From Publishers Weekly
In "The Machine of Understanding Other People," the novella that concludes this marvelous set of loosely connected stories, the main character is bequeathed a helmet that enables him entry into the minds of others. Perhaps Somerville (The Cradle) had access to such a device as he crafted his wide-ranging yet wonderfully authentic narrators. Several stories offer intimate access into seemingly real life—a teenager nurses a crush on a teacher as her parents separate, a man recalls a friendly relationship with long-ago proprietors of his corner store—but Somerville's originality shines most when palpably human characters navigate mind-bending scenarios. Students at the School of Surreal Thought and Design are consumed by their vaguely artistic projects but have no instructors, classes, or campus; a new couple faces the aftermath of the end of Earth's orbit yet continue their mundane squabbles ("I was mad and she said, ÇÿThe world ended,' and I said, ÇÿThat's not the point.'"). These densely layered tales invite multiple readings, but even a glance uncovers profound human connection beneath Somerville's often whimsical surface. (Dec.)
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After the restraint of his well-received first novel, The Cradle (2009), Somerville returns to the short story and unleashes the full force of his mischievous imagination. In this inventive and robust collection loosely anchored to the Midwest town of Grayson, and the mysterious School of Surreal Thought and Design, straight-ahead stories that take new slants on familiar themesfamily dysfunction, a high-school student’s crush on a teacherare yoked to bold tales that deliver psychological realism to the outskirts of speculative and science fiction. There’s a hilarious vignette about a catastrophically inept spaceship admiral and a terrifying story about how people behave when the earth stops spinning. The spooky title story portrays a trio of rogue students embroiled in disturbing projects, while The Machine of Understanding Other People” is a comic yet wrenching adventure story about a strange inheritance and a dangerous dream of preventing the destruction of the world.” Attuned to the apocalyptic, Somerville, like Jim Shepard and Joe Meno, creates ensnaring plots involving characters in stories of melancholy and absurdity, failure and out-of-the-box heroics. — Booklist
The Universe in Miniature in Miniature is that rare thing, a formally inventive and profound book of ideas that also manages to stir the emotions. —KGB Book Review
Somerville has vast talent for invention and a flair for writing in a variety of voices, whether his character is a young female, a middle-aged male, or an alien. —The Boston Globe