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Hieroglyph: Stories and Blueprints for a Better Future
Neal Stephenson
Ukraine: Zbig's Grand Chessboard & How the West Was Checkmated
Natylie Baldwin, Kermit D. Larson
The Girl on the Train: A Novel
Paula Hawkins
Our Souls at Night: A novel
Kent Haruf
Above the Waterfall
Ron Rash
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Stephen King
Designs on Film: A Century of Hollywood Art Direction
Cathy Whitlock
The Homicide Report: Understanding Murder in America
Jill Leovy
Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
Erik Larson
The Gods of Mars
Edgar Rice Burroughs
In the Penny Arcade - Steven Millhauser Millhauser has a Pulitzer to his name, and his tale of a remarkable magician, Eisenheim the Illusionist (not in this collection), was adapted to the screen as “The Illusionist.” He has a very rich imagination and can weave together the real and un-real with great skill.

The collection offers a trio of reality-based stories sandwiched between works of a fantastical nature.

August Eschenberg is the long opening tale of a clockmaker, and creator of what we would call animatronics today, who must cope with a world in which the inferior and crass succeeds at the expense of the sublime.

A Protest Against the Sun shows a 16-year-old at the beach with her family, clinging to the innocence of her youth as she steps back and forth between childhood and adulthood.

In The Sledding Party a teenager at a winter party becomes upset when a boy she considers just a friend confesses his love to her then runs away.

In A Day in the Country, a woman on a weekend retreat is unsettled by a mysterious, sad-looking woman she keeps seeing. When the woman finally speaks to her, we learn the vacationer’s secret.

Back to fantasy in part III

Snowmen portrays one-upsmanship in a neighborhood as people compete to construct the most fantastical snow-based creations.

In The Penny Arcade, a 12-yr-old boy is disappointed by the place, remembering it as a more lively and promising venue. Now the games seem old and dusty. But when there is a sudden silence, he finds a closed off area and returns to experience the games the way he remembers. One must bring a bit of magical expectation to get magic in return.

Cathay is a fantasy, in many small chunks, about beauty. It describes diverse aspects of this strange place, including that the Court women have elaborate miniatures painted on their eyelids and breasts.

I had a mixed reaction to this collection of stories. I felt very drawn in by most, (August Eschenberg, A Protest Against the Sun, A Day in the Country, In the Penny Arcade) but removed from others (The Sledding Party, Snowmen, Cathay). Millhauser clearly has the ability to make his characters live. One could certainly feel the conflict of the 16-year-old at the beach, struggling to walk the line between child and woman, and the pressure building in a vacationing woman in need of relief from her grief, but at times the author seemed more interested in making a point, using characters as, well, automatons in service of a larger purpose. That said, I found his writing beautiful, rich and satisfying. His fantasies are fascinating. This was my first exposure to the author and I will certainly seek out other Millhauser works.