Imaginary Museums

Stories

by Nicolette Polek

List Price: $15.95
Paperback | 5-1/2 x 8-1/4, 128 pages | ISBN 9781593765866

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.

   • A truly Soft Skullian debut voice, Polek is for fans of Jen George's The Babysitter at Rest, Juliet Escoria's Juliet the Maniac, or Yukiko Motoya's The Lonesome Bodybuilder, as well as for readers who love the writing of Leonora Carrington, Diane Williams, May-Lan Tan, Noy Holland, Amelia Gray, or Angela Carter
   • Imaginary Museums is a collection of stories set in both the American Midwest and Eastern Europe. These stories explore weirdness and melancholy, wonderment and entrapment
   • Heartland Fall Forum appearance and ARC giveaway
   • Special focus on outreach in greater Washington, D.C., area, where the author is located
   • Lexile Measure: 980L

Bookseller Praise for Imaginary Museums

"In Imaginary Museums, we’re never sure if we’re peeking into a parallel universe or if our guide is simply sensitive enough to see the curiosities surrounding us. In these twenty-six minimalist stories, the reader has a bird's-eye view of characters whose irregular lives are matched only by the sangfroid with which they face the world. We meet Feebee, who builds trapdoors in her parents’ house, an uncle in a wedding dress, and, in the title story, Annie, a divorcee who is attracted to a museum that is 'isolating and distant.' Readers who step into this imaginary museum will find it a crowded place, indeed, full of small dim corners and slivers of sunlight that illuminate mysteries dark and deep." —Cindy Pauldine, The River's End Bookstore (Oswego, NY)

"I loved these weird short stories! They're so hard to describe, but even though each one is only a few pages long, they all go off into unexpected places, leaving you with a tiny surreal gem. For me it was a perfect mixture of strange minimalism, and these stories messed with my head long after I read them. Nicolette Polek is a writer I'll definitely be looking out for from now on." —Dan Schwartz, Changing Hands Bookstore (Phoenix, AZ)

"These little stories are anything but little. It takes a skilled hand to fill each short story so completely . . . Some confusing, some bizarre, but all thought-provoking. A truly original book." —Julie Slavinsky, Warwick's (La Jolla, CA)

"Striking in their surrealist beauty and surprising humor, the stories in Nicolette Polek's debut collection accrue meaning through sharp sensory detail, like lingering, half-remembered dreams. The experience is divine, and Polek navigates the negative space between plot to give us the pure nectar of storytelling. There is stunning imagery on display as well: strawberries are mashed into a sheep's coat; 'large expensive men bob [in a bath house] like corks,' beside the sound of money being counted; the tension and energy of youth builds like dense dry undergrowth, tinder for a forest fire. Polek proves that it is all of us who are odd, after all." —Alex Helmintoller, DIESEL, A Bookstore (Santa Monica, CA)

"Polek's stories draw the reader into a beautifully bizarre and imbalanced world, and with each story, the reader asks himself if he will continue, and the answer is always yes." —Don Luckham, The Toadstool Bookshop (Keene, NH)

"Much like the surreal apartment in Polek's 'Invitation,' Imaginary Museums is 'strange, but intuitive.' A little uncanny, often unsettling, yet oddly familiar—comfortable, even. These stories are rabbit holes, miniature gateways into worlds that feel very large, even (or especially) when you only get a glimpse at them." —Devon Dunn, Book Culture (New York, NY)

"Each one of Nicolette Polek’s Imaginary Museums is intricate and tightly woven. Polek’s vignettes feature moments of critical disconnect, but they feel like beginnings or middles, with endings somewhere out of sight. Polek’s voice is immersive, her confidence temporarily disguising the profound dislocation that her characters experience. A book much bigger than its page count, Imaginary Museums is an unsettling sampler of curiosities and crises." —Bridget McCarthy, Seminary Co-op Bookstore (Chicago, IL)

"Polek delivers an unforgettable collection full of biting humor and provocative mundanities, much in the vein of Ramona Ausubel. A delight!" —Allison Senecal, Old Firehouse Books (Fort Collins, CO)

"These sentences zag when you expect them to zig. And don't get me started on the zigging. Trying to recount any of these stories will take way longer than it will to read them; they are masterworks of compression that unfold into sagas of falconers and an air-conditioning museum. But they also finish with tidy endings, landing the dismount from each impossible trick with a word, a gesture that somehow makes sense of the fantasia preceding. Oh, yeah: and it's really, really funny." —Benjy Caplan, Green Apple Books (San Francisco, CA)

