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The Universe in Miniature in Miniature Paperback – November 16, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

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 themes—family dysfunction, a high-school student’s crush on a teacher—are 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

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Featherproof Books; 0002- edition (November 16, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0982580819
  • ISBN-13: 978-0982580813
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,319,694 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Patrick Somerville is the author of two novels - This Bright River and The Cradle - and two books of short stories - Trouble and The Universe in Miniature in Miniature. He lives with his wife and son in Chicago, and he teaches creative writing in the MFA programs at Warren Wilson and Northwestern University.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By G. Nomad on December 1, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Looking for a collection of stories that never bores? That always retains its flavor and texture? In his new collection of short stories Patrick Somerville has, with scattered precision, invented a whole new genre. The stories are intertwined in an Escheresque way that allow you to discover them again and again, backwards and forwards, sideways and roundabout. If you are a fan of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Alice Through the Looking Glass, if you enjoy science fiction and love stories, and if you like a little apocalyptic darkness mixed in with your post-millennial philosophy you will fall in love with these stories. If you want to know the answer to: what should you do with a billion dollars? Then read this book.

Using his characteristic dry humor, keen observations, and quick prose Patrick Somerville keeps us interested to the bitter end. An end, it turns out, that isn't all that bitter after all, an end that is really just a beginning.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Zachary Cole on February 8, 2011
Format: Paperback
This is Patrick Somerville's most ambitious book by a mile. The characters and situations here are so delightfully varied. In these stories we encounter a group of college students with bizarre self-designated assignments. A somewhat washed up sci-fi writer and his balding friend. A man in the middle of a nervous breakdown. This book stands in stark contrast with other collections I've read recently, where it can feel like the same character is being used in ever story, re-named again and again.

I was also impressed by how comfortably Somerville shifted tone and genre, which came as something as a surprise considering that his earlier books were traditionally literature (with a few shots of oddness here and there). "No Sun", for example, is a grizzly, stripped down tale of survival in the vein of Justin Cronin's "The Passage". The next story, Varra in the Woods, is a straight-up horror story with parental overtones, while "The Wildlife Biologist" is a very honest, naturalistic and probing look at high school lust and middle-age failures.

Any fan of genre-bending, compassionate characters and general goofiness should give this book a shot.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By T. Madl on March 12, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
After being seduced and entertained by Somerville's thoughtful storytelling in the Cradle, I found 'The Universe in Miniature in Miniature' to be a worthy followup. I don't really read much science fiction, and I didn't know what kind of subject matter Somerville would cover in this book. Or even that it would be a collection of short stories this time. But I found 'The Universe...' to be a delight from the opening paragraph. As with the Cradle, I have continued to considered the themes explored by Somerville's often odd, but always interesting characters, long after the last page was turned. So I'm already looking forward to his next offering.
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The Universe in Miniature in Miniature is a fantastic collection of short stories. It presents humorous stories, science fiction stories, serious stories and stories worth reading for a glimpse into the imaginative mind of the author, Patrick Somerville. While there are loose themes that run throughout the book, each story is also completely engaging on its own. As I approached the end of the collection I found myself in the familiar place of not wanting to finish the book- the ultimate sign that what I am reading to too good to put down and I don't want to be confronted by the last page.

I highly recommend TUiMiM. It's a pleasure.
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