- Hardcover: 256 pages
- Publisher: Crown; 1st edition (April 20, 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0609600702
- ISBN-13: 978-0609600702
- Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6 x 8.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 25 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #316,215 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
The Knife Thrower and Other Stories Hardcover – April 20, 1998
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Customers who bought this item also bought
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
The Knife Thrower introduces a series of distinctively Millhauserian worlds: tiny, fabulous, self-enclosed, like Fabergé eggs or like the short-story genre itself. Flying carpets; subterranean amusement parks; a band of teenage girls who meet secretly in the night in order to do "nothing at all"; a store with departments of Moorish courtyards, volcanoes, and Aztec temples: these are Millhauser's stock-in-trade as a storyteller, and he employs them to characteristically magical effect. As in Millhauser's other books, including Edwin Mullhouse and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Martin Dressler, his subject is nothing less than the faculty of imagination itself. Here, however, the flights of fancy are unencumbered by Martin Dressler's wealth of period detail, and the result is fun-house prose whose pleasures and terrors are equally gossamer. Millhauser possesses the unique ability to render the quotidian strange, so that, emerging from his stories, the reader often feels the world itself an unfamiliar place--as do the shoppers at his department store, that marketplace of skillful illusion: "As we hurry along the sidewalk, we have the absurd sensation that we have entered still another department, composed of ingeniously lifelike streets with artful shadows and reflections--that our destinations lie in a far corner of the same department--that we are condemned to hurry forever through these artificial halls, bright with late afternoon light, in search of the way out."
From Library Journal
Millhauser, winner of the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for Martin Dressler (LJ 4/15/96), shows his boundless imagination in this collection of surreal, fanciful, and dark-edged stories. Breaking the rules of short-story writing, half of the selections lack a central character and are instead narrated by a nameless "we." Though this may distance the reader, it gives insight into group consciousness, something rarely expressed so directly in fiction. We are also treated to Millhauser's elaborate descriptions of awe-inspiring, otherworldly amusement parks, department stores, and underground passageways. Even his more conventional stories give us flying carpets, duels, and two-foot frogs, and for this reason the book is perhaps best read in small doses, lest Millhauser's descriptions become overwhelming. Unique and always fascinating; essential for academic and larger public libraries.AChristine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Idaho Lib., Moscow
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
Author Steven Wellhauser writes beautifully, creating a sort of word-music, but as noted, not any ordinary kind of stories. You will either love these stories or find them vaguely disappointing. I recommend this collection but it's not for everyone. Reviewed by Louis N. Gruber.
Of the seven Millhauser books that I own, this is, I believe, the best of them. The Barnum Museum, another collection of short stories, would be a close second, with the idiosyncratic novel Edwin Mullhouse being the third contender.
Writing a recommendation for this book is intimidating. Millhauser possesses a distinctive literary genius, and I most certainly do not. It feels something like trying to write a musical tribute to Beethoven or to Miles Davis; a doomed effort to try to describe a great work in the same medium wherein the original artist maneuevers much more expertly.
Perhaps an analogy will help. I'm told that someone once asked of Einstein what was the source of his genius. He said (I'm told) that he never got over being a child, never got over asking all sorts of childish questions. Why does the Earth go around the sun? Why is water wet? What is time? What is light? Except that, as an adult, he was also in possession of the intellectual tools available to adults: higher mathematics, and an abundance of scientific knowledge. He just kept playing with his lifelong fascinations, but with his education, he could go further to find answers.
Millhauser reminds me of that in some ways. He retains the child's fascination with all of the elements of imagination: with carnivals, and fortune-tellers, and fairy tales, and arcades, and cartoons, and urban legends, and comics, and strange museums. But as a brilliant adult writer, he can probe the meaning of it all, and can gain a perspective on such things that a child cannot.
Many of the selections in this book of short stories probe such questions: what excites our imagination? what adds color and mystery to the world? are these things a constructive stimulation or a form of decadence? how can we keep the flame of such fascinations alive? should we?
