The Palace of Illusions

By Kim Addonizio

(Soft Skull, $15.95, 225 pages)

Who is this author?

A poet, a short story writer, a novelist and an author of several books on writing poetry, Kim Addonizio, who divides her time between New York City and Oakland, Calif., has won many honors for her work. But her literary career is not her only interest: Addonizio also plays harmonica with the music group Nonstop Beautiful Ladies and volunteers for The Hunger Project, which fights hunger and poverty worldwide. Her latest, The Palace of Illusions, is a 14-story collection.

What is this book about?

Kim Addonizio has here collected 14 of her stories, which have previously appeared in various literary journals. All of them share the idea that mystery and misunderstanding often overlay what is taken for reality. Among the stories you will find tales of a girl with a sick grandfather and an overwhelmed mother who finds solace in the family’s many pets, but in a shocking and appalling way; a young woman who is half college student and half-vampire  who falls in love; a woman with cancer who gains help and hope through a poetry workshop; a photographer who  recalls his past as a carnival illusionist and lover of the owner’s wife.

Why you’ll like it:

A group of dwarfs live not in a tiny house in the forest but a city apartment as they wait for a woman with an apple to save them. Sound familiar? In her story, Ever After, Addonizio plays with an old fairy tale in new and startling ways, a technique she brings to all the stories in her second collection. Imagination is built on, but trumps reality in these stories that display Addonzio’s dark humor, graceful prose (she is a poet, after all) and witty invention. But keep in mind that when she goes into that darkness, she goes deep.

What others are saying:                                

Says Publishers Weekly:  “Once there was a hag who was really a princess, who lived in a storage unit that was really a castle.” In Addonizio’s second collection of short stories, she explores the various ways people interpret the world in order to find peace. In “Beautiful Lady of the Snow,” a little girl punishes and subsequently kills her pets in order to find solace from the stress of living with her depressed mother in a motel. “Night Owls” follows a frustrated teenage vampire who loves a boy but also wants to suck his blood. The title story traces the decline of a young man who trades in his promising future for a love affair with an alcoholic carnie. “Ever After” is a pseudo-fairy tale about dwarves living in an apartment and waiting for a woman to redeem them from their terrible lives with an apple. Though Addonizio’s characters find themselves in unusual predicaments, she nonetheless convincingly renders their psyches. The stories are weighty but unassuming, and readers can identify with the characters whether they’re vampires, carnies, or pet killers. This book is for those who enjoy sardonic humor, forceful narration, and a variety of genres.”

Library Journal says: “The short stories here are so tight and polished that it’s hard to believe that this is only Addonizio’s second collection; she is mainly known as a poet. . . . The characters, from the woman with terminal cancer who takes a poetry workshop to the second grader who hates dancing on her grandpa’s lap to the college student who happens to be half vampire, all exhibit “true grit.” The stories are all strikingly honest depictions of characters trying their best at something, even if that something is not particularly good for them. The latter is true in the case of the title story, in which a man looks back on his youth working as a magician in a traveling carnival and lusting after the carnival owner’s wife. There are also shorter pieces that give us more of a keyhole glimpse into a situation or character, such as “The Other Woman,” “Blown,” and new takes on classic fairy tales, such as “The Hag’s Journey.” VERDICT A highly enjoyable collection with something for everyone; recommended for readers of Lydia Davis or fans of modern fairy tales.”

Kirkus Reviews says: “Poet Addonizio brings her hip, dark sensibility to a second collection of short fiction .In the first story, a second-grade girl kills her goldfish and pet bird in reaction to being sexually exploited by her obese grandfather. In the second, two sleazy young women get drunk and rip off the guy in whose hotel room they’ve spent the night. In the third, a girl takes time during a meditation class to reflect on her dead sister. Abusive relationships, breakups and terminal illness fill out the other 10 stories, but in the most appealing of them, Addonizio doses her basic mix of hopelessness and alienation with cleverness and whimsy. A story about a girl who’s half vampire has several laughs, the title story has fun with its circus setting, and two of the others, “The Hag’s Journey” and “Ever After,” reinvent fairy-tale tropes in ways that would be delightful if they didn’t end so badly. In the latter, the Seven Dwarfs are a ragtag bunch of fellows living in a fifth-floor walk-up: a junkie named Dopey, a teen runaway named Sneezy, a recovering alcoholic named Doc, etc., most employed as faux munchkins at a restaurant called Oz. They’re awaiting the fulfillment of a prophecy they read about in a book found in a Dumpster, one involving a beautiful girl and an apple. Unsurprisingly, things go south. “[M]y name isn’t Grumpy,” said Grumpy. “It’s Carlos….I’m sick of all of you with your fake names and voodoo loser fantasies about some chick who ain’t coming. She ain’t coming, man. Get it through your fat heads.” The worldview of this book is so bleak it might need a warning label.”

“The 14 stories in this new collections range from realist, contemporary narratives to darkly comic fairy tales that subtly complicate the binary oppositions of good versus evil and contentment versus despair.…Addonizio is adept at humanizing monsters or characters that resemble them…The Palace of Illusions is a collection of many delights, its mirrors reflecting and magnifying the contradictions and conflicts inherent in human experience,” says the San Francisco Chronicle.

When is it available?

It’s available now at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

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