Fiction writer and Loft Literary Center instructor Allison Wyss' author bio explains that she "has a thing about body modification, dismemberment, and fairy tales." In her debut short story collection "Splendid Anatomies," Wyss gives these corporeal and narrative fixations nuance and complexity, examining the oddness of the fact that we are every single one of us a sophisticated consciousness walking around inside a container made of meat.
Filtered through an off-kilter sensibility, these 16 sometimes extremely brief short stories begin to make you laugh merely looking at the table of contents with such bawdy and embodied titles as "Nutsacks in Space" and "Boobman," and to make you think with "You're Perfect As You Are" and "Only Real Art Lasts Forever."
Wyss takes the familiar and plays up its inherent strangeness, whether it's the practice of plastic surgery — the labor required "to sell noses, as well as eye work, chin work, boob work" — or the tradition of a grandmother telling her granddaughter a disturbing tale called ending "The Seamstress and the Spider" with a "very awful" ending, or being a tattoo artist, "drawing over creases, veins, bones, wrinkles."
In "Vortex," she even defamiliarizes a commonplace restaurant where a busser named Joseph unwittingly opens a portal to another dimension by walking the wrong way through the in/out doors, allowing Wyss to point out that "Time, for what it's worth, was the fourth dimension in the world most commonly called 'reality.' "
Through her casual yet thoughtful incorporation of genre elements — be they sci-fi, fairy tales or horror — Wyss warps the reader's perception, offering an aptly absurd angle on everything from earthworms to bus stations to suspicious looking moles.
In "From the Multiverse Chronicles," she explores "the nature of friendship" by placing the two main characters in a world made of "plain yogurt, and nothing else, nothing at all," an oddly compelling move that's almost like a latter-day (and shorter) version of "The Woman in the Dunes."
And in "Curse the Toad," she flips the usual script and has her heroine wonder if the real jinx would be forcing a toad "to become a man."
So, too, does she play innovatively with forms, telling one story entirely as the "Final Journal Entry of Dr. Francis Longfellow Hendrix, Lead Scientist at Laboratory 78, Edited by A.L. White," a study of ghosts replete with erudite footnotes. Her flash fictions, including "Garden," "Sleep Birds" and "Fishing," show what intensity and depth of atmosphere can be created in just a few hundred carefully chosen words.
Wyss is also the co-founder of the Minneapolis Storytelling Workshop, which describes itself as being "for the tiny little weirdo inside you — the voice that insists on creating strange universes or imagining different worlds," offering courses that "nurture the iconoclast, help you knit your freak flag, and support you as you discover new ways of seeing — and of saying." Wyss's own bizarre and biting book gets weird and flies its freak flag in the best possible ways.
Kathleen Rooney is the author, most recently, of the novel "Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey." Her poetry collection "Where Are the Snows," winner of the X.J. Kennedy Prize, is forthcoming from Texas Review Press in the fall of 2022.
By: Allison Wyss.
Publisher: Veliz Books, 202 pages, $19.
Virtual event: 6 p.m. April 21, https://uhd.zoom.us/j/98595439966