Gabriel BrownsteinDecember 5, 2011 - 11:24am0 comments
New and Selected Stories
Alfred A. Knopf, $27.95, 400 pp.
Critics sometimes compare Steven Millhauser’s work to Kafka’s or to Borges’s. Maybe this is because of his clean, uninflected sentences or his essayistic tone, the rigorous logic of his tales or the way he makes his most fantastical plots seem vivid. Millhauser has written so many stories about strange artists and craftsmen—doll-makers, magicians, trompe-l’oeil painters, architects of fantastic department stores, and inventors of premodern moving pictures—that he can seem like one of them, an outsider artist, working his obsessions all alone. But his new book, We Others: New and Selected Stories, shows off a Millhauser neither difficult nor obscure: a deeply American writer, working in some very old-fashioned veins of New England storytelling. The book includes some of Millhauser’s more grandly peculiar stories: “August Eschenberg,” about a nineteeth-century German clockmaker’s son who becomes the world’s greatest maker of lifelike automata; “The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad,” both a scholarly meditation on the Arabian Nights stories and Millhauser’s re-creation of Sinbad-story magic (“I abode with the frog folk for many days and nights, remaining alone in the town when they swam across the river to the marsh, till one night, when I could not sleep for sorrow”); and “Eisenheim the Illusionist,” about a great turn-of-the-century magician. But the bulk of the stories in this book are set in a present or a remembered America. In most of them something strange...