism of the school and these projects is surprising and may be a little hard to embrace. As the story unfolds, larger meaning is revealed, and our narrator discovers the true purpose of her work. Hold on to this concept - you will find it applies to the collection as a whole.
The author has a remarkable way of connecting his stories, both subtly and overtly. In "Easy Love" our narrator, a future doctor, observes the transience of so many things that he loves: girlfriend, patients (including a young man who dies of a knife wound), local store owner and daughter. He is a rescuer, a "Love Monster." The next story is from the point of view of the knife wound victim's mother. Later comes a sad and powerful story from the point of view of the young man himself "If my mother screams loud enough....if she empties herself enough she's gonna change what has happened." A character in yet another story is a witness to the crime as it occurs.
Another favorite was "The Wildlife Biologist," in which a girl's relationship to her biology teacher and her parent's marriage move in opposite directions to each other and then back again. Is love enduring? she questions. Are we going the right direction? "No Sun" is a chilling apocalyptic tale, with a surprising ending. In "Confused Aliens" incompetent extraterrestrials accidentally blow up a planet (simultaneously humorous and sad). Other stories explore characters' struggles with inner darkness, insanity, and violence.
The final story, "The Machine of Understanding Other People," draws together themes and, if you pay attention, several characters from the rest of the collection. This is a moving story of a man who has lost his empathy and his sense of purpose in the world. When he inherits a "Machine of Understanding Other People" from a long lost relative, it profoundly changes him, and he eventually finds a his life's meaning in a dramatic, noble act.
In any collection of stories there are those you like more, and some you like less. I liked almost all of these stories, with only one or two exceptions. Patrick Somerville is a very skillful writer, gifted in capturing details that can make even surreal situations feel emotionally believable. Taken as a whole, with its intricately interwoven characters and themes, it may even be a bit of genius. And while it seemingly has nothing at all to do with the excellent writing, I cannot help but point out the very witty and appealing cover design - complete with directions on how to turn the book into a (miniature, of course) model of the solar system. In fact, the more I think about it, I am certain the cover is almost as essential as any one of the stories. I highly recommend this book for anyone who enjoys short stories, the occasional bit of galactic humor, or an intense adventure off the beaten path.
Indie Challenge Read #1