There’s a writerly saying that good fiction, whether at the story level or the sentence level, should “make something happen.” Something certainly happens in each story in Manuel Gonzales’s debut collection, The Miniature Wife and Other Stories, but it's not always what you think is happening — not at first, anyway. Gonzales’ work is packed with fantastical trappings: zombies, unicorns, and clowns; a plane that circles a city for 20+ years, a father who turns into a predatory monster. Yet the stories are so grounded in the real — the mundane struggles and indignities of quotidian experience — that I found them influencing my actions.
So fair warning: The Miniature Wife will entertain your intellect, but it also might creep into your everyday life. Read it, and then observe yourself as you do the following.
Pick a fight with
In the title story, a scientist "accidentally" miniaturizes his wife to the size of a coffee cup. As the story unfolds, she takes exacting, tiny revenge on him in ways that reveal the gender and power dynamics in their relationship. Indeed, after reading the title story, I promptly had a fight with my boyfriend, who had come over to my place late after work, eaten the dinner I’d made him, and immediately passed out on my couch. (He then woke me up in the wee hours of the morning wanting to make out.) “The Miniature Wife” reminded me that, within the confines of an intimate relationship, feeling invisible isn’t necessarily linked to being unseen. With this story, Gonzales zooms in on the ways in which intimate relationships can be both sustenance and poison over time. It’s also terribly funny.
A recurring focus on sound, voice, and spoken language runs through this book. In “The Artist’s Voice,” the narrator investigates the medical phenomenon of a composer whose body is literally disabled by his creative process. He is largely paralyzed, but his ear canals develop the ability to reverse their natural function and serve as amplifiers for his brain signals, allowing the artist to essentially talk through his ears. After I read this story I put on an Eric Dolphy record and couldn't stop picturing my thoughts exiting my brain along the same channel as Dolphy's horns, shooting back out of my head and eventually into the vinyl grooves themselves in a self-sustaining conversation. Similarly, after reading the sonically themed, semi-apocalyptic story "The Sounds of Early Morning," I heard a passing siren outside my apartment and imagined it as a weapon piercing my skin.
Sit down and write like a motherfucker
Seriously, if you're a writer, there is no way you can get ten pages into this book — the first story, “Pilot, Copilot, Writer,” looks at the dull march of humanity from a height of 10,000 feet — and not want to at least try and create work even half as original. Reading debut collections usually makes me want to sit down and write, whether as a result of my egotistical desire to challenge the work's successes — “Oh, well, I can do that” — or to strive to emulate it. Happily, Gonzales is the type of author that makes me want to try, more, right now.
Stop using the phrase
The advance buzz on this book has been rife with words like “fantastical,” “magical,” “supernatural,” etc. And it’s true (see: unicorns, zombies, weird science). But the stories couldn’t be more real or grounded. Gonzales’s characters, whether housewives or journeyman murderers, are people (or non-people) who want things, who live and act in relation to one another and the world, and who go through experiences and come out the other end still themselves, yet somehow changed. That’s just good writing; nothin’ magical about it.
Never look at a suburban garage the same way again
Sorry, gotta read the book to learn more about that one.