Editorial Assistant Alex Evans: The realities of being a graduate student in creative writing are such that I have very little time to read outside of my coursework. However, for the past few months, I’ve been using whatever spare moments I can find to revisit some of my favorite novels and collections of the past few years. The first among that bunch has been Thomas Pierce’s 2014 short story collection Hall of Small Mammals.
Pierce grew up in South Carolina and received an MFA from the University of Virginia. Hall of Small Mammals is his first book, but stories in this collection originally found homes in The New Yorker, The Missouri Review, and Oxford American. He has a novel coming out early next year titled The Afterlives.
The first story in the collection, “Shirley Temple Three,” is a heartbreaking narrative about the slow death of Shirley Temple, a woolly mammoth resurrected for a future television show called Back from Extinction. Tommy, the host of the show, can’t bear to see the animal get put down after filming, so he steals her and stows her away at his mother’s house.
“The Real Alan Gass,” a story anthologized in the 2014 edition of Best American Nonrequired Reading, follows Walker, an anxious husband who discovers that his wife dreams every night about being married to another man named Alan Gass. Unable to come to terms with this strange confession, Walker sets out on a quest that will lead him to meet a number of Alan Gasses, but none are his wife’s dream husband.
Pierce is difficult to categorize as a writer. Many critics celebrate him as being a writer within the “new Southern” movement, and there is certainly something distinctly Southern about the places and people in many of these stories. However, it seems as though Pierce’s concerns in this collection encompass much more than the American South.
In the twelve stories Pierce explores the far past (prehistoric mammals) and a myriad of possible futures (theoretic ‘“sub-subatomic” particles), but at the center of each piece humans teeter between reality and unreality. It’s this mixture of the otherworldly, the cosmic, and the mundane that makes Pierce’s collection so deeply satisfying. In the hands of another writer, these stories could easily veer into pure absurdity, but under Pierce’s careful guidance, the quirky premises and bizarre cast of characters serve to highlight and elevate ordinary human relationships.
These stories are as funny as they are moving, as intelligent as they are approachable, and as deftly delivered as any collection I’ve encountered. If Hall of Small Mammals is any indication of what we can expect from Pierce’s next book, The Afterlives will be one to watch.
Alex Evans is a short fiction writer from Cincinnati, Ohio. His stories have appeared in Jet Fuel Review, Persimmons Magazine, and Peacock Journal, among others. He is currently a masters student in fiction at the University of Cincinnati.