“Did you ever see that diagram of a person’s head, focusing on the brain, in which we were told about the 'attic' of the conscious mind and the 'basement' of the subconscious? I think we have a new name for that basement—Imaginary Museum. This delightful (disturbing?) group of vignettes lets us peek into the lives of a variety of strange characters that could only rise up from the depths of a vivid imagination. Anyone who likes 'different' and 'short' will love these pithy, thought-provoking flashes of literary perfection. Enjoy the vision!” —Linda Bond, Auntie’s Bookstore (Spokane, WA)

“Reading Imaginary Museums feels like you're sitting on the morning train, chatting with the passengers beside you. Some conversations are longer than others, and some peers stand out from the crown with their absurdness. But above all, these characters and their stories are so human: strangers that you'd like to visit with again sometime soon.” —Christine Rogers, Avid Bookshop (Athens, GA)

"It's no small feat to establish a spellbinding presence in the span of twenty-six microstories, but Nicolette Polek pulls it off masterfully with Imaginary Museums. Her formula is so subtle that I can’t really reason how she achieves these literary sleights of hand with such consistency . . . One part magical realism here, a dash of unadorned honesty there, stir in some gallows humor, and serve chilled." —Sam Faulkner, A Room of One’s Own (Madison, WI) "I was drawn to Imaginary Museums due to its fantastic, ambiguous title, and it did not disappoint! These short-short stories are best taken like vitamin capsules for the imagination: two or three a day, let them soak into your mind and open your creative pores. One of my most anticipated early 2020 releases." —Fernando A. Flores, Malvern Books (Austin, TX)

"I have a confession to make: I love Soft Skull Press. I love them for books like Imaginary Museums, a collection of wonders and weirdness, of strangeness and surprises, of darkness and pure delight. As I read Polek's stories, I found myself turning to anyone nearby just to share a passage. Read and recommend this gem." —Tim Huggins, Brookline Booksmith (Brookline, MA)

"This awesome little volume has worlds and worlds inside of it. Each story acts like an object caught by a strange trick of the light. With poetic language and unusual circumstances, Polek names the things we all know—like love, revenge, and melancholy—with a unique wit and alluring perspective." —Gwen Hunter, Solid State Books (Washington, D.C.)

"Hysterical, vivid, ominous, fervid, outrageous, captivating: can one collection of short stories be all of these things? Once you read Imaginary Museums, you'll see the answer to this question is a resounding yes. Polek's collection is filled to the brim with unforgettable characters: pretentious academics, nervous brides, sneaky landlords—they're all here and then some. Imaginary Museums transports you to places that are wholly another world and yet also undeniably familiar. Short fiction is having a moment, and if you haven't delved into some of the great short fiction that's being published, a great place to start is with Nicolette Polek's masterful and engrossing work." —Morgan McComb, Square Books (Oxford, MS)

"I am sometimes wary of literary forms that I have not studied thoroughly, fearful that I will miss something if I don’t have a firm grasp on the limitations and potential of the format. I have read and enjoyed other collections of microstories, but I now understand that I was only seeing the limitations because I had not seen that form’s potential more fully realized. But then Imaginary Museums. Nicolette Polek’s collection is weird, vivid, revealing. Each story provides a glimpse of the world that is somewhere between a wry oddity and a parable. The profundity of the implicit metaphors varies, but that variance is the book’s greatest strength: like unseen birds in the branches, it feels like the deeper meanings of the stories are considering you instead of vice versa. Imaginary Museums is never didactic, never obvious, and always wild. It reminds me most of a disorienting roller coaster from my youth that went back and forth through a loop and suspended riders at two vertical angles all in the space of thirty-five seconds." —Keith Mosman, Powell's Books (Portland, OR)

"The curatorial eye of Nicolette Polek is appropriately scattered but searching, flitting between the concrete and impressionistic in clever pursuit of some deeper meaning to our ever-mounting frets and foibles. A lively arrangement of small-scale absurdities, Imaginary Museums proves to be as flustered, perturbed, and prone to distraction as its endlessly amusing subjects, each resonating with fractured enthusiasm for a world they are desperate to understand or, in lieu of that, abandon. An ideal collection for our inherently perplexing era." —Justin Walls, Powell’s Books (Beaverton, OR)

“Surreal peepholes into slightly off-kilter examinations of what it means to be on display. You'll have to reread a couple of these a few times before you believe the strange journey they send you on: mediation via falcon, a house filled with grief, a sweater for a car. Brief, beguiling, and fun.” —Luis Correa, Avid Bookshop (Athens, GA)

“Wildly innovative and strangely moving—I loved these offbeat tales! I laughed out loud so many times!” —Mary Cotton, Newtonville Books (Newton, MA)

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