Museum of the Weird by Amelia Gray
Reviewed by The Editors
Reading Museum of the Weird, it's hard not to hate Amelia Gray just a tiny bit. She packs its pages with short story after short short story, each more inventive than the last, each celebrating surreal humour. Her prolific outpouring of odd little ways to see the world and to help us understand our neighbours takes your breath away. “Waste,” one of the longer pieces tells the story of medical waste collector, Roger, and his neighbour Olive, who has procured a human tongue as a culinary delicacy and invites Roger for dinner. The perfect pairing of Roger and Olive, characters the world has shunned, but who are happy to find each other, pulls the reader in so when the story takes a bizarre twist and Olive proves more destructive than we'd understood, it's Roger to whom our hearts go out. “Death of a Beast” nearly made me lose my lunch; it depicts a girl faced with a plate of hair she's expected to eat. “Code of Operation: Snake Farm” is written like an early modernist manifesto, replete with capitalized words and exclamation points. The imagery in each piece resonates with meaning and what seemed like a playful, cute story often turns into an extremely poignant, heart-rending tale. It's as if Gray tells us that these stories could not be told in any other way because we would otherwise not appreciate that which is important.
While Amelia Gray's expertise in crafting a short short cannot be ignored, the result of such a long collection of these stories (24 stories in 160 pages) can be to diminish the overall project. One of the challenges of the short short can be establishing an emotional depth that will carry us through the intellectual fireworks and wit and, while many of Gray's pieces manage that balance, some feel like Gray has mastered the Trick of the Short Short and could roll one out at the drop of a hat. There's a very successful sense of a catalogue in the collection, however, and a similar feeling of being overwhelmed as when you've spent too long in a museum exhibit you're really enjoying.
Perhaps the key is to read Museum of the Weird in parts, and not to feel beholden to reading it in order. The result is a lively collection of oddities—stuffed owls behind bell jars; foetuses in formaldehyde; us, pinned and wriggling on the wall.