Corsair, £20 Order for £18 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
We Others: New and Selected Stories, By Steven Millhauser
Wednesday 14 December 2011
Spanning three decades, Steven Millhauser's We Others is the summation of a literary life that has – despite a Pulitzer Prize and a Hollywood adaptation of his story "Eisenheim the Illusionist" – refused to translate across the Atlantic. All his fiction has dropped out of print here, while his last two books failed even to find a UK publisher. We Others goes some way to redressing the balance, though whether this is the book to endear a British readership is far from certain.
We Others consists of seven new stories and selections from Millhauser's four previous collections. Ostensibly this makes for a diverse range, from reimaginings of the Sinbad stories to an existential take on Tom and Jerry; from tales of rampant American capitalism to fin-de-siècle European excess. Yet there is a consistency that unites these stories to such a degree that together they are almost constricted.
Millhauser is a fabulist, taken with the strangeness of life, of its proximity to magic and fantasy. Yet behind the flying carpets, the wife-frogs and ghostly visitations, We Others is far more concerned with the nature of inclusion and exclusion – how society and time can both be solace and nightmare.
"The Slap" sets this tone and theme. Narrated by the inhabitants of a town under siege from a man who smacks its citizens in broad daylight, it shows Millhauser at his best: unshowy, deft and alive to the tensions between "we" and "I". Yet the first-person plural has been used for the third time in seven stories; and the effect is weakened. As a consequence, "The Next Thing" – a creepy tale of a supermall taking over a small town – feels less vital.
The three stories set at the turn of the century – "Eisenheim the Illusionist", "August Eschenburg" and "The Wizard of West Orange" – are finely wrought, yet their worlds and predicaments feel so similar that they seem to intrude upon each other. Taken individually, this is a wonderful collection, full of mystery and subtlety. However, as a whole it gives an unfair impression of thinness, of a writer whose tropes have overwhelmed him. This is a shame. At his best, Millhauser is a unique and unusual voice – one for whom the UK should certainly make room.
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Three-year-old ultra-Orthodox Jewish children told 'the non-Jews' are 'evil' in worksheet produced by London school
- 2 Moscow voted the world's unfriendliest city
- 3 The excuses your boss is most likely to believe when you call in sick
- 4 I'm pansexual – here are the five biggest misconceptions about my sexuality
- 5 More than 11,000 Icelanders offer to house Syrian refugees to help European crisis
The real reason Eddie Redmayne was cast as a trans woman in The Danish Girl
JK Rowling announces Harry Potter's son is starting at Hogwarts
Idris Elba is ‘too street’ to play 007, says James Bond author
Loose Women poll asking if rape is 'ever a woman's fault' sparks backlash
Akram Khan: Choreographer says dance is 'as important as maths and being a doctor'
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don’t change Europe’s attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Tony Blair attacks Jeremy Corbyn's 'Alice In Wonderland' politics
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up