Tuesday, April 17, 2012

We Bury the Landscape by Kristine Ong Muslim

Title: We Bury the Landscape
Author: Kristine Ong Muslim

Genre: Fiction (Short Stories / Weird / Inspired by Art / Surrealism /
Publisher/Publication Date: Queen's Ferry Press (4/2012)
Source: The author.

Rating: Liked.
Did I finish?: I did -- these stories were potato chip readable.
One-sentence summary: One hundred short stories, inspired by one hundred paintings.
Reading Challenges: E-books

Do I like the cover?: I do -- it's dark and twisted and modern, matching the flavor of these stories perfectly!

I'm reminded of...: Aimee Bender, Ben Loory, Catherynne M. Valente

First line: And when the birds from hell burned down the cathedral that day, they understandably started with the chandelier., from 'Everything that Rises'

Did... I love reading the author's research notes about her process for selecting art and writing the subsequent stories?: YES. Fascinating stuff -- I love learning about the process of writing, and Muslim's endeavor is particularly interesting.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy -- the e-book is inexpensive and this volume is great for dipping in and out of, whenever you need a shivery treat.

Why did I get this book?: I love art and I've been enjoying my recent foray into short fiction. I couldn't say no to this collection.

Review: These one-hundred stories were inspired by real pieces of art -- but you don't need to be familiar with any of the images to enjoy these stories. Muslim's jumping point -- a painting -- ends with wonderful crafted story, poignant and sharp, sad and humorous. I read all the stories first, image unseen, then went to Muslim's website where she links to every image. Then, after checking out the images, I reread the stories.

I'll be honest: in many cases, I rather enjoyed the story more before seeing the image. Sometimes, Muslim's story is a literal description of the painting; when the image was unfamiliar, I savored her descriptions, but after seeing the picture, I preferred my mental image over the reality. 

Described as 'flash fiction', these short stories are, in some cases, simply a paragraph -- but the length doesn't detract from the wallop of imagery and emotion.  At 169 pages, this volume is easy to race through: I would read on, potato-chip reading, as I described it to my wife, inhaling one story after another, unable to stop myself.  Some of the stories are darkly humorous; others, creepy and grotesque.  Many of the stories have a surrealist feel to them, reminding me of Aimee Bender, Ben Loory, and Catherynne M. Valente -- helped by Muslim's choice in art. Ranging from well-known artists like Dali and Miro, she also picks contemporary artists who were new-to-me, and the spectrum of art styles was exciting and interesting.  (I recommend checking out Muslim's essay on Necessary Fiction to learn more about her process for writing; I read it during my reading of this volume and found myself appreciating the stories even more.)

Even if you're not a short story fan, consider this collection: the pieces are so interesting, odd, dark, and twisted, they're like literary amuse-bouche, or a sampler flight of strange fiction. A unique way to dip your toes into odd fiction.

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I'm thrilled to offer one paperback copy of We Bury the Landscape to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US readers only, ends 5/4.


  1. I have been reading a lot about flash fiction as of late, and was surprised to discover that my husband has been reading it for a long time! I think your approach to reading this book is very interesting. I like that you read it, then looked at the paintings, and then read it again. It must have been a really immersive experience. Very nice review today!

    1. It was really such fun to read -- I've always thought I hated short stories but clearly I need to reconsider my opinion -- I loved dipping in and out of these brief snapshots. The stories were really quite cool!

  2. I read this too and I thought it was totally different from anything I had read before. I am glad I gave it a try.

  3. Very thoughtful and beautifully expressed review, Audra. So interesting to hear your take on the story-art relationship - so agree, also found reading with/without art depended on the story, but enjoyed trying both, and either way, a very different and engaging reading experience.

  4. It's been interesting seeing so much about flash fiction lately, and I love that these stories are inspired by paintings. Will check my library...

  5. This so sounds like my cup of tea. I love the idea that the stories are all inspired by paintings!