Corsair £20

We Others, By Steven Millhauser

Pulitzer winner's wondrous tales hold up a ghostly mirror to the face of civility

For anyone who has been creeped out by a clown, or who has gulped at a sword swallower, the stories of the Pulitzer Prize winner Steven Millhauser will resonate deeply.

They are preoccupied with wonders that take us out of our daily drudge and in doing so become, ironically, a barometer to the absurd nature of what we deem normal. The new anthology, We Others, covers three decades of writing, coursing through several collections and a handful of new stories. It is a wondrous book.

"I was a normal, ordinary, well-adjusted boy, without a trace of anything that might account for the fate that lay in store for me," says Paul Steinbach, the narrator of the title novella. Paul begins by detailing his all-American, middle-class days, a life which ends with a quiet, unexpected death in late middle age. It is then that the fun begins. As a ghost he is suddenly extraordinary. He takes up residence in the attic of the home of a sad-eyed, lonely woman down the block. From this loft conversion he becomes the spectral caretaker of her heart while simultaneously seeking insight from a group of fellow ethereal lost boys. In a nice comic twist they form a kind of Phantoms Anonymous: melancholy ghouls struggling with their very own peculiar existential crisis. The story shows Millhauser's ability to take a well-worn formula to new ends. In "We Others" the ghosts could as easily be the extreme poor, the uneducated, the voiceless immigrant, all of whom we, the comfortable, educated, eloquent fail to notice.

The ability to shake up a genre piece is particularly evident in another new title, "The Invasion from Outer Space", which plays out through a rain of yellow dust. "No terrifying horror there," think the denizens of small-town America. Apart that is from the powder's talent for molecular reproduction. Slowly, the dust covers the white picket fences and perfect lawns. It's a custardy conquest.

The older stories fit perfectly with the new. In the most famous, "Eisenheim the Illusionist", which was filmed in 2006 with Edward Norton as the melancholy magician, fin de siècle Vienna is the setting for a fireside yarn about a prestidigitator at war with an official of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His sleight of hand proves to be beyond understanding and therefore ultimately victorious. "Eisenheim deliberately crossed boundaries and therefore disturbed the essence of things."

In "The Knife Thrower", a travelling showman sparks nostalgia and dizzying foreboding in his audience. "We thought of ... hot circus tents on blue summer days." However, this blades-man is known for scarring his targets. "That was something we hadn't seen before, or even imagined we might see, something worth remembering," says one of the crowd. It's a story that really hits the mark. Other entries explore the arcane and the specialist, taking in the realms of horology, automatons and barmy museums.

Millhauser's fiction is a genre all of its own: part Stephen King, part Roald Dahl, part Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Like fantasies, dreams and nightmares, these tales are touchstones to the bizarre, unknowable nature of human existence and our capacity for imagination. Through narratives of disruption, they place a mirror to the face of civility, chipping away at the veneer of everyday constructs and respectable behaviour. Millhauser, in the terminology of the barnstorming conjuror, has pulled off a great reveal: that in our desire for escapism we highlight how tethered we are to human insecurity.

Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London