I really enjoyed this book.
The first story, “The Disappearance of Elaine Coleman,” borders on perfection. A well-crafted locked room mystery, this story has themes and characters that transcend the pages of the book. It had me thinking (and still has me thinking) about what happens when people stop noticing other people.
The other three stories in the first section (entitled “Vanishing Acts”) were good, but as a friend mentioned in her review, they were somewhat repetitive. A couple of specific images reappeared often enough that I found them a little annoying (eg, the image of the pocket torn from the back of a pair of jeans, a character looking as though they were coming down with something). I found it satisfying, however, to watch Millhauser explore his theme through different characters and situations. It inspired to me to do some more experimenting with my own writing.
The other two sections, “Impossible Architectures” and “Heretical Histories,” are pleasant all the way through. There’s a Tower of Babel story followed to its possible conclusion had God not intervened and changed everyone’s languages (“The Tower”). There’s the story of the craftsman of miniatures who pushes his art to see how far he can move the limits (“In the Reign of Harad IV”). Then there’s my favorite of the latter half of the book, the story of a painter experimenting with the properties of paints and unleashing unexpected forces (“A Precursor of the Cinema”).
When I was a child, I would get a thrill imagining things that were infinitely large and infinitely small. The sensation of letting my mind expand beyond the boundaries of the physical world as I could perceive it with my senses was exhilarating and terrifying all at once. Millhauser’s stories reawakened this sensation in me.