Twenty-six surreal miniatures about displacement, mystery, and transformation from the winner of a 2019 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award.
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.
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.
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.
Nicolette Polek’s Imaginary Museums is a collection of pressure-cooked little diamonds: smart, funny, succinct, and sure to be a classic. People will be reading this book for a long time.
Nicolette Polek’s voice is resigned, hopeful, funny, tender, and melancholy, with an older European sensibility that reminds me of some of my favorite translated works. The ambiguous tales in Imaginary Museums are full of the pleasure, disappointment, possibility, and mystery of life.
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.
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.
Like little crystalline shards, these wonderfully subtle, often laconic stories suddenly catch the light and cast it in unexpected, profoundly revealing directions. A quirky, startling debut.
These rhythmic bulletins of crisp delirium infiltrate the bloodstream in a manner I can describe only as symphonic—a tender, lucid world takes shape beneath the world we know and swells to submerge us in its understated magic.
There are texts I always go back to because they both ground me and take me somewhere else, and Imaginary Museums is part of that list now, along with Robert Walser’s Microscripts and William Carlos Williams’s Spring and All. Polek’s wonderful ability to create such clear imagery both delicate and epic in only a few pages, sometimes only one, is absolutely magical. Her stories are like a vivid and revelatory dream that one unexpectedly has while taking a nap under the sun.