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Making Sense of The Universe in Miniature in Miniature

By Betsy Mikel in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 19, 2010 5:30PM

2010_11Universe3.jpg I don’t think I was smart enough to be bequeathed with the role of reading and reviewing The Universe in Miniature in Miniature, Patrick Somerville’s new book of 30 short stories. But, Tom, a character in the book who is a deadbeat alcoholic and is bequeathed with a magical helmet that allows him to see inside the psyches of those around him, wasn’t really the right man for that either. And he did fine in the closing chapter.

The Universe in Miniature in Miniature is tricky because every single one of the 30 stories is related in some way, but those ties aren’t always obvious. Many relationships between the stories and characters do not emerge until much later. Tom and his supernatural helmet are important, but the readers don’t meet him until the very end. And, the ties between the characters will depend on how closely readers are paying attention. Different stories will appeal more to different readers. The Universe in Miniature in Miniature is truly an eclectic mix of stories and characters - “Confused Aliens” is about exactly what it sounds like, whereas “Easy Love” is about a man trying to escape his past as a hitman and repair his marriage. Many are set in Chicago and you can feel it; the story that evolves around Windy City Liquors feels familiar with its sticky floors, Zenith TV and homeless bums. Other stories are more abstract.

But all carry the same voice, which is always to-the-point. Somerville isn’t one for confusing language (unless he’s using words he made up) or really dense sentences. Even though I felt disconnected through some of the more science-fictiony stories, I was chuckling enough to keep reading, like when an alien questions the meaning of the spaceship:

Sometimes we like to wonder how we got on this ship in the first place, and who built it, and where we are supposed to go, but the truth is, we have all forgotten. Or maybe we never knew. Or maybe we knew and have never forgotten. I do not understand what I am saying here.

I struggled to “get” the book as a whole because I entirely missed huge relationships between characters that others who read the book easily caught. But I did find a lot of the questions Somerville mentioned in his acknowledgements:

This book is an attempt at answering, in the best way I know how, a handful of worrisome questions. Probably like a lot of people, I began to wonder about these (admittedly abstract) questions in my twenties and could never shake their hold. And not to be annoyingly mysterious, but I hope there’s no need to restate the questions themselves here; if they’re not somehow in the book already, there’s a problem, and that’s my fault completely.

Before reading The Universe in Miniature in Miniature, I had never wondered about the effectiveness of a Machine of Knowledge of Other People. Would it help people more intimately and effectively relate to each other? Or, is everyone too caught up in their own miniature universe that they would not even be interested in such a machine? These sorts of questions were the pieces of this book that stuck with me. I forgot many of the individual characters. That’s why I couldn’t decide if I liked the book or not. And that’s why I’m going to read it again.

The Universe in Miniature in Miniature is published by featherproof press, who also has a free downloadable miniature version.

You can cut up the cover of The Universe in Miniature in Miniature and turn it into a mobile. Cool!