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Jen Michalski

Helen takes the paring knife from the utensil drawer and begins nicking herself, starting with her soft, marshmallow thighs."

Reviewed by Sara Crowley

Never judge a book by the cover - we all know this. But how about judging a book by its smell? When I took Close Encounters from the envelope it reeked! The scent of strong incense clung to the pages, and I recoiled. I wouldn’t put the book in my bag because of the smell, I wouldn’t read it in bed in case it transferred to my bed linen. I spritzed the book with Febreeze. I delayed reading. Also some pages are stuck together (and were before my attempt at ridding it of the incense). This is not a book to love. A shame, because the prose inside is solid, the imaginative tales read well. 

Michalski writes about the weird, the sideways glimpsed, and the damaged. The collection opens with the line: "
I don’t like retards very much." It’s an unnecessary shocker of a line, Michalski is a good enough writer that she need not rely on such tactics. Her writing is unshowy, unfussy, and consistent. She writes about people on the margins of society, like the stripper and “retard” in Our Place In The World and the lost brain damaged girl in Algorithm. The self-harming woman in Discount waits to be recognized as queen by aliens that the voices in her head tell her are coming. We ache for this poor woman, conjured skillfully in such a short piece. 

The Body is a revolting story of an abused girl who befriends a corpse she discovers in the woods. In Fetu is an interesting story about Julia who feels that she is two people. This is not a case of someone with a multiple personality; rather it is an exploration of what it how things could be if there really were two people fighting for control of one body.

There were always two, even as they all thought we were only one, even as you listen incredulously and think, no, there is only one, one voice, one story. Although it is true that sometimes it is one voice or the other, or story or the other, please be clear this is our story.

The mood is lightened with The Assistant and Commencement speech, Whitney Houston, East Southern University, June 9 2006, but whilst they are both humorous, I am not convinced that they are more than funny ideas. The Movie Version of My Life is another cool idea, but I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t sharper. 

The strongest, and longest, story closes the collection. In The Disappearers the central character, David, notices that a disliked colleague appears to have a transparent hand. So begins the collapse of a regular successful guy. His wife, home life and career all suffer because of the invisibility that only he can see. Michalski portrays both David and his wife Sara with care. They are believable, rounded characters, whose reactions are reasonable and logical considering their circumstance. I wondered how on earth the story could end, but when I got there, it was just right.

Intrigued? Read one of the stories from this collection at UnlikelyStories.com

Sara Crowley has had fiction published by Pulp.Net, elimae, flashquake and a variety of other lovely places. “Salted”, her novel in progress, was shortlisted for the 2007 Faber/Book Tokens Not Yet Published Award. She blogs at asalted.blogspot.com and appreciates you taking the time to read this.

Sara's other Short Reviews: Dave Housley "Ryan Seacrest is Famous"

Neil Smith "Bang Crunch"

Zadie Smith (ed) "The Book of Other People"

Alison McLeod "Fifteen Modern Tales of Attraction"

Miranda July
"No-one Belongs Here More Than You"

PublisherSo New Media

Publication Date: July 2007

Paperback/Hardback? Hardback

First collection?Yes

Author bio: Jen Michalski lives in Baltimore. Her fiction has appeared in more than 25 publications, including McSweeneys, Failbetter, The Summerset Review, Word Riot, and Thieves Jargon.  She is the editor of the online e-zine JMWW

Read an interview with Jen Michalski

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The Publisher's Website: So New Media



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