A Tree or a Person or a Wall

Soho. Sept. 2016. 400p. ISBN 9781616955236. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781616955243. F
This is a collection of powerful and disturbing stories, seven of which haven't been published before, from acclaimed writer Bell, whose novel Scrapper is a 2016 Michigan Notable Book. Told in a mythic, omniscient voice, some of these pieces read like cruel fairy tales—"Wolf Parts" is in fact a dark riff on Little Red Riding Hood. Often, the theme is about absence, whether of body parts, an explained motive for bizarre turns of events, or even a specific narrator, as in "For You We Are Holding," in which the protagonist blends with a multiplicity of city dwellers, almost like a unified organism. Several stories ride the boundary between fiction and semantics. "The Stations" is a close reading of a little boy's first lie; in "The Cartographer," words replace map symbols to become narrative. In the titular piece, a boy is a permanent captive in a room with an albino ape. Deprived of language, the boy struggles to retain the meaning of words. Imagine a tale from Lydia Davis on a bad trip.
VERDICT These intellectually provoking works will please readers of literary fiction who like their stories smart and edgy.
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