BY MIKE BEEMAN
Author: Rachel B. Glaser
2010, Publishing Genius Press
Filed Under: Short Stories, Literary.
In Pee on Water, Rachel Glaser’s debut short story collection, you will find updated fairy tales, post-modern love stories, surreal dips into a mix of real and imagined history, and narratives sketched from the point of view of the book you are holding—and all of this in one ten page story, “The Magic Umbrella,” an endlessly inventive piece of writing in which Glaser uses a series of internal “About the Authors,” to allow each section build on the previous and take these fantastic turns.
“The Magic Umbrella” leads Glasers’ collection, and is an excellent introduction to her mercurial stories. Over the course of 143 pages the author covers a wide range of subjects: A lonely youth becomes deeply engrossed in, and then beholden to, an interactive video game about John Lennon’s life in “The Jon Lennin Xperience.” “The Kid” starts as a burn-out love story, but quickly becomes a surreal nightmare. My personal favorite, one of the most touching and, oddly enough considering the subject, conventional stories in terms of form is “The Monkey Handler,” a tale chronicling the misadventures of a group of astronauts and their amateur crew whose star-crossed love affairs lead to their abandonment in space.
The title story, “Pee on Water,” a droll history of the world, suggests that nothing has really changed but what is contained in the story’s title:
This is the nice time of early men and monkeys, before cigarette butts cozied fat into the grass. No plastics, no prayers. Wood isn’t sliced into slats, it’s still living it up in trees. The rain is surprising, usual. Men and monkeys leave their lives with their bodies. Early men paint, cry, stare into fire meditatively. Pee on grass. Pee on dirt. Wear furs, have babies, catch dogs. Fall in love with dogs. Pause at oceans and their rambling edges. Sticks complicate grass. Grass complicates sand. The ground and every thousand thing on top of it. Curves and lumps. Uneven clouds. But click the clock radio through am to pm, spin the equal sphere like a sonic hedgehog. The leaves live the leaves fall, the leaves live the leaves die.
This story, so far removed in psychic distance, is at an extreme pole of Glasers’ style: hyper self-conscious, dripping with irony, full of subtle and not-so-subtle pop-culture references. At times this combination can pull the reader from the story, but far more often Glaser manages to implicate the reader in her imaginative tales instead. A recent nod as one of the top twenty fiction titles of last year by The Believer‘s readers (alongside such venerable heavyweights as Martin Amis, Jennifer Egan, and some guy named Franzen) speaks to this success. The result is a collection that is inventive and original, touching as well as hilarious, and surprising in all the best ways.