title: The Odditorium [purchase here]
author: Melissa Pritchard
genre: short stories
source: I received an Advanced Reader's Copy from Bellevue Literary Press
in exchange for an honest review.
Melissa Pritchard has some legit authorial street cred. Thus far, her short fiction has won:
- the Flannery O'Connor Award,
- the Carl Sandburg Literary Award,
- the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize,
- a PEN/Nelson Algren Honorary Mention
- TWO O. Henry Prizes,
- TWO Pushcart Prizes,
- the Ortese Prize in North American Literature from the University of Florence,
- the Barnes & Noble Discover Award,
- fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Hawthorne Foundation of Scotland, the Bogliasco Foundation of Italy, and the Howard Foundation at Brown University
To say Pritchard was immensely talented would be a careless understatement.
Now, I usually grab short story collections as my subway reading. I like the feeling of accomplishment I get from being able to finish a short story or two while crushed against complete strangers during my commute.
(sidebar the first: did anyone else die laughing watching Liz Lemon's morning commute on 30 Rock a few weeks ago? For those of you who don't live in New York, that was not at all exaggeration for comedy's sake. That was EXACTLY what Newt Gingrich's "elite" New Yorkers face between the hours of 8-10am and 4:30-7:30pm EVERY SINGLE DAY. Which is probably why we New Yorkers have the reputation of being a bit cranky. The only thing missing from 30 Rock's vignette was the smell. When you're smashed against multiple people in several compromising positions, there's inevitably someone in close proximity who does not believe in deodorant. Or likes to pile on the perfume/cologne. Or who hasn't bathed in several moons. Or probably should see a physician re: what is making their feet smell like moldy cheese. Or all of the above. sidebar the second: perhaps I hold a grudge for an excessively long time, but I'm still in awe of how out of touch Newt Gingrich's comment about "elite" New Yorkers ride the subway. In my job, when I'm out working with schools, I ride the subway all day. I would like to personally invite Newt to commute with me for a day, on my dime, and then ask him how "elite" he feels....might also impact his stance on public school education...two birds, one stone. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming...)
However, this is not the ideal collection for short bursts of reading, because Pritchard is one of those amazingly rare contemporary authors whose prose is so lyrical and so thought-provoking that you're going to want a nice window of quiet time to savor it, like a well poured glass of Malbec on a chilly November evening. (Also, any author who can use the descriptor "labial pink" in a story without it feeling as tawdry as a bodice rippers' various "throbbing members" is truly a master of their craft). Each story in her collection defies the notion of genre, and as uniquely structured as each piece is, as a whole they form a coherent and well curated collection.
A couple highlights:
Captain Brown and the Royal Victoria Medical Hospital: My absolute favorite in the collection, this story focuses on Captain Brown, poetry enthusiast who's somewhat incongruous to what one typically pictures as a military commander, as he takes command of the Royal Victoria Medical Hospital post D-Day. The descriptions of the hospital itself are as haunting as many of the images and characters Pritchard conjures. A highlight of the collection.
Ecorché: Flayed Man: This story felt a bit like the love child of Salman Rushdie's The Enchantress of Florence and anything by the Marquise de Sade. It follows the crucial players who, while performing their collective tasks of "Collector," "Director" and "Anatomist," work to create and maintain 1798's version of the Bodies exhibit. I admire Pritchard's graphic and lyrical yet concise language as she describes the various exhibits and the men who maintain them.
Rubric rating: 8.5. One of the most unique collections I've read in ages. I can't add her to my "personal pantheon of prolific prose-makers" YET, but I have a feeling once I read more of her work, that's where she'll end up.
PS Check out this piece of marketing genius from Bellevue Literary Press: