Surreal. Referential. Vignettes. Andriana Minou’s The Fabulous Dead

Andriana Minou launched her latest book, The Fabulous Dead, on March 24 with Kernpunkt Press. This book can be shipped to Canada through the publisher’s website (you know, in case you now have a lot more time at home and need something new to read). Minou has 3 books previously published by Strange Days Books, Underage Noirs, Dream-Mine, and allouterra. Her work has also appeared in soundbite, vol. 2.

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Surreal

The Fabulous Dead is a surreal re-imagining of (primarily) Western historical artists. The “I” character is introduced in the first story as the Skyscraper Queen of the Rumors Motel. She listens to “the Fabulous Dead,” and as she cleans, their voices become mixed, their stories mixed-up, so much that she is able to transform herself into their stories, or even into the dead themselves. The fabulous dead, the artists, are put into strange, almost dreamlike situations. Nietzsche and the “I” character share figs while watching a cult-like ritual performed by monks who make cats mate on a Greek island. A man named Jack attempts to grow potatoes but ends up with miniature Marlene Dietrichs. Princess Alexandria Amalie has a glass piano in her stomach that won’t stop playing. The Skyscraper Queen suffers the onslaught of voices and stories until she is able to forget her existence, and in this way, forget her own story and end the cycle (until another Skyscraper Queen emerges).

Referential

The artists referenced throughout range from well-known figures, such as Nietzsche, Lewis Carroll, and Galileo, to less commonly known names‒Jean-Baptiste Lully (a French composer in Louis XIV’s court), Robert Falcon Scott (British Royal Navy officer who explored the Antarctic and brought a piano along for the voyage), and Margherita Luti (one of the painter Raphael’s lovers). But don’t let the over-abundance of references turn you away‒most important historical details are delivered inside the stories or through footnotes.

Along with the reference to famous people, every vignette in this collection also refers to food or drink. The dead, it seems, revel in coffee and sauerkraut, ice cream and whiskey, much like the living. The Skyscraper Queen herself indulges in lists of food until it seems she would burst. Food and drinks are sensuously described, but the consumption of them is the key element tying these stories together. The characters consume foods and drinks the way the Skyscraper Queen consumes their stories and identities (and, perhaps, the way readers consume details of the lives of famous celebrities).

Vignettes

The Fabulous Dead is marketed as a collection of short stories, but this seems inaccurate. The stories are very short‒averaging under five pages each. For each vignette, the reader is dropped into a new setting (often anachronistic to the figure being followed), then introduced to the character and their quirky situation. Not much is resolved or complicated‒rather, these scenes are surreal slices of life, placing famous historical artists into unexpected, occasionally absurd contexts. The bookending stories of the Skyscraper Queen serve to provide a framework for these vignettes. She flits through these lives, and the reader follows her through vignettes that are fun and oftentimes outrageous, but on their own often leave the reader wanting to know more of how the situations play out.

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