Like many bookish folks I know, I have an unnecessarily complicated system for choosing my next read. I won’t bore you with the details of it but I will tell you that without this unnecessarily complicated system I would never have wandered the aisles of the University of Iowa Library and come away with one of the weirdest, most darling gems I’ve read in quite a while: Amelia Gray’s Museum of the Weird.
The New York Times described this series of . . . stories? short things? strange things? as “bizarre and darkly funny,” which is as true as anything I could come up with. Experimental literature at both its best and worst, this book excelled for all the same reasons it didn’t reach perfection. Initially: these characters are so weird, great! Then: oh, these characters are just so weird, what is happening? Finally: I think I’m glad I read whatever purposeful mess that was?
The stories, short things, strange things, etc. are mostly a few pages long, with a few exceptions including the one that’s just half a page long. There’s the woman who gives birth to a new baby every day, the overworked waitress, and the woman stealing money from a fountain. “That’s illegal,” the narrator tells her. “I reject laws. This fountain has no laws,” she tells him. “What about gravity?” he asks.
“That’s just a good idea,” she tells him, and, indeed, it is a good idea, and it’s clear that Amelia Gray rejects the laws of fiction – fiction has no laws. This book may be her proof that the rules of fiction, and storytelling in general, are just “good ideas.” I don’t know that she made a believer out of me but I can say that the hour or so I spent reading this sharp piece of writing was an hour well spent.