A housewife drinks alone in her Connecticut living room. A guillotine glimmers above a sleepy town green. A pre-recorded customer service message sends a caller into a reverie of unspeakable yearning. With the deft touch and funhouse-mirror perspectives for which he has won countless admirers, Steven Millhauser gives us the towns, marriages, and families of a quintessential American lifestyle that is at once instantly recognizable and profoundly unsettling.
Several of the stories are among his best; a few are midlevel Millhauser; a handful of others don’t rise above craft. So it goes with books of short stories ... Millhauser’s stories are often about cracks in everyday life, cracks that reveal other possibilities and other modes of living. Sometimes one soul journeys through them; sometimes there are hundreds ... When Millhauser is on, he hands you a periscope of his own unique design, and he allows you to really look and feel. You can bring your own allegory.
Millhauser reminds you of Borges sometimes, of Calvino and Angela Carter at other times, even of Nabokov once in a while. What sets him apart from other writers these days is that he’s a fabulist of a particular sort: his stories take place, for the most part, neither in the real world nor in one that’s wholly fantastical but someplace in between. Millhauser has a Nicholson Baker-like gift for meticulous, closeup description of the ordinary ... For a reader coming to Millhauser for the first time, Disruptions may not be the ideal place to start ... The new collection includes a couple of excellent stories about dreamy, moony, self-conscious adolescents, another of Millhauser’s preoccupations ... All these stories are about transcendence.