This is my first reread of the year, The Knife-Thrower and Other Stories. It was recommended to me by my good friend and then-roommate Colleen several years ago. At first we just read the title story (assigned for one of her classes) but in no time at all we had consumed the complete collection. It was unlike anything I had read before: it was whimsical while rooted in a reality I immediately recognized, heartfelt and chilling in equal measure.
A review printed on the back cover sums it up so well: “As Gothic as Poe and as imaginative as Fantasia, Millhauser’s deceptive fables are funny and warm. But they’re dark as dungeons, too…He bewitches you.” — Entertainment Weekly
The stories themselves have very diverse settings — quiet American suburbs, Old World cities of Germany, strange swampy houses left in ruin — while maintaining two strong themes. First, the overwhelming “moral” of each story seems to be, in one way or another, the dangerously dark thrill of excess and dreams. The secondary theme, the resounding question, is simply: what can we, as a society, be expected to do about it? Many of the stories are told in a collective voice, an entire town in outrage or a whole generation of people enthralled. This idea of unity in the face of strange realities, of enigmatically quiet young women and underground tunnels and flying carpets and robot theater, make these surreal tales all the more haunting.
My favorite stories are “The Sisterhood of the Night,” “Clair de Lune,” and “Paradise Park.” Cheeky, nostalgic, and mesmerizing. I cannot recommend this book more strongly!