In one of the intensely imaginative stories in Rivka Galchen’s American Innovations, a woman’s furniture walks out on her. In another, the narrator feels compelled to promise to deliver a takeout order that has incorrectly been phoned in to her. In a third, the petty details around a property transaction detail the complicated pains and loves of a family.
The stories in this unusual collection also have secret lives in conversation with earlier stories. As in the tradition of considering Wallace Stevens’s “Anecdote of the Jar” as a response to John Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” Galchen’s “The Lost Order” covertly recapitulates James Thurber’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” while “The Region of Unlikeness” is a smoky and playful mirror to Jorge Luis Borges’s “The Aleph.” The title story, “American Innovations,” reimagines Nikolai Gogol’s “The Nose.”
Alternately realistic, fantastical, witty and lyrical, these are all deeply emotional tales, written in exuberant, pitch-perfect prose and shadowed by the darkly marvellous and the marvellously uneasy. Whether exploring the tensions in a mother-daughter relationship or the finer points of time travel, Galchen takes great risks, proving that she is a writer like none other today.