What can a spouse’s sudden medical crisis illuminate about the state of a marriage? What can a desperate survival situation reveal about a person’s true character? If your best friend obtained an incredibly rare and valuable item, how would jealousy and greed change your relationship? These are all provocative questions that are examined in Manuel Gonzales’s short-story collection The Miniature Wife, but with a twist. The aforementioned medical problem is the titular wife accidentally being shrunk to the size of a coffee mug, the survival situation is a zombie attack on a mall, and the valuable item is a real, live unicorn.
Gonzales’s work could be called magical realism—each of his stories has a fantasy or science fiction element—but is really an examination of normal people with normal foibles and baggage dealing with extraordinary situations. He skillfully uses fantastical elements to illuminate the human condition. His story “Pilot, Copilot, Writer” is a good example. In this story, an airplane is hijacked—but not rerouted or crashed. The pilot announces that the plane has been hijacked and proceeds to fly it in circles around and around the airport—for years. Gonzales touches on how the plane is powered (mysterious, renewable fuel) and what the passengers eat (a nutritious gel that the pilot has an endless supply of), but the details and “hows” of the hijacking are mostly unimportant. What is important is Gonzales’s examination of how the passengers react to and deal with their captivity—how, at first, they call their families frequently, but eventually both passengers and families move on; how the passengers initially make small talk and attempt to get to know one another, but ultimately turn inward. The hijacking is a fascinating scenario in and of itself, but Gonzales’s insight into how the human psyche deals with closed quarters and trauma is brilliant.
Each story in this collection is a gem. They are all completely unique and original; I have truly never read anything like them. The stories are well-written and literary and Gonzales’s creativity is astonishing. Alongside his magical elements are keenly observed truths about real life. You will see yourself in his characters, even if they are fighting aliens in an outer-space colony or carefully constructing a doll house for their miniature wife to live in.
Sarah Jane Abbott works in editorial for Simon & Schuster children’s books.