The Barnum Museum (Millhauser)

I don’t know why Millhauser doesn’t get more attention. He’s a remarkable writer, and this collection of short stories is still more proof. Though many of the pieces seem like writing exercises – What was Alice thinking as she fell down the rabbit hole? – they are generally successful. The first, “A Game of Clue,” is an absolute masterpiece. “The Sepia Postcard” is haunting, and “Rain” is spot on. Both “The Invention of Robert Herendeen” and “Eisenheim the Illusionist” (the latter, the source for the movie The Illusionist) really made me think that this is a collection of stories about writing, about creativity. Herendeen is no Victor Frankenstein; he is, instead, a writer. So is Eisenheim.

Millhauser, with what I’m now beginning to see as his trademarks of attention to architecture and use of lists, deserves more acclaim. These are imaginative and vivid stories that will stay with me for a long, long time.

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