The stories in Thomas Pierce’s Hall of Small Mammals take place at the confluence of the commonplace and the cosmic, the intimate and the infinite. A fossil-hunter, a comedian, a hot-air balloon pilot, parents and children, believers and nonbelievers, the people in these stories are struggling to understand the absurdity and the magnitude of what it means to exist in a family, to exist in the world.
What’s most impressive, reading it, is how naturally and perfectly the mammoth fits into the narrative’s contemporary reality, and how much the story depends on the presence of the mammoth — separated from her mate and offspring by space and time — to explain what has happened to the characters and their modern family ... It will be tempting, but hard, for readers to choose a favorite among the stories here ... The stories have that merry, postmodern humor, but also a classical love of real human emotion ... It seems one of the things a writer is doing in developing a voice is working out a careful calibration between the imagination and the world it encounters and attempts to understand ... In Pierce’s work, there is a deep marriage between the two, a vital connection and a natural partnership.
'Shirley Temple Three' is one of the most touching and original stories in Hall of Small Mammals, a debut collection that reads like the work of a much older, established fiction master. The stories in Pierce's book explore the ordinary in the otherworldly, the surreal in the mundane, and the results are stunning and unexpected ... Some of Pierce's stories have a bizarre, compelling mix of pathos and humor that recalls writers like George Saunders ... While Pierce has a real affection for the fantastic and the dreamlike, he shines even more brightly when writing about the prosaic ... The best story in the collection is 'Grasshopper Kings,' about a father and son attempting to bond at a camp sponsored by a Boy Scouts-like group ... There isn't a weak story in Hall of Small Mammals, and Pierce is an endlessly incisive and engaging writer. It's a book full of wisdom and emotion, with stories that explore what it means to live and die in a world filled with invisible things.
Other stories also gesture toward the pervasive unease we might note in this country. What makes a human 'human'? ... Clearly, Pierce has a fascination with science, and he has mined it thoroughly—to our advantage ... That said, some stories are weaker than others. A brief vignette about a mysterious skull raises some good questions about religion, but stops before it should, at least to my mind. And a story about a man with a somewhat bratty child in his care appears, still, to be in draft form; in my view, it seems not to have an urgent reason for existing ... These are minor qualms, however. The first story, along with 'Felix Not Arriving' (about a flawed comic), and a short account of several hours in a cult-like Boy Scouts-esque camp, more than merit the price of admission ... This young writer is one to watch.