American Innovations: Stories

American Innovations, novelist Rivka Galchen's (Atmospheric Disturbances) first collection of short stories, defies categorization, varying in tone from coolly surreal to nakedly emotional. While not all of the 10 stories will appeal to every reader--owing simply to the collection's sheer variety--Galchen consistently delivers interesting work.

The title piece reimagines Nikolai Gogol's short story "The Nose," in which the protagonist loses his olfactory appendage. Here, the narrator is a graduate student who discovers one day that she has become "sideways pregnant," with a third breast growing out of her lower back. Galchen's protagonist treats her "supernumeraryness" with the sharp wit that's shared by many of her characters. Trish, the narrator of "The Entire Northern Side Was Covered by Fire," is a writer who observes that "the nicest reader letters I've received--also the only reader letters I've received--have come from prisoners."

Galchen best reconciles the tension between fabulism and realism in "Real Estate." After moving into her aunt's nearly empty town house, that narrator encounters her father--who has been dead for more than a decade--and wonders if she has "slipped through a wormhole of time." Even after he disappears, she resolves to remain in the building because she has the "sense that ghosts like to return to the same place."

Though occasionally perplexing, her stories are grounded in a keen grasp of detail and crisp, lively prose. The bracing originality of Galchen's work merits favorable comparison to adventurous contemporaries like Aimee Bender and Kevin Brockmeier and assures she'll continue to be a writer who deserves our attention. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

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