• gary venn

Recent reading - Steven Millhauser...

I thought that as well as posting here about my own writing projects, I would occasionally post a mini-review or just some thoughts on what I am currently reading (or re-reading)…

I have been revisiting some of the stories of American author Steven Millhauser, a novelist and story writer who is I think best known for his shorter work. His story ‘Eisenheim the Illusionist’ was the basis for the movie starring Edward Norton, ‘The Illusionist’. The story is, of course, far more interesting, and is not really about magic ultimately, (and doesn’t have the tacked-on love story that Hollywood deemed necessary.)

I have read several of his novels which are fantastic but I really enjoy his short story collections - if you haven’t read Millhauser I think this is the place to start. Millhauser writes strange, magical stories that are often set in suburban America, and almost always have a magical realist element, sometimes with a dark undertone, sometimes more whimsical, always impeccably written. He often writes in first-person-plural point of view, which gives a really interesting feel to the strange events in the stories, a sort of collective observation that is simultaneously participatory.

A particular favourite, and a good representative story from his work, is ‘Beneath the Cellars of our Town’, from the collection ‘The Knife Thrower’. In it the collective ‘we’ simply describes a strange network of passages and tunnels that exist beneath an otherwise ordinary small town. From this simple premise Millhauser presents a strange world that exists under the ground, and the way that it exerts an influence on those who descend into it. The idea of impossible spaces or objects seems to be a recurring theme with Millhauser. Being a fan of these things myself, I find that most of Steven Millhauser’s stories really work for me - they have that appealing dream-like quality.

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