The American Uncanny (American Innovations: Stories by Rivka Galchen)

American Innovations by Rivka Galchen

Rivka Galchen’s funny, uncanny collection American Innovations (FSG 2014) contains several contemporary, feminist riffs on classic short stories—including Borges’ “The Aleph” and Thurber’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”—though Galchen isn’t so much interested in retelling these stories as she is in using them as a starting point from which to explore the anomie of her gallery of women narrators, many of whom struggle under a peculiar kind of disaffection sprung from trying to reconcile everyone’s competing ideas about what (or how) a woman should be, and from the more general malaise of twenty-first century life. For instance, in the title story—which rewrites Gogol’s “The Nose” by way of Philip Roth’s novella The Breast—the narrator grows a dorsal boob and becomes a celebrity in the shallows of the internet, where she discovers that “[She] was an ugly who needed to get over herself, or someone bravely making [her] own choices, or a fourth-wave feminist, or a symptom of fakesterdom, or a rebel against the tyranny of the natural, or a person who really, really needed help.” Again and again, Galchen asks: When the self becomes the site for rival notions of identity—none of them self-authored—what do we become, how are we changed, how are we effaced?

Rivka Galchen, American Innovations: Stories. Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2014). 192 pages.

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