In this collection of compact fictions, Nicolette Polek transports us to a gently unsettling realm inhabited by disheveled landlords, a fugitive bride, a seamstress who forgets what people look like, and two rival falconers from neighboring towns. They find themselves in bathhouses, sports bars, grocery stores, and forests in search of exits, pink tennis balls, licorice, and independence. Yet all of her beautifully strange characters are possessed by a familiar and human longing for connection: to their homes, families, God, and themselves.
In Polek’s deliciously unnerving debut, the mundane is made very strange, as everyday objects or normal people are considered in new and unsettling ways . . . A surprising and potent catalogue of small, eerie discoveries.
Rather than settling for one or two guiding themes, Polek offers an enjoyable balance of light and dark subject matter, sweet and bitter characters, cuddly and cruel moments . . . She has immense talent for sudden, quietly affecting turns of phrase, luminous details, and word choices that firmly pin images down . . . Some [stories] offer sharp social commentary, a bit like Diane Williams but with more warmth and vulnerability . . . A moving, impressively varied first collection.
When a foreign substance enters an oyster’s shell, one of its organs generates the same material that the shell is made of to encase the foreign object, to protect itself. Or: when an oyster gets a splinter, it produces a pearl. This is what the stories in Nicolette Polek’s debut collection, Imaginary Museums, remind me of. It’s a world we recognize, but something is always very off . . . Something sinister is always lurking in each of these tightly-coiled, polished gems."
A collection of flash fiction that feels seemingly arbitrary with an ache of human longing for connection peppered in. A few of the stories are left with loose ends, so you can decide the outcome which feels like a ’choose your own adventure’ in a way. These bizarre but beautiful stories transport you elsewhere with no intention of bringing you back."
What lives on every page is the odd way Polek has of capturing the world with language . . . Polek writes, ’Perhaps if the mathematician infuses every mundane activity [such as opening a door] with stimulus, she could unlock the graying parts of her brain.’ This collection feels a lot like that--the stories are the stimulus, and you are the mathematician--and perhaps in its enigma lies its virtue."
A yearning lives under these stories . . . A slim volume of even slimmer stories that pack a quiet darkness, a silent wonder, and a grounded reality amidst beautiful absurdity."
Delightfully different, Imaginary Museums still happens to hit upon the human urge for connection, acceptance, and a higher power.
Polek’s stories are themselves trapdoors, to worlds that, though they feel like they could be our own, are separated to some degree by elements we might construe as strange in our everyday life."
Imaginary Museums to me was like Michael Earl Craig combined with Lorrie Moore and Kafka and a nature documentary."
Trapdoors shine and exits shimmer in Nicolette Polek’s debut collection of short stories Imaginary Museums . . . These stories are spare, but full and memorable . . . Polek helps us see, through a dark and mundane world, the strange, wavering light. We need that light. And now, maybe more than ever, it can be hard to make out."
These stories--more accurately categorized as flash fiction--are parable-like sketches, elegantly rendered, ranging from uncanny to mythical . . . Polek’s stories are not without a sense of profound grace . . . The beauty of these stories rests in their simplicity and control."
Drawing attention to artifice can be a dangerous game, but in Polek’s hands it is clear that the very awareness that threatens to ruin the spell of engaged reading is essential in understanding the characters within these stories, and why they act the way they do. In this collection--twenty-six short stories spread across four sections--attention is constantly being drawn to the performer in mid-action, fully aware of themselves as the observed, and reacting in interesting ways. This isn’t The Ways of Seeing, although I’d bet that some of the characters have heavily thumbed copies resting on their bedside tables . . . Polek’s work reminds me most of Edward Gorey’s illustrations . . . While the confines of the drawings may seem imposingly small, the boundaries are adorned with dashed-off curlicues that only a master hand could perform. Polek has a similar ability to draw you into the miniature, to warmly welcome you into richly conceived micro-worlds. But as soon as you get too close, you’re reminded: Look, don’t touch."
With composed brevity and a hip, off-brand optimism, Polek mines a bottomless crevasse of depressive inclinations and self-imposed disembodiment. From the depths, she yanks a lamp that is so lit it proves bright enough to reveal the reader’s own isolations with insight, but isn’t too hot as to burn the skin . . . Like Lydia Davis or Sabrina Orah Mark, Polek meditates on universal themes with the wry concision of short film, letting honest, specific images carry the burdensome philosophical weight."
Nicolette Polek’s stories are little circuses of wonder and surprise. They make me feel wide awake. Plus Imaginary Museums is really pleasingly full of stuff: you’ve got hairpin narrative turns, unexpected drownings, saltshakers, trapdoors, chain saws, vodka. In one of my favorite stories, a bluebird sees the main character, but she never sees the bird. Imaginary Museums is delightfully alive.
There’s the sense that anything can happen in the stories of Imaginary Museums--a book full of surprising turns, fascinating characters, and perfect endings. The timelessness of Nicolette Polek’s voice is a wonder, and it will stay with you long after reading.
What are these? Weird parables? Dark dreams? Warnings about the afterlife, death, marriage? Like the best writers, Polek is willing to go to a disturbing place and stay there. She will not save our hero. She will join the shadowy forces and lead us in.