Tessa Mellas will show you things you’ve never seen. Girls with ice skates screwed directly into their feet. A college student who hails from Jupiter. A baby more plant then human. Much more.
“Lungs Full of Noise” (University of Iowa Press, 133 pages, $17), Mellas’ debut collection of short stories and winner of the 2013 Iowa Short Fiction Award, is full of the grotesque and the beautiful. Each of the 12 stories is built around arresting ideas and images. The characters in these stories are often desperate and willing to go to extremes to claim what they need or fend off what they fear.
Here, in a story entitled “The White Wings of Moths,” a woman uses caterpillars to slow the sale of her home: “They’ve nested in couches and cupboards. They’ve curled in the fibers of rugs. Her husband took an end table back with him last weekend, and they settled in the space where the table had been. … Bea doesn’t mind. She likes to tend to them. They are her flock.”
While many of the stories are fairly straightforward narratives with extraordinary occurrences or characters, several are experimental in form, as well. The rhythms of Mellas’ prose propel the reader through her more opaque passages. Stories like “opal one, opal two” — which is difficult to summarize in any meaningful way — have the emotive resonance of poetry.
Throughout the collection, Mellas is clearly more interested in eliciting emotions than in offering tidy resolutions. At the close of story after story, she leaves the reader with indelible images.
Rob Cline is a writer and published author, marketing director for University of Iowa’s Hancher and director of literary events for New Bo Books, a division of Prairie Lights.