This might very well be my favorite short story collection of all time. More than that, Aerialists is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and emotionally resonant books I have ever read, a poignant collection of stories that are at once heartbreaking and life-affirming but always profoundly human. Debut author Mark Mayer is a genuine revelation. He writes with dizzying insight and uncanny grace, his prose sparkling brilliantly in the light. Like a great ringmaster, he captivates the attention of his audience and shows us the rich weirdness hiding beneath the surface of everyday life. Aerialists subverts expectations, pushes boundaries, and dares to be different, all while whispering of more wonders to come.
The surreal or carnivalesque is refreshing in Mayer’s writing; the fantastic and the ridiculous are handled with measured sentences and clear, unexaggerated prose. The quality of the stories’ structure is what one has come to expect of Iowa Writers’ Workshop grads: The pacing never drags, and the narratives turn neatly, usually without sacrificing surprise ... Aerialists is not particularly quotable, for better or for worse. It is, rather, Mayer’s carnival of characters that I find myself carrying around in my head ... Within this poignant blend of knowledge and ignorance, Mayer’s portrayal of childhood becomes exquisite ... Only on occasion do characters fail to realize a story’s potential ... Still, Aerialists is full of weird, singular stories articulated in bracing and unusually disciplined prose. Mark Mayer’s carnival of oddities is worth the price of admission and, like the model train’s banner car, leads one to believe that more delights lay in store.
A common bond that these stories share – a very important one – is that they are excellent ... each one of these pieces is thorough and thoughtful, presenting complex narratives that defy simple synopsis. Individually, they shine. Taken together, they paint an emotionally impactful picture packed with dark jokes and glimmers of hope … only the jokes can hurt and the glimmers are sometimes extinguished ... Mayer has a distinct authorial voice that permeates the work; too often, collections like this one feel too uniform in their sound. That’s far from the case here – even the stories that seems as though there might be overlap are distinct. The characters that populate these pages are challenging and flawed, driven by desire and as subject to poor decision-making as the rest of us ... renders the weird mundane and the mundane weird, finding commonality in strangeness while accentuating the bizarreness of the everyday. In that way, it truly does evoke the circus – it’s three rings of the unknown reflecting the personal truths we keep buried within.