Experiments in perspective

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Reading Kevin Brockmeier’s The View From the Seventh Layer is like drinking a jolt of caffeine for the imagination.

The View From the Seventh Layer is a collection of 13 short stories. There aren’t any real plots or twists in the stories, but they’re interesting, with imaginative premises. Characters remain flat and undeveloped, merely guiding the reader through a “What if?” scenario. Yet the prose is rich with ideas, factoids, interesting points of views and beautiful descriptions.

The first story is about a mute who lives in a city where everyone sings. He collects parakeets, which become his gift of song upon his death.

The title story is about a peculiar woman who goes about her daily life, constantly searching the skies for an apparition that only she can see.

The third story is about a philosophy grad student who is preoccupied with a question. Thomas Aquinas and Friedrich Nietzsche were both great philosophers from very different concentrations during two different time periods, yet both had a vision where they decided to never write again. What did they learn to be changed so profoundly?

Another story wonders what would happen if the entire world were to fall silent for a few seconds, just long enough for people to want to make the whole world silent for days and days. Then, what would happen if sound were reintroduced?

What if there was a place where people were terrified to make eye contact in fear that one person would devour the other’s life force? Would people be different than here?

What are the repercussions on Americans for imposing their culture onto others? The 11th story is about an Indian girl whose picture, taken by an American journalist, makes her a celebrity in America and an outcast in her village.

There’s a fable about a cabinetmaker. There’s a love story on another planet. There’s a story about a guy who works for a funniest-home-video TV show. There’s a story about a pastor’s less-than-holy experience. There’s a boy’s recounting of the childhood of a girl he once had a crush on. In another story, a man buys God’s overcoat from a thrift store and prayers fill the pockets.

The best, I must confess, I’ve saved for the very last. Brockmeier includes a 65-page choose-your-own adventure. It’s written for adults but like the children books, is written in second person, has readers flip to different pages depending on the path they choose and there are multiple endings. It’s just as engaging and refreshingly innovative to find within an adult short-story collection.

None of the short stories seem thrown in to fulfill a page count, which often feels like the case with most authors. Each story is well written and entertaining.

The View From the Seventh Layer is Brockmeier’s second short-story collection. He also has published two children’s novels and two adult fantasy novels. Many of the short stories in The View From the Seventh Layer have been published in various publications before being compiled into book form.

Overall, The View From the Seventh Layer is a diverse, enjoyable way to spend an afternoon becoming lost in Brockmeier’s imagination.
 

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