Pamplemousse

The Student Literary Journal of Vermont State University

tumblr_membr52MlX1qg6vgoThe Miniature Wife and Other Stories by Manuel Gonzales
Riverhead. 2013.

 

To read The Miniature Wife is to purchase a one-way ticket on a rocket ship fueled by the octane of pure imagination. As a debut collection of stories, Manuel Gonzales crafts a series of worlds where the fantastic is not only possible, but very much alive. From the mountains of Moldova to swamps of Capra II, Gonzales’s voice builds worlds that are designed to be lost in.

Gonzales grounds his mindscapes in some scientific fact or truth, only to twist those same facts to aid his fanciful and unlikely creations. For example, an in-depth examination into the cause of tinnitus, complete with a textbook description of the anatomy of the inner ear, morphs into an explanation as to why a paralyzed composer can speak through his ears. In a series of vignettes scattered throughout the collection, various meritorious lives are explored in a documentary style. From William Corbin, a pioneering clown who learned all of his tricks of the trade from the reclusive Klouns, an ethnic group living in Eastern Europe, to Juan Refugio Rocha, a zookeeper who devoted his life to teaching gorillas English. These lives unfold with an attention to detail worthy of a Ken Burns film.

To explore these colorful locales, Gonzales enlists the help of characters who, despite their bizarre surroundings, struggle with very real feelings of guilt, pain, and longing. Take the narrator of “All of Me,” an office drone desperately seeking a human connection with Barbra, the company’s receptionist. This protagonist also happens to be a zombie, and must resist the desire to feast on the faces of his coworkers on an hourly basis. When the narrator describes his habit of smashing plates, one of his many coping mechanisms, he says: “The throwing of things being just one example of what I do in lieu of eating off the faces of my coworkers or snapping the necks of my bosses or breaking in half the spines of the husbands of certain women I feel an unfulfillable attraction to.” This narration conveys the many extremes that this narrator must live with in a voice dripping with a mixture of matter-of-fact dark humor and regret.

The humor of Gonzales’s stories also deserves a special mention. Filled with wry observations about unusual situations, The Miniature Wife often rolls on wheels of whimsy as often as it delivers short punches of emotion. Above all, this is a debut that propels itself on the power of its vision, with each story living as a version of our world, simultaneously warped yet completely recognizable.

 

JOSHUA LEMAY is a student at Johnson State College.