I first encountered Stacey Levine’s fiction at an “anti-Associated Writing Programs conference” being held across the river from the AWP Conference in Vancouver a few years back. We were both reading at the anti-conference, while also, I believe, hedging our bets by presenting at the real conference. The anti-conference was held in an old building outside of which they’d blown up a kind of red sausage-like, three-story-tall balloon. Okay, I thought, that’s interesting. Inside, in the middle of the main space, they’d installed one of those blow-up castles for kids with all of the little balls inside. Only, there were a bunch of adults bouncing up and down instead of children. Well, that’s not something you see every day, I thought.
The readings were held on either side of the huge bouncy thing whose official name I knew not (having at the time no seven-year-old), so as you intoned your fictions you were almost in fear of subsumed by it. They also piped in either audio and video of the reader on the opposite side of the bouncy thing, which was slightly disconcerting.
So when I say now that Stacey Levine’s reading captivated me, I can say it with confidence, because there were a few…distractions. What I was most struck by was the uniqueness of Levine’s vision, the hint of strangeness, and the quality of the writing. Sure, you could perhaps compare some of what Levine does to Kelly Link, Aimee Bender, or even George Saunders, but she’s pretty much sui generis. You read a Stacey Levine story because you want to read a Stacey Levine story.
Now Levine has a new collection out, The Girl With Brown Fur: Tales and Stories. It’s another mind-bending experience, with story titles like “Milk Boy,” Parthenogenetic Grandmother,” “The World of Barry,” and the innocuous-sounding but wonderfully strange “Sausage.” The authority of the writer’s voice comes through with a welcome clarity from the first sentences of stories like “The Wedding”: “Hallo. I’m a fool. I married Mike Sump. We had a green-colored wedding. I was sick, the whole room turned green. They took me home. Was I married, I wanted to know, looking up at them.” Another story, “Ears,” demonstrates the same aplomb for picking up in mid-stream: “Naturally this man was the most sensitive part of society, the tip, edge, the peninsula that wants so badly to thaw.”