The first story in this group addresses those questions more straightforwardly than most: in fact, slightly too straightforwardly for my taste, as it's not my favorite of this particular collection. It is the story of a knife thrower who comes to town to amaze with his feats of skill and daring, which both delight and terrify. The story lulls you in with the fairly-whispered excitement of the prospect of such a performance, and wonders when escapism and morbidity have gone too far.
I prefer some of the subtler stories in this collection that probe a similar theme. The final piece, "Beneath the Cellars of Our Town," concerns a labyrinth of subterranean stone passageways, the "meaning" of which is similarly wondered about, but only after their description in realistically vivid detail.
One of my favorite stories in this collection is the magnificent "Clair de lune." This story tells of a moonlight walk of a teenager unable to sleep.
The nocturnal exploration is a common theme in Millhauser. Midnight climbs out windows, into the moonlight-splashed nights, occur in more than one of his tales. The protagonist steps out into a looking-glass mirror world, of which he gets a magic and forbidden glimpse as others sleep.
I have often wondered whether Millhauser was influenced by a similar story by Bruno Schulz in "The Street of Crocodiles." In that story, a schoolboy must leave a theater early to get something from home for his family, and his journey takes him to his school, which he enters to see strangely illuminated and empty. To see his daytime classrooms from "the other side of night," as it were, is an exceptionally vivid experience.
So too for Millhauser's protagonist in "Clair de lune." He says of his experience: "The shadows of telephone wires showed clearly on the moonwashed streets. The wire-shadows looked like curved musical staves. On a brilliant white garage door the slanting, intricate shadow of a basketball net reminded me of the rigging on the wooden ship model I had built with my father, one childhood summer."
Who can read of such imagery without being reminded of some similar formative memory in youth, when one first traveled alone in some time or place that had remained previously hidden and mysterious?
Another more direct form of magic is exhibited in "Flying Carpets," when another young protagonist is given a flying carpet, like those that have begun to appear elsewhere around the neighborhood. Just like a new bicycle, it takes a bit of practice to learn how to use the thing, but soon the narrator is floating out his bedroom window, looking down amazedly at the rippling shadow of his carpet on the grass below.
The story and the emotions that it conveys won't be unfamiliar to most grown-up children; Millhauser paradoxically makes the story more real, more deeply felt by the reader, by injecting literal magic into the story. In your memory, your first bike is more like a magic carpet, and the only way to fully capture that is to remember it that way.
Among my favorites in this collection is "Paradise Park," an underground theme park that was destroyed by fire in 1924. (I wonder whether Millhauser mined old Kennywood Park lore for some of his material here, for such names as Luna Park and the Old Mill have a historical reality to them.) All sorts of attractions and thematic reconstructions fill Paradise Park: a Zulu village, a Ferris wheel, a Chinese temple, a burning skyscraper, a replica of the square in Marrakech, and much else.
As someone who has had more than his own share of daydreams of the theme park he would build if he had unlimited money, time and creative control, I devoured all of this in big, hungry gulps. Many of Millhauser's stories speak to such dreams, although with widely divergent treatments. Sometimes his tales stick close to the realm of the achievable, detailing the marketing of magic by carnivalists, department store owners, cartoonists, or crafters of mechanical toys. Other times they are more literally magical, as in his "flying carpets" story. At other times Millhauser probes only the dreams themselves; one protagonist in a Millhauser story (not in this book) decides that his "art" will simply be the imagining of things, and the construction of nothing.
Sometimes Millhauser writes about the ways that our imaginations impose magic on things that may be more mundane. The "Sisterhood of Night" recalls the hysteria of the Salem witch trials, and reminds us of the enduring power of imagination to take us to dark places.
Millhauser is occasionally described as probing the dark recesses of imagination, and the broken downside of dreams. That element is certainly present, but I will say for my part, that I regard Millhauser as more celebratory of human imagination than he is cautionary. I find in his work a deep and fundamental respect for even the crass hawkers of magic, from the designers of arcade machines to the organizers of freak shows. Millhauser asks us to remember that the imagination is a thing to be treasured, and pleads for its survival against age and modernism.
Most recent customer reviews
the knife thrower, clair de lune, consortium, sisterhood of the night, flying carpets...Read more