Title: Nothing is Strange
Author: Mike Russell
Genre: Fiction, short stories, surrealism
Where I got the book: I received a free e-copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.
My rating: ★★★★☆
Summary: A couple wants to prove that their love is real. A man clones himself. An audience waits patiently for a woman to escape a locked wooden crate. A man shows off his beard of transparent bees. These are just a few of the 20 short stories included in this bizarre, mind-expanding collection.
“I think that maybe we only cry because we don’t understand what is going on. Maybe if we understood what is really going on we wouldn’t cry at all, ever.”
– “Dunce” in Nothing is Strange, Mike Russell
I have to say that I love strange tales. Ever since I watched an old rerun of “Twin Peaks” when I was younger I’ve enjoyed surreal stories and the creepy-intriguing atmosphere that comes with them. Right off the bat, “Nothing is Strange” actually reminded me a bit of the podcast “Welcome to Night Vale”, which I’m also a big fan of. It wasn’t so much a direct reminder as it was more a feeling, a thought of “What the hell is this” immediately followed by “I love it”. There’s just something about completely bizarre situations and elements placed in near ordinary settings that I find fascinating to read about. This collection did a great job at bringing back and re-creating the certain atmosphere that I personally associate with surreal stories.
One thing I really enjoyed in this is the writing style. It’s simple but captivating, and at times drily witty. The voice is consistently strange, almost detached and monotonous, but it stays unique and recognizable throughout the book, no matter how much the stories differ. The storytelling is overall good and concise, which is important when you consider how short each story is; they don’t get to unfold over that many pages. The imagery is also rich despite the length, and I felt that in each story there was a plot to follow and characters to get to know. In addition to this I also loved that so many of the stories had their profound and wise moments. Some of my favorites include “The Diaries of Sun City”, “Insensible Susan”, “The Living Crown”, and “Escape from the Butcher’s Shop” – I feel that each of these in their own way dealt with themes such as oppression, freedom, and independence.
The only critique I really have is that even though the length already works, I do wish some of the stories had been longer. I don’t mean that in the sense of reaching better conclusions or anything. It’s just that there are always some stories you enjoy more than others in collections such as this one. In that sense there were definitely characters and plots I would have loved to see developed further before we had to leave them.
In order to appreciate and enjoy “Nothing is Strange” I think it’s best to keep your mind wide open and let it completely leave the ground, as most of the stories are quite far out there. Just take a moment and don’t think about reality. I feel that once you get too caught up in trying to make sense of things, this might very quickly become an entirely different, and most likely not very good, reading experience. If you generally like your books to have clear-cut plot points and endings then this will probably not be something you’d enjoy reading. However, if you’re interested in checking out some surreal literature and are looking for something different and quick to read, then this right here is a very good selection of shorts.