"I have learned to ignore his need to humiliate me, one bite mark at a time," says the unnamed protagonist of Suzanne Burns' story "Tiny Ron," a tale in which a journalist from Portland recounts her marriage to an 18 ½-inch tall misogynistic character actor. Famous for his troll and elf roles, Tiny Ron is as domineering and abusive as any Lifetime-movie husband. He's uncaring, self-centered, and physically abusive (though, admittedly, his little fists do relatively little damage to his wife's 5'8" frame).
As with Kelly Link and Aimee Bender, the logic of Burns' narratives is typically skewed by some simple but profound realities that her characters must face. In the case of "Tiny Ron," Burns tells what might otherwise be a familiar story of an abused wife who feels powerless to leave her husband. But in this case, simply due to her physical size, Burns' protagonist has inherent power over her housecat-sized wife beater. And yet her protagonist endures Tiny Ron's habitual abuse, begging the question that so many of us have of those who suffer abuse at the hands of normal-sized partners: Why does she stay? The implied answers here, as in life, are complicated and disturbing, but Burns neither turns away from the complication nor offers platitudes to explain the behavior away.
The social and sexual implications of Burns' stories are often subtler than they perhaps sound in "Tiny Ron." "Tourists," for example, tells the story of Olive, who falls for a wax replica of Robert Wadlow, the nearly-nine-foot man from Alton, Illinois who is, to date, the tallest man in recorded medical history. In a weird inversion, it's this wax Wadlow's demise that enables Olive to experience loss and, just maybe, learn to move on.
But for as fun as these fourteen stories are to read, they don't merely entertain; they absolutely sock you in the gut with their weirdness, wit and insight. It's not that contemporary writers haven't taken plenty of liberties by blending the naturalistic and the fantastic, it's just that it's rarely done with such a deft and knowing hand.