Little Kingdoms (Vintage Contemporaries)

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9780375701436: Little Kingdoms (Vintage Contemporaries)

Cartoons that draw their creator into another world; demonic paintings that exert a sinister influence on our own. Fairy tales that express the secret losses and anxieties of their tellers. These are the elements that Steven Millhauser employs to such marvelous—and often disquieting—effect in Little Kingdoms, a collection whose three novellas suggest magical companion pieces to his acclaimed longer fictions.

In "The Little Kingdom of J. Franklin Payne," a gentle eccentric constructs an elaborate alternate universe that is all the more appealing for being transparently unreal. "The Princess, the Dwarf, and the Dungeon" is at once a gothic tale of nightmarish jealousy and a meditation on the human need for exaltation and horror. And "Catalogue of the Exhibition" introduces us to the oeuvre of Edmund Moorash, a Romantic painter who might have been imagined by Nabokov or Poe. Exuberantly inventive, as mysterious as dreams, these novellas will delight, mesmerize, and transport anyone who reads them.

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About the Author:

Steven Millhauser received the Pulitzer Prize for Martin Dressler. He is a recipient of the Lannan Award and has been honored by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The author of Edwin Mullhouse, The Barnum Museum, and The Penny Arcade, among other books, he teaches at Skidmore College and lives with his wife and two children in Saratoga Springs, New York.

From Kirkus Reviews:

These three ingenious novellas confirm Millhauser's status as a master fabulist--an author who displays a fantastic ability to describe in detail objects of his own invention: puppets, circuses, board games, and miniatures. Here, his greatest inventions are the comic strips and animated cartoons of J. Franklin Payne--in a portrait of an artist whose work recalls the career of Winsor McCay. Like McCay, Payne raises the level of popular ephemeral to high art. And Millhauser so effectively creates Payne's inner ``kingdom'' that we begin to see reality refracted through the artist's peculiar imagination. In the 20's, Payne begins as a midwestern comic-strip artist whose first series on a dime museum earns him a place on a major New York daily, where he contributes editorial cartoons as well. With his wife--a high-brow who never really accepts his art--and daughter, Payne sets up house north of the city, where he spends hours in his studio creating his first animated cartoons. His meticulous craftsmanship results in commercial success, but also the opprobrium of his employer. As Payne begins his masterpiece, he retreats further into his world of artifice, so that by close, reality and fantasy collapse. The ``The Princess, the Dwarf, and the Dungeon'' concerns an actual kingdom, though one that exists in no discernible time or place. It's a cubist re-creation of a Prince's ``moral fall'' after he gratuitously tests his wife's faithfulness. Full of desire and duplicity, the tale unfolds rather dryly, with a description of possible endings, all of which emphasize a sense of justice and concord. Last, a faux art catalog uses the descriptions of 26 paintings by Edmund Moorash to draw a portrait of a strange genius. In the early 19th-century, Moorash's dark visionary landscapes and portraits fail to equal the bizarre demise of the artist, his sister, and their best friends. There's nothing overly academic about Millhauser's fictional inventions--for every bit of cleverness, there's the art of true passion. -- Copyright 1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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