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Bookmarks Issue: 
55-Nov-Dec-2011
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New and Selected Stories

A-We OthersSkidmore College English professor Steven Millhauser has published 12 books within the last 35 years, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer (1996). One of his short stories, "Eisenheim the Illusionist," was adapted into the 2006 film The Illusionist.

The Story: In this new collection, which contains 7 new and 14 previously published stories, ordinary lives take a baffling and decidedly bizarre turn--often to frightening extremes. In "The Slap," a town is besieged by a mysterious, serial face-slapper, and a sprawling, big-box retail store threatens to swallow a town whole in "The Next Big Thing." The title story, also new, is a disquieting account of a haunting as narrated by the ghost. Old favorites such as "The Barnum Museum," "Eisenheim the Illusionist," "The Knife Thrower," and "The Wizard of West Orange" are also included. Each story illuminates the shadowy spaces where nightmares converge with daylight and the strange and the ordinary collide.
Knopf. 400 pages. $27.95. ISBN: 9780307595904

Columbus Dispatch 4 of 5 Stars
"We Others is his first volume of ‘new and selected' stories, and it's a model of how a type of book that is sometimes used to eke out a few new stories into a full volume really ought to be done. ... The volume as a whole works both as an introduction to Millhauser's work for new readers and as a reminder to those familiar with him of the worlds he's capable of creating." Margaret Quamme

Globe and Mail (Canada) 4 of 5 Stars
"The reader flips one page, then the next, with a growing awareness that things are not unfolding as expected. Yet even as things turn stranger and stranger still, the reader finds herself propelled compulsively on the frictionless grace of Millhauser's prose. ... These collected stories are by turns haunting, hilarious, absurd (in the best way), enigmatic and wondrous." Patrick Lohier

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Working in an elegant, plainspoken style, he conjures ordinary worlds that are stalked by strangeness. ... Blending the eerie and the true is Millhauser's hallmark; at every turn he reminds us of how eager we are for a sense of magic in our lives." Mark Athitakis

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Millhauser is the master of what might be called the Homeopathic School of Fantastic Writing: just the barest tincture of strangeness, eyedropped into the body of an otherwise mimetic story. The payoff for this withholding of weirdness can be a reader's intensified complicity in defamiliarization: a sensation of slippage into the unreal just as we know it ourselves, from our dreams and fantasies." Jonathan Lethem

St. Louis Post-Dispatch 4 of 5 Stars
"In stories ranging from historical to modern, magical to realistic, serious to satiric, his readable yet masterful prose style slowly but inevitably weaves narratives that work their way into your consciousness and remain long after you've turned the last page." Dale Singer

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"So while these stories don't aspire to the pleasures and agonies of a dramatic narrative--the tales of change within a comprehensible world that children ask adults to repeat for the same reason it comforts babies to be swaddled--they do aspire to that other moment of childhood: You were alone in the dark, your imagination demanding, What if ... and then what if ... and then what if? ... He proposes that the reason most of us tried to put aside the infinite fantasy world we once inhabited was that it finally brought us to an abyss, and we were afraid." Salvatore Scibona

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Like his illustrious antecedents (and such near contemporaries as Russell Hoban, Angela Carter, John Crowley and Michael Chabon), Millhauser calmly mixes fairy tale and literary experiment, surreal nightmare and ecstatic vision, gorgeous prose and sly humor. But he also adds a profound Americanness. ... Most impressively, though, he skirts the real danger of sentimentality through an iron control of tone: Millhauser's voice on the page is cool, reserved, profoundly courteous." Michael Dirda

Critical Summary

Millhauser, who has drawn comparisons to Borges, Calvino, and Kafka, has again done what he does best. Subtly distorting his meticulously crafted, realistic worlds with hints of the bizarre, he leads readers down a seemingly well-worn path that quickly becomes overgrown and chillingly unrecognizable. His stories--both old and new--epitomize the definition of the uncanny, "that moment when the homey or familiar suddenly swerves into something rich, strange and menacing" (Washington Post). His dispassionate descriptions of the fantastic, rendered with sly humor in graceful, understated prose, facilitate one's suspension of disbelief while intensifying the creepy atmosphere he's conjured. Exploring the ephemeral nature of reality and the power of the imagination, the stories of We Others will surely entertain and terrify.