Imaginary Museums: Stories

Nicolette Polek (Author)

Product Details

$15.95  $14.67
Soft Skull Press
Publish Date
January 14, 2020
5.5 X 0.5 X 8.2 inches | 0.3 pounds
BISAC Categories:

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About the Author

Nicolette Polek is a writer from Cleveland, Ohio. She is a recipient of the 2019 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers' Award.


Advance Praise for Imaginary Museums

An American Booksellers Association Indie Next Selection

"Polek's imagery comes through like flashes in a silent film. In one memorably vivid scene, a landlord shows a couple a video of herself as a child, smashing strawberries into sheep's wool. Another narrator's grandfather falls in love at 26 with a woman who loves flowers; one day he sneaks into her house to water all her plants. But he doesn't stop there, watering her quilt, her phone and her carpet. This may seem destructive, or cruel, but in Polek's world, it feels more like beauty." --Maya Chung, The New York Times Book Review

"In Polek's deliciously unnerving debut, the mundane is made very strange, as everyday objects or normal people are considered in new and unsettling ways . . . A surprising and potent catalogue of small, eerie discoveries." --Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Rather than settling for one or two guiding themes, Polek offers an enjoyable balance of light and dark subject matter, sweet and bitter characters, cuddly and cruel moments . . . She has immense talent for sudden, quietly affecting turns of phrase, luminous details, and word choices that firmly pin images down . . . Some [stories] offer sharp social commentary, a bit like Diane Williams but with more warmth and vulnerability . . . A moving, impressively varied first collection." --Kirkus Reviews

"When a foreign substance enters an oyster's shell, one of its organs generates the same material that the shell is made of to encase the foreign object, to protect itself. Or: when an oyster gets a splinter, it produces a pearl. This is what the stories in Nicolette Polek's debut collection, Imaginary Museums, remind me of. It's a world we recognize, but something is always very off . . . Something sinister is always lurking in each of these tightly-coiled, polished gems." --Katie Yee, Literary Hub, 1 of 12 Books You Should Read This Month

"Imaginary Museums reads like a kind of Twilight Zone, in which everyday people living their everyday lives find themselves in a prison of their own making. There's something dark about them, but then you turn the page and find yourself laughing at her dry wit. Each story is tightly coiled, brightly polished, and they're all a delight to discover." --Katie Yee, Literary Hub, One of the Most Anticipated Books of the Year

"A collection of flash fiction that feels seemingly arbitrary with an ache of human longing for connection peppered in. A few of the stories are left with loose ends, so you can decide the outcome which feels like a 'choose your own adventure' in a way. These bizarre but beautiful stories transport you elsewhere with no intention of bringing you back." --Ashleah Gonzales, W magazine, Great Quarantine Reads

"What lives on every page is the odd way Polek has of capturing the world with language . . . Polek writes, 'Perhaps if the mathematician infuses every mundane activity [such as opening a door] with stimulus, she could unlock the graying parts of her brain.' This collection feels a lot like that--the stories are the stimulus, and you are the mathematician--and perhaps in its enigma lies its virtue." --Erin Flanagan, Heavy Feather Review

"A yearning lives under these stories . . . A slim volume of even slimmer stories that pack a quiet darkness, a silent wonder, and a grounded reality amidst beautiful absurdity." --Chelsea Sutton, The Adroit Journal

"Delightfully different, Imaginary Museums still happens to hit upon the human urge for connection, acceptance, and a higher power." --Sophie Matthews,

"Polek's stories are themselves trapdoors, to worlds that, though they feel like they could be our own, are separated to some degree by elements we might construe as strange in our everyday life." --Alex Jimรฉnez, The Daily Californian

"Imaginary Museums to me was like Michael Earl Craig combined with Lorrie Moore and Kafka and a nature documentary." --Tao Lin, The Believer

"Trapdoors shine and exits shimmer in Nicolette Polek's debut collection of short stories Imaginary Museums . . . These stories are spare, but full and memorable . . . Polek helps us see, through a dark and mundane world, the strange, wavering light. We need that light. And now, maybe more than ever, it can be hard to make out." --Bella Bravo, Mask

"These stories--more accurately categorized as flash fiction--are parable-like sketches, elegantly rendered, ranging from uncanny to mythical . . . Polek's stories are not without a sense of profound grace . . . The beauty of these stories rests in their simplicity and control." --Leah Rodriguez, Paperback Paris

