PEN/Hemingway finalist, Kim Fu, debuts a stunning collection of short stories in her novel, Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century. In a world that is divided by race and politics and class, it’s difficult to remember what we all have in common. When I walk into a room, all I can think about is how I’m different from the person next to me. Thoughts run through my head, such as: I hope I don’t match my outfit with anyone else, that person doesn’t have black hair like me, that person doesn’t go to my school, that person isn’t like me at all. Even when I apply for a job, the goal is to show them how I am different from everyone else, why I am special. The criterion for life is no longer to fit in, but to be something completely new. Fu reminds us in her 12 stories that while we are all unique, we are all connected by the human experience.
Kim Fu creates a new world in each story that highlights themes of coming of age, the advancement of technology, guilt, sexuality, death, inner conflict, and so much more. The stories jump from an insomniac who is visited by the Sandman, a house infested with bugs, a time cube that acts as a rewind and forward button on life, and a world where everyone suddenly loses the ability to fully taste food. Each story is individualistic, but together, they create a narrative of what it truly means to be human. Fu is able to create a thread of moments that teaches the reader to cherish life and see the world with the wonder of a child.
In the short story, Twenty Hours, there are printers that can reprint a person and their consciousness. The story centers around a husband and a wife who have spent thousands of dollars to buy this printer, just so they can kill each other or themselves. When the husband kills his wife, Connie, he as 20 hours to do what he wants. He could go be with another woman, since technically he’s a widow now. He could go on a daytrip to somewhere Connie doesn’t want to go. He could do all the things she doesn’t like now that he has 20 hours without her existence in the world. But what does it truly mean to remove someone like that from your life? What does it mean to lose someone’s very essence in the world? While the premise is almost comical, Fu is able to spin the narrative in a way that it’s heart-warming and reflective.
After each story, I found myself needing to take a break. The introspective nature of the tales took me by surprise, and I always needed to save a moment for myself so I could soak it all in. These short stories made me question my existence and my appreciation for what’s around me. Liddy, First to Fly, a narrative where growing wings on your ankles is just part of growing up, made me wish I had the wonderment of a child. When the mothers of the young girls discover they are testing the wings, Fu gives a brilliant and harrowing depiction of the loss of innocence from childhood to adulthood writing:
“If it had been one adult, the magic could have lasted. One adult can be lured into pretend, can taste the tea in our toy cup, hear the voice in the toy phone. One adult could have been what we saw and carried it quietly within her forever. But not four. Four adults can talk to each other until reality straightens, until doubt is crushed, until their memories unstitch and reform. Four adults never see a miracle at once. Liddy’s wings would dissolve into the air or reabsorb into her skin without leaving a mark.”
Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century is a must read. Not just for those who enjoy short stories, but anyone who is looking for small escapes from the real world. This is also for those who need to reconnect with themselves and others. It is an amazing gateway into your own mind and soul, each story had me questioning a new aspect of life and myself. This is also a great collection for those who enjoy televised series such as Black Mirror on Netflix due to its introspective, and occasionally dark, nature. Kim Fu writes with attitude, elegance, and wonder. This is a beautiful combination of sci-fi, fantasy, and fiction that is enjoyable for all readers.
Seattle author Kim Fu reads from her latest novel in a virtual reading shared with fellow novelist Danya Kukafka on Wed., February 2 at 7:00 PM, sponsored by Third Place Books. Registration required. Go to thirdplacebooks.com for details.