I was leaving my Pilates class with a friend the other day when she asked if I’d recommend the book I was carrying. I said, “Listen to this,” and began reading to her. That’s not usually how I’d respond to that question, but the seductive narrative voice in Ben Loory’s amazing story collection is so bewitching it calls to be spoken. And so there we were, both captivated by “The Swimming Pool,” drawn in by that voice, waiting to see where it would take us.
The 40 stories in Loory’s debut detour delightfully from traditional character development and dramatic narrative. Averaging a mere five to six pages, they’re written in paragraph chunks that tell odd yet stunning, fable-like tales. In “The Swimming Pool,” for example, a man believes he sees a shark in a public swimming pool. No one else sees it, and he’s not even sure it’s there. He returns at night and sees not just a shark, but an ominous monster covering the entire bottom of the pool, staring at him with black, unblinking eyes. Frenzied with terror, the man legally gets the pool closed for good, but he feels no triumph the day the water is drained, realizing he gave power to his fear and set the monster free.
The stories begin with mundane situations stated in the first two or three lines, and then Loory flips reality on its head with a fantastic element, like a shark in a public swimming pool. In other stories, a man walks through the woods and sees Bigfoot; a dishwasher finds an invisible crown in his rinse water; and a family is having dinner when a statue of a pig on its haunches materializes in the middle of the table. Some of the stories feature talking animals (my favorite is when a duck falls in love with a rock) and all of them feature the peculiar (a stalking hat, a TV with a mind of its own).
While the fantastic elements and twists of logic make these stories delectable cupcakes for the intellect, they aren’t all rosy hued. Indeed, they may be fun, but Loory menacingly parades before us our obsessions and vulnerabilities, exploring such topics as the fear of death, the price of fame, the follies of romance and the influence of violence, among others. But no matter the topic, they all enthrall and surprise — some more so than others — and cause many pauses for thought. You can’t read one or two stories and then put the book down. Oh just one more became my habit, reading this unique, new book.