Amelia Gray’s Museum of the Weird begins with the unsettling tale “Babies” and builds layers of unsettling, odd, off-kilter, and slanted meaning from there. The stories work incredibly well on individual levels and together as a whole.
“Babies” is about a woman who keeps having a baby—and then more than one baby—every night. The woman is not particularly disturbed by this. Gray leaves us with the knowledge that the woman has another, and another, and another baby.
It’s not a particularly satisfying ending, in that it leaves open the question of “what happens next?” but therein lies a large part of Gray’s power. The moments and images she chooses to end her stories lend themselves to the general feeling of unsettlement almost more than the bizarre events themselves.
“Waste,” the second story in the collection, builds on the strangeness of the first by featuring a woman who works at a vegan restaurant but spends her evenings cooking and eating meat. Including human tongues. She then tries to eat her own toes as a stew. The man who is romantically interested in her tries to take her to a hospital, but she insists on making the stew first. Gray leaves us with the woman insisting, so again, we don’t know what happens, and we feel keenly uncomfortable.
That feeling of discomfiture always leads me to ask why, and I love digging into a text and then my own feelings, even if I can’t come up with a good answer. A story that makes me think beyond the ending is almost always a good story (though sometimes I do think long and hard about why a story is a bad story, but that’s never the case in this collection).
Later stories like “Diary of the Blockage” (link is to a pdf of Caketrain issue 5, in which that story appears) and “Vultures” maintain this thread, but also highlight Gray’s skill with sharp, odd details and bizarre obsessions. In the first, a woman maintains a fourteen-day diary of a mass of…something…that gets stuck in her throat.
On day nine, she notes, “I am very interested in necks, and how their owners handle them. People mostly ignore their own necks, except for very nervous girls who hold them while they talk as if they are trying to keep their vocal chords from exploding and splattering across the other person” (101).
The woman’s comment reveals her growing obsession with her own neck and the blockage it contains, as well as her fears about what might happen.
In “Vultures,” an ominous story about a town that’s been overrun with the carrion birds, a woman who works at a daycare fixates inappropriately on them. In the daycare, “We fingerpainted vultures and made vulture sculptures with popsicle sticks. We drew plans in crayon detailing how to safely trap and release vultures. Robert drew his baby brother as bait. After show-and-tell, I told a story about vultures.” (127)
These stories explore strange desires and the nature of obsession. They challenge us to ask, “What would I do in that totally bizarre situation?” and “Why is that obsession any stranger than my own obsessions?” And they do so in an intelligent, measured way that makes it well worth the read.