The book I’m recommending to everyone right now is The Physics of Imaginary Objects, a short story collection by Tina May Hall. I first discovered Hall by listening to an interview with her, and I was immediately taken with her poetic writing and its elements of fantasy and dark humor. Just listen to this excerpt from her author bio: “She teaches at Hamilton College and lives in the snowy Northeast with her husband and son in a house with a ghost in the radiator. Some days, she spends with her ear pressed to the wall. Some days, she snowshoes with her son to the wolf-ring in the woods where they drink hot chocolate and howl until the crows chase them home.” If the copy on the book jacket is this good, just imagine your delight when you get to the pulp.
Tina May Hall is clearly a writer who pays exquisite attention, a collector of news stories and ordinary facts whose inclusion in her prose sparks it to life. I picture her going about her day hastily scribbling notes in a tiny notebook as she browses the produce aisle, or pauses at the podium in the middle of a lecture, or waits in an intersection to make a left turn. The collection abounds with quotidian detail and quirky trivia that instantly develop characters and settings. Her writing is electric and sizzles with precise description, impeccable timing and masterful rhythm.
While her eye for the ordinary grounds her writing, her knack for surprising language elevates it. The table of contents is enough to pique any reader’s curiosity, with titles like “Skinny Girls’ Constitution and Bylaws,” “Faith Is Three Parts Formaldehyde, One Part Ethyl Alcohol” and “There Is a Factory in Sierra Vista Where Jesus Is Resurrected Every Hour in Hot Plastic and the Stench of Chicken.” While a darkly magical tone and vivid detail connect the stories, they vary in style, including fables, flash fiction, a novella, lists of fragments from poems and historical records, even a prose sonnet. Some sentences are weighted with so much implied narrative, their collective force creates worlds more than stories, as in “Our mothers won’t let us sit on their laps” or “For a moment, I think you are going to propose to me in front of the fry-bread cart, but you are just tying your shoe.”
Her characters call to mind the reserved and slightly deluded antiheroines of Miranda July and Lorrie Moore, and fans of those writers will surely appreciate Hall’s work. If all of this piques your interest, you can read on her website When Praying to a Saint, Include Something Up Her Alley, a story not included in the collection, or check out one of the library’s many copies of The Physics of Imaginary Objects.