"Drawing attention to artifice can be a dangerous game, but in Polek's hands it is clear that the very awareness that threatens to ruin the spell of engaged reading is essential in understanding the characters within these stories, and why they act the way they do. In this collection--twenty-six short stories spread across four sections--attention is constantly being drawn to the performer in mid-action, fully aware of themselves as the observed, and reacting in interesting ways. This isn't The Ways of Seeing, although I'd bet that some of the characters have heavily thumbed copies resting on their bedside tables . . . Polek's work reminds me most of Edward Gorey's illustrations . . . While the confines of the drawings may seem imposingly small, the boundaries are adorned with dashed-off curlicues that only a master hand could perform. Polek has a similar ability to draw you into the miniature, to warmly welcome you into richly conceived micro-worlds. But as soon as you get too close, you're reminded: Look, don't touch." --Howie Waldstein, 12th Street

"With composed brevity and a hip, off-brand optimism, Polek mines a bottomless crevasse of depressive inclinations and self-imposed disembodiment. From the depths, she yanks a lamp that is so lit it proves bright enough to reveal the reader's own isolations with insight, but isn't too hot as to burn the skin . . . Like Lydia Davis or Sabrina Orah Mark, Polek meditates on universal themes with the wry concision of short film, letting honest, specific images carry the burdensome philosophical weight." --Loie Rawding, Another Chicago Magazine

"Nicolette Polek's stories are little circuses of wonder and surprise. They make me feel wide awake. Plus Imaginary Museums is really pleasingly full of stuff: you've got hairpin narrative turns, unexpected drownings, saltshakers, trapdoors, chain saws, vodka. In one of my favorite stories, a bluebird sees the main character, but she never sees the bird. Imaginary Museums is delightfully alive." --Danielle Dutton, author of Margaret the First and SPRAWL

"There's the sense that anything can happen in the stories of Imaginary Museums--a book full of surprising turns, fascinating characters, and perfect endings. The timelessness of Nicolette Polek's voice is a wonder, and it will stay with you long after reading." --Chelsea Hodson, author of Tonight I'm Someone Else

"What are these? Weird parables? Dark dreams? Warnings about the afterlife, death, marriage? Like the best writers, Polek is willing to go to a disturbing place and stay there. She will not save our hero. She will join the shadowy forces and lead us in." --Deb Olin Unferth, author of Wait Till You See Me Dance and Revolution

"Like little crystalline shards, these wonderfully subtle, often laconic stories suddenly catch the light and cast it in unexpected, profoundly revealing directions. A quirky, startling debut." --Brian Evenson, author of Song for the Unraveling of the World

"Nicolette Polek's voice is resigned, hopeful, funny, tender, and melancholy, with an older European sensibility that reminds me of some of my favorite translated works. The ambiguous tales in Imaginary Museums are full of the pleasure, disappointment, possibility, and mystery of life." --Kathryn Scanlan, author of Aug 9--Fog

"These rhythmic bulletins of crisp delirium infiltrate the bloodstream in a manner I can describe only as symphonicโ --a tender, lucid world takes shape beneath the world we know and swells to submerge us in its understated magic." --May-Lan Tan, author of Things to Make and Break

"Nicolette Polek's Imaginary Museums is a collection of pressure-cooked little diamonds: smart, funny, succinct, and sure to be a classic. People will be reading this book for a long time." --Juliet Escoria, author of Juliet the Maniac

"There are texts I always go back to because they both ground me and take me somewhere else, and Imaginary Museums is part of that list now, along with Robert Walser's Microscripts and William Carlos Williams's Spring and All. Polek's wonderful ability to create such clear imagery both delicate and epic in only a few pages, sometimes only one, is absolutely magical. Her stories are like a vivid and revelatory dream that one unexpectedly has while taking a nap under the sun." --Amalia Ulman, artist

"Nicely polished short stories with only a whiff of preciousness, which succeed in keeping the reader off balance as they peruse one vignette after another about lonely, thoughtful, yearning characters searching to make connections. The writing is lovely, which helps to keep the reader engaged even when the narratives venture into the unknown with no clear direction home. Polek plays with an obsessively narrow focus on material objects--a rope, a cat, a lump of grey matter--that come to represent a world of meaning in the best surrealist tradition. In tales that are separated into four sections--Miniature Catastrophes, American Interiors, Slovak Sceneries, and Library of Lost Things--there is enough variety and good writing to sustain interest to the end of the collection. Standouts include "The Dance," where a young couple cannot overcome inertia and egoism to have a real conversation, or "Girls I No Longer Know," which should be mandatory reading for all teenagers, or the title story, where an intelligent woman named Annie grapples with her sorrow and her hope for a happy future. Polek is one to watch." --Fiona Stevenson, Concord Free Public Library (Concord, MA)

"This collection of short stories was like walking through a museum and reading the placards for miscellaneous pieces of art. Each story was entertaining and compelling on its own, but together than reveal a collective whole." --Kari Bingham-Gutierrez, Olathe Public Library (Olathe, KS)