“It’s easier for people to let go if the world is strange. In a realist story, it sometimes feels like you’re reading someone else’s story. In a certain kind of non-realist story, the slight unfamiliarity of events unfolding in a familiar setting can let you inhabit a story, can make you feel like its happening to you.”
The quote is from a talk writer Diane Cook gave to Bell’s undergrad workshop at ASU, and I thought is was a fitting way to describe Elliot’s excellent debut collection of weird stories. The stories in The Wilds all take place in utterly familiar environments: Suburban neighborhoods, a convalescent home, the neighborhood bar, the local high school. The settings are benign and nothing more than static in our day-to-day world, and each of these settings would make for ideal canvass’ for a contemporary writer to tell equally benign tales of lost love and broken ambitions.
But what Elliot does is twist these settings and injects them with a healthy dose of the weird, and turns them into something magical and akin to an adult fairy tale. The suburban neighborhood becomes overrun with wild dogs, broken entirely free from their bonds with humanity; the convalescent home becomes a laboratory where geneticists and robotics experts restore the memories and bodies of the old; the neighborhood bar becomes a place where frightened adults gather to gossip about the plague sweeping the country where teenagers become addicted to electronic devices and junk food and then fall into a mysterious coma, only to suddenly awaken and disappear.
The minute strangeness of these stories allows the reader to become truly lost in these odd worlds, and you can’t help but feel for the too brief of time you’re inhabiting them that this is actually the world we live in, where the impossible simply walks alongside us and we think of it as nothing more than common place.
Elliot’s prose is elegant and poetic, and her imagination seems boundless. I try to avoid using words like ‘perfect’ or ‘masterpiece’, but it’s nearly impossible for me to not use them when describing The Wilds, because each story is a miniature masterpiece, and the collection is just about as perfect a short story collection as I’ve run into in years.