When we read fiction, there’s an implicit negotiation between reader and writer. The writer is going to share a story that might not be at all plausible in places we don’t know filled with people we cannot ever know, but the writer will do their best to make you forget such impossibilities. The reader is going to know certain elements of a good story might not be plausible, that really, everything they’re reading is part of an elaborate fiction, but they’re going to trust that the writer will find a way to make them believe that which, in other circumstances, could not be believed. Readers are going to have a little faith.
In The Miniature Wife and Other Stories, a debut collection from Manuel Gonzales, that faith is well rewarded. What is particularly impressive about this collection is how Gonzales manages to be both a writer and a storyteller. The words lift from the page much as if you were sitting in a room with Gonzales himself, as he tells you the most engrossing stories you’ve ever heard. The stories inThe Miniature Wife are full of wild imagination and powerful heart. They are about the extraordinary and the ordinary. This is one of those books where the writer demonstrates palpable commitment to his imagination, and how that imagination interprets the world we live in.
In the title story, a man who works in miniaturization accidentally shrinks his wife to the height of a coffee mug without knowing how. There are consequences, of course, to such a calamity and the story follows what happens to their marriage, how the narrator learns to live with an angry, miniature wife who focuses her attention on avenging her condition. There are many strong stories in this collection but the title story is probably the strongest because it’s a fantastic, in the true sense of the word, story but it’s also a story about marriage and how how similar love and hate can be, how people can become unknowable to one another in an intimate relationship.
What’s also lovely is the attention to detail, the world building and how utterly believable it becomes that life goes on for this husband and his miniature wife. He watches her sleeping through a magnifying glass. He builds her a dollhouse where she can live that the wife vandalizes, “the graffiti (nail polish, easily removed), the torn curtains (easily replaced).” The longer she stays miniature, the stronger his wife grows, the angrier, the more unknowable. The husband begins finding dead flies around the house. “Under the magnifying glass—borrowed from my office—most of the flies look to be stabbed through, a small sliver of wood running through an abdomen or eye. One of them looked caught, tortured, its legs removed, wings twisted back. At normal size, my wife was never this cruel.” There is so much implied in that statement about the state of their marriage before the wife became miniature and throughout the story, we can see the ways in which both husband and wife failed each other before the unexpected altered their lives.
Hostilities intensify, the wife raging from her diminished state, the husband passive aggressively enduring until the end, where the narrator realizes size is not what makes a partner formidable.
In “Wolf!” a son chronicles his father’s transformation into a werewolf, how their family is destroyed by this transformation, quite literally, how for a long time, it is only the mother and narrator who survive as the father hunts and kills his “brood,” how they try to kill him to save him, and how doing so is fraught with unexpected challenges. Again, Gonzales uses the fantastic to tell a story about family, and the complexity of the relationships therein. The story is haunting and even beautiful, with an ending that stuns because it is so dark and so very human.
If I have another favorite in this excellent collection, it’s “All of Me,” a different kind of zombie story. Because we’re so culturally saturated in zombie stories, I love those that are truly original. I wrote a different kind of zombi(e) once, or I tried. Gonzales manages to strike a wholly original note with a story about a zombie who is living in the human world but struggling to suppress his zombie urges. At his job there is the elevator, which is, “a dangerous place for someone like me. It is a place full of urges, of somewhat violent urges.” There’s a woman, Barbara,who is married, who the narrator covets. “All of Me,” is a story where an undead understands most what being human is all about—the torment of wanting what you can’t have and wanting the terrible things you want even when you know you shouldn’t.
How do we live good lives when our basest instincts are always clawing at us. In each of the eighteen stories inThe Miniature Wife, Gonzales tries to answer this question with confident writing and an uncompromising willingness to make the impossible feel as real as everything we know. Gonzales reveals that he is the kind of writer in whom a reader’s faith is well placed. How do we survive our basest instincts? As the narrator in “All of Me,” reflects, “It’s a fine line. It’s a tightrope. It’s a balancing act.” The same could be said for this outstanding book.