Zombies, merciless shrinking spouses, and intergalactic warfare…just another typical day for the characters in Manuel Gonzales’s debut short story collection, The Miniature Wife: And Other Stories. The eighteen stories in this collection are at turns darkly humorous and really strange, throwing readers for a loop in very unexpected ways.
The book pretty much had me at hello. The first story, “Pilot, Copilot, Writer,” takes place on an airplane that’s been hijacked. There’s no violence on board, just the endless circling of Dallas/Forth Worth. Unnerved at first, the passengers figure it will all come to an end when the plane runs out of fuel or food. Little do they know that they’ll be circling DFW for the next twenty years. This theme of being trapped in a hellish cycle will rear up again later in the book with “Life on Capra II.” The soldier narrator just wants his friend to introduce him to a girl he likes back at the base. Unfortunately, his friend’s gets blown off by demonic swamp creatures and robots before he can make good on his promise. Cut to the next day (and the next, and the next), where the same thing repeats itself with slight variations. It’s like Groundhog Day in space. With monsters. And blood.
There are a couple of zombie stories, and I thought both were some of the stronger pieces in the collection. In all of me, a man struggles with his inner zombie. Technically, the guy is a zombie, but he’s working hard to fight the impulses and fix his appearance to look normal. He doesn’t want to kill people, but the urges are there. His restraint gets put to the test after a coworker he has a crush on ends up staying at his apartment for a night. Let’s just say the next day at work is…uncomfortable. Meanwhile, in “Escape from the Mall,” zombies have invaded the mall, and the narrator is stuck with a small group of people who are looking for a way out.
Of course, being me, I loved some of the more twisted stories. The title story takes marital strife to a whole new level. The narrator works in the miniaturization business, and even though he’s careful never to bring his work home with him, one day he finds that his wife has shrunken to the height of a coffee mug. Suffice it to say, she’s not very happy about the whole thing. And then the one that really left me speechless was “Wolf!” Somehow, the narrator’s father manages to become infected and turns into a werewolf. The whole family becomes his prey, and the narrator and his mother aren’t afraid to fight back. (Okay, at this point I should probably recant and say I wasn’t completely speechless. I believe my exact words were, “Damn…that’s dark.” Then I was speechless.)
It’s not a completely even collection; there’s a series of five “Meritorious Life” stories, each only a few pages in length, that I didn’t much care for (though if I’d read them in published separately in a different context, I suspect I’d feel differently), plus a couple of others I felt indifferent about. But I thought it was a great collection regardless. It’s not every day you come across an author who can credibly work a unicorn into a modern day working-class setting. The Miniature Wife is very Aimee Bender-meets-Charles Yu, Austin-style. And Bender, Yu, and Austin are all really freakin’ awesome. So. There you have it.
The Miniature Wife: And Other Stories was released on Janurary 10, 2013 by Riverhead, an imprint of Penguin.