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Forcing the Elevation of Our Expectations

a review of Patrick Somerville’s The Universe in Miniature in Miniature

 Michael Filippone
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 Michael Filippone
Forcing the Elevation of Our Expectations
by Michael Filippone  FollowFollow
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Michael Filippone was born and raised in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. He writes and makes music. You can see him at wingchairbooks.com...read more, where he makes videos about books he likes.
Forcing the Elevation of Our Expectations
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THE BEST FILMS can be summarized in a course of events, but, when it comes down to it, the real significance behind them lies within the characters. A good cast will suspend a viewer’s disbelief to the point where those characters could exist in almost any universe, face nearly any conflict, and survive any event. Weird things could happen. Strange, implausible things could happen, and the story would be ‘real’ to the audience because the characters are ‘real’. A good character is believable.

Patrick Somerville understands this. There is no other conceivable circumstance under which someone could craft fifteen near-perfect stories in one book. But that is what Somerville did, and it is called The Universe in Miniature in Miniature.

In “No Sun”, a man and woman anticipate the new world, as well as their own relationship, after the earth has ceased rotating. Their choice is to either stay in the city and take their chances with the other survivors, or to flee to a country cabin and try at a life all their own, removed from other people and the possible dangers they bring:

It’s funny that we think of the sun as something that comes up, still. Even after they realized that it was us turning around, not the sun. That it never came up, just that we came around.

Perhaps the most impressive element about these stories is their breadth of subject. They range from “Vaara In The Woods”, a tale of a man that fuses with a bull in a reincarnation to avenge his murder, to “The Wildlife Biologist”, a straight-forward story about a girl as she navigates the strange passages of teen angst and the influence of her confusing feelings for an inappropriate relationship with one of her teachers.

The protagonist in the story “People Like Me” is a hired hit man looking to get out of the game. A representative from his employer, ICS, is hounding him to come back to work for them, but he is preoccupied with convincing his wife and her son to move back in with him after they fled because of his over-aggressive emotional breakdowns. He is reluctant to go back to his employer because of his contempt for the work as well as his own self-loathing:

There are basically three types who work at ICS: Meatbrains, Pros, and Whiners. Meatbrains like to blow shit up, kill people now and then, and have a good reason to use steroids. Pros don’t give a shit one way or the other. They’re like robots. They do the work, they get paid, they do more work, they get paid, etcetera. They are likely to be old and have fought in places like Granada. And third, people like me. Whiners. Whiners are the dumbest. We hate ourselves and love it all at the same time. We crack jokes and cry in the woods by ourselves when no one is watching. We’re the ones all the movies are about. The humans.

The Universe in Miniature in Miniature is singlehandedly responsible for forcing the elevation of my standards and my expectations of what both a story and a story collection can be. These pieces are flawless, each one a gem. It is a rare treat to encounter stories that are so original both in scope and in language while remaining accessible and fun to read.

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