Five stars and a 10-gun salute: Kalfus fractures the concept of traditional short fiction with this debut collection. Deservedly cheered by David Foster Wallace ("Infinite Jest"; "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again"), Kalfus's audacious stories have both charm and vision in multiple formats that reflect fiction's fabulous future.
The premier vignette, "Notice," explores the concept of "thirst," the interminable yearning that shapes human curiosity and achievement. Cynically set in the language of copyrights and legalese, "Notice" depicts the love life of the printed word, from its visceral seductiveness to our jealous control of its activities. In "Bouquet," a young au pair's aversion to open sexuality leads to a strange gift from a man who has been following her: a bouquet of flowers with a surprise that separates the prudish from the practical.
"The Republic of St. Mark, 1849" is an absolute jewel, surprising in its juxtaposition of the horrors of war and the mystical capacity of the human spirit. Alexandro "has been dying his whole life," but the eerie weapons of balloons and braziers that torment his besieged city finally bring him to death's surprising threshold, lofted into thinnest air by his own imagination.
Ken Kalfus quenches one's thirst for entertaining and intriguing fiction.
From Publishers Weekly
Kalfus veers between whimsical postmodern playfulness and a darker realism in the 14 stories of his skilled, versatile first collection. He demonstrates a sophisticated comic flair, best seen in "The Joy and Melancholy Baseball Trivia Quiz," which describes a number of entirely fictional baseball records. Sometimes, however, Kalfus's whimsy gets the best of him, as in "Invisible Malls," a reworking of Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, an extended literary joke that wears thin. At the other extreme, some of his forays into more conventional fiction such as "Rope Bridge," about a man's desire for a friend of his wife'sAare a bit pedestrian. Kalfus is most successful when he mixes his different approaches into the original sort of magic realism he creates in the title tale, which concerns an erotically charged encounter between a virginal Irish au pair, Nula, and a Moroccan student, Henri Tatahouine, in Paris. The hallucinatory quality of Henri's account of his life leaves Nula emotionally blistered, as though she had been in the Sahara. The comic, horrifying "Cats in Space," which tells the tale of a group of kids who use helium balloons to launch a kitten into the air, is similarly effective. Though uneven, Kalfus's collection is ambitious and daring, with smart, fluid prose and an abundance of surprises.
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