In Timequake, Kurt Vonnegut wrote that there are two kinds of writers: swoopers, who rush through the writing of a story and return for multiple revisions, and bashers, who plod through a story, line by line, until it’s exactly right. Vonnegut was an admitted basher, and we can infer from his latest collection that Kevin Brockmeier is as well. Each of the 13 tales in The View From the Seventh Layer is meticulously crafted, with hardly a word out of place. This is not to say that Brockmeier’s sentences are contrived or predictable; on the contrary, as a writer who is firmly invested in the fantastic and the fable-esque, his scrupulous and very often beautiful prose maintains a tight authorial control over subject matter that might seem hyperbolic or overblown were the stories not so carefully constructed.
Take the collection’s opener, ‘A Fable Ending in the Sound of a Thousand Parakeets’. Brockmeier’s protagonist is a mute who lives in a world in which people frequently sing to one another. The fable works because, just as the best naturalistic fiction does, the story contains a sincere emotional core that we access through characters whose concerns and struggles seem somehow like our own, despite the rules of their song-filled universe.
The same is true of the title story (one of the collection’s most engaging), in which a vulnerable young woman believes she has been abducted by an entity from the seventh layer of the universe. Even in ‘The Human Soul as a Rube Goldberg Device’, a second-person choose-your-own-adventure, Brockmeier resists staid plot twists (and twist it does, at the reader’s pleasure). Comparisons to Barthelme and even Vonnegut are perhaps understandable, but Brockmeier’s particular blend of the fantastic and the naturalistic (in, say, dialogue or a descriptive narrative passage) is wholly his own. As in any collection, some pieces are more memorable than others, though that may be more attributable to the reader’s taste than to anything inherent about Brockmeier’s abilities as a storyteller. Those credentials, as evidenced here, are happily bulletproof.