None of This is Real by Miranda Mellis is not fiction as usual. This is fiction smashed with a meat tenderizer, perforated with ideas, and marinated in poetry.
What you won’t find in this collection: There’s not a lot in the way of characters being presented with a problem, struggling to overcome it, failing or succeeding. There’s little narrative arc here, few characters who are sympathetic. This collection is, for lack of a better term, more experimental than traditional (with the beautiful exception of the brief story “Triple Feature,” which proves Mellis can do all of that to gorgeous effect).
What you will: An odd surrealist landscape peopled by fascinating strangers. In “The Coffee Jockey,” we stand in an endless coffee line, meeting a barista bent in half from her labor, a bathroom dancer, a man who transforms into a woman when he smokes Virgina Slims, a collage art cow, a man who is a traffic light, and people who “waited patiently in line, hoping to be fucked suddenly, either under a painting or, if possible, inside a painting.” It’s these striking moments, encountering something totally unexpected, that make the collection a delight, like an adult day trip through Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Like the work of Donald Barthelme, these stories show a world broken and more than a little ridiculous, especially the collection’s title track, “None of This is Real”: “she thought they had built a new mall. He’d read that malls were constructed such that they could easily be converted into internment camps.” When confronted with a world of horrors—mass extinctions, zoo animals on Prozac, his own culpability—the protagonist makes the rounds between psychics and doctors, agonizes over his inability to write a novel, and contorts his body into a “personal position” to calm himself. The story is hilarious, though the thick academic language throughout—the character wants to write “a post-political social-realist novel … a transnational, literary, neoteric, polyphonic Salt of the Earth”—is less satisfying than the more concrete, guttural style Mellis dishes out in the rest of the collection.
Each story is different, engaging, excellent. “Transformer” is a modern fairy tale written in sensual, immediate language: “They gave her an injection in her spine … The placenta was caught in a large stainless steel bowl … They ignored the bowl of blood and meat which was set to the side.” The language astonishes in the best possible way: “Lutz Junior heard the soft clicking of its feet as she watched the moth. It felt as if the little moth was striking matches in her heart.” The story moves seamlessly between forest, city streets, factory, and apartment, preserving throughout what Victoria Schwab calls the fairy tale quality of timelessness. Pulled along by the story, though we may not know where we are by its end, we can’t shake that feeling of having arrived.
“Triple Feature” begins, “The movie theater smelled of cigarettes and rain.” The most traditional story, its language is sharp and its characters consume us with their need. While all the stories are good, at less than six pages long, this one alone is worth the price of admission.
Miranda Mellis is the author of The Spokes (Solid Objects, 2012); None of This Is Real (Sidebrow Press, 2012); Materialisms (Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, 2009); and The Revisionist (Calamari Press, 2007), a finalist for The Believer 2007 Book Award. Mellis has received The John Hawkes Prize in Fiction, The Michael Harper Praxis Prize, and an NEH Independent Research Grant. Her writing has appeared in various journals & magazines including Conjunctions, Harper’s, McSweeney’s, The Believer, Cabinet, Fence, Tin House, The Kenyon Review, and Denver Quarterly. She teaches at Evergreen State College.
Micah Dean Hicks is an author of fables, modern fairy tales, and other kinds of magical stories. His work is published or forthcoming in over thirty magazines, includingIndiana Review, Cream City Review, and SmokeLong Quarterly. His short story collection, Electricity and Other Dreams, will be out from New American Press at the end of 2012. He lives and teaches in Tallahassee, Florida.