White Dialogues

Bennett Sims blurs the line between madness and genius in his cerebral story collection White Dialogues.

Sims (A Questionable Shape) has been compared with David Foster Wallace for his intellectual reach; he also warrants comparisons with edgy fabulists like Carmen Maria Machado due to the way he unpacks philosophical ideas from horror-genre tropes. The 11 stories in the collection include long, absorbing exercises in psychological horror, most notably in "House-sitting," and shorter but no less unnerving tales like "A Premonition." All the stories contain metafictional elements in which Sims draws attention to the structure itself and the role of the reader. Sometimes he achieves this by using the second person; other times he explicitly refers to the reader. In "Ekphrases," the narrator speaks of "a famous book written at the edge of death," which describes faces readers will see outside if they look up: "In this way every window comes to be haunted by the potentiality of a gaze."

Sims elicits depth with precision. In his relatively straightforward "Fables," for instance, he relays short parables that explore the psychology of morality. When a boy is told by his mother not to release the balloon she bought him, her instruction precipitates a moral crisis that changes the boy's relationship to the balloon, his mother and his own sense of identity: "By forbidding a thought he hadn't had, she has put that thought into his head... as if the prohibition has implanted not just the desire, but an entire prehistory of the desire."

Showcasing an ingenious and darkly subversive mind, White Dialogues is a head-trip worth taking. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

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