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Review: The Miniature Wife by Manuel Gonzales

The surprising oddities in this debut author's short stories reveal wholly relatable consequences

Photograph: Jessica Lin

By Manuel Gonzales. Riverhead, $27.

Some stories can only be enjoyed when you aren’t fully aware of what is transpiring or things aren’t quite what they seem. Manuel Gonzales’s debut collection, The Miniature Wife, is the opposite: Things are exactly as they appear. Early in each tale, we learn of a rather unusual circumstance confronting the protagonist, who must either fight or retreat. But because these peculiarities are dispensed with at the outset, individual will, rather than plot twists, propels the narrative.

Some of these predicaments include a house filled with caged animals, a composer whose musical creations cause him bodily harm and a hijacked airliner that has been circling Dallas for two decades. In this last tale, “Pilot, Copilot, Writer,” the physics of perpetual flight is less an implausibility than it is a metaphor for the narrator’s desire to escape his earthbound life. In the title story, a man renowned for his ability to miniaturize anything accidentally shrinks his wife to the size of a coffee mug. What ensues is a study of a couple’s inability to adjust to new situations.

These—and other surreal happenings in the book—are “ordinary monsters,” to borrow a phrase from Gonzales’s “The Animal House.” Like Vonnegut, he uses the supernatural as a means to an end. Suspense and panic may arise in us as readers, but these reactions aren’t coming from the stories’ strangeness; they are the result of our familiarity with the consequences rebounding from the oddities each character must face.

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