The stories in Yannick Murphy’s collection In a Bear’s Eye come from a deep, strange corner of human consciousness. Reading them is akin to the experience of dropping in to visit a demented relative: the situations and characters may seem familiar at first, but in the end, everything has been colored by the undeniable lunacy in the air. The stories are seldom longer than three pages, yet in such small space Murphy creates massive distances. Each is filled with a constant sense of loss between characters who cannot help yearning for the sublime weirdness all around them.
In the excellent ‘Pan, Pan, Pan’, for instance, a mother is haunted by a dark lake outside the cabin where she’s vacationing with her family. The lake’s blood-black water and terrible smell become such a source of menace for the mother that she must turn to the thought of a nearby airline crash to find solace. Elsewhere, Murphy plunges the reader into her lopsided worlds with excellent first lines, some sensational (“My mother died drunk standing in the rain wearing a leopard-spotted robe.”), others immediate and vivid (“Wild mushrooms grow on the hotel lawn.”).
Murphy does not waste a detail or even a word — her sentences are often deceptively short and simple, but are powered by the likelihood that they’ve never been written before by anyone: “I will eat bark. I will pull your hair from my boot. I will see summer. Check the dogs.” At times the effect of all this transience — reading tiny story after tiny story in which details and characters flash like lightning, then disappear — is overpowering. As with dreams, one forgets what came before in favor of the immediately bizarre scene that has now been created: wild dogs searching a hill of garbage made up entirely of plastic coffee stirrers, or two men conversing in elliptical ways about bullfighting and sex. But all this disconnectedness does not mean that In a Bear’s Eye is not itself a complete work. Despite the myriad differences from story to story, the mood of the book remains constant: gloomy, wounded and beautiful.