There are few things I love more than a slightly off-kilter short story collection in the vein of Karen Russell, Lucy Wood, and Margaret Atwood. I read Thomas Pierce’s debut short story collection Hall of Small Mammals as 2014 ended and 2015 began, and it fit the bill perfectly. The 12 stories in this collection verge on the surreal in the most delightfully profound ways.
In the first story, “Shirley Temple Three,” a man who works for a TV show that clones prehistoric creatures brings a resurrected dwarf woolly mammoth home to his mother. In “Grasshopper Kings,” a group of boys learns the meaning of life on a cultish scout camping trip. In “More Soon,” the body of a man’s dead brother becomes categorized as a biological weapon as everyone who comes into contact with it dies; a mysterious woman keeps the man up to date on the investigation, ending all of her increasingly strange missives with the words “more soon.”
One of my favorite stories was “The Real Alan Gass,” in which a physicist, who is searching for a particle that is locked simultaneously in a state of existence and nonexistence, tells her boyfriend that she is married to a man named Alan Gass — but only in her dreams. As the boyfriend grows more unsettled by this revelation, he goes looking for the real Alan Gass in the phonebook and makes a surprising discovery. This story has a hint of whimsy, but it is also incredibly clever.
“We of the Present Age” stands out from the rest of the stories in that it isn’t set in the present. Many decades ago, a prestigious Academy sends the enthusiastic but unqualified Dr. Anders to procure a set of fossilized remains rumored to be the most complete specimen ever uncovered. However, his mission goes awry when Dabney Dubose, proprietor of a shady traveling museum, gets there first. Despite Anders’ duties to science, he gets swept up by Dubose’s scheme and winds up working for the Academy’s competition. It’s a charmingly absurd look at human susceptibility.
I really loved Hall of Small Mammals, and I was actually sad when I reached the end of the book. I wanted to spend more time in the weird little world Thomas Pierce has created! He deftly weaves together the strange and the subtle, telling stories that are both slightly whimsical and deeply meaningful. I highly recommend this collection, and I can’t wait to see what Pierce does next.
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