Sometimes I enjoy reading a book that makes me close the book, stare into the distance and think ‘what the actual fuck did I just read!?’. Meet Me In The Moon Room by Ray Vukcevich is one of those books. It is a collection of 33 surreal short science-fiction stories. An example of why I describe the stories as surreal is the story where a man uses a turtle as a toupee and a snake as a moustache and thinks nobody will notice. Also, there is the story where people turn into bicycles or where a couple visits a planet where they are forced to carry a fishbowl with a barking goldfish. Even though all those stories sound ridiculous, Jay Vukcevich has the amazing talent to make them sound logical while you are reading them.
Each of the 33 stories has those creative outlandish elements. Vukcevich’ mind must be a very interesting place. I enjoyed reading this book because with each story my mind got new ideas to think about. Most of the joy I got from reading this book was picturing all the things he described, such as the barking goldfish. This makes this a very good book for people who love daydreaming and want some fantastical inspiration to do so. Who has ever thought of a story where somebody put a paper bag over his head and got lost before? However, despite the fact that I loved the images in this book, it still took me over a year to finish it and it’s only 250 pages. This is not necessarily a problem, but sometimes it felt as if Vukcevich was so proud of the outlandish ideas he had for his stories that he forgot to write a plot. Some stories are not more than a surreal idea and those stories left me confused. I don’t mind if people write bizarre stories, but in my opinion, originality is not enough to make a good story. It should also have a point to make or an interesting plot. Especially in short stories, a strong plot is important. It does not help that there is no overall theme to this collection to pull the book together. Each story stands on its own and tells its own bizarre story. I will discuss three stories to give you an idea of what to expect in this book.
The first story is Mom’s Little Friend. This story is about two children saving their mother from a nanobot invasion in her body and mind. Nanobots are super small robots and in the story, they are used to keep the body safe and healthy. However, their way to keep the body save is to not allow it to do anything. The best way to stay safe and alive after all is to stay indoors and move as little as possible. In the story, the children find a high bridge and force their mother to bungee jump to scare the nanobots out of her body. The theory is that exposing their mom to a high enough risk will create an adrenaline surge which will chase the nanobots out of their mother’s body. This story got me hooked on the book because I loved the outcome of the story. It was interesting to read that the solution in the story for over-protective nanobots is over-exposure to danger. Also, the build-up of this story is very good. It takes a few times throwing their mother off a bridge before the nanobots give up. While doing that, the nanobots and the children argue with the nanobots. In that way, you learn more about their origin, their motives and how they work.
The second story I want to discuss had me screaming and is called Home Remedy. This story is about a man who has an imaginary bug infestation in his nose. Perry, the unhappy victim, tries to rid himself of the bugs in his bathroom while his girlfriend demands to get in to use the washroom. While his desperation to get the bugs out of his nose grows, his girlfriend gets more and more demanding. Perry starts to use heavier and heavier tools and methods to rid himself of the bugs. That is where my screaming started because he starts poking things up his nose and I could image that vividly. It starts relatively innocently by spraying bug spray in his nose which makes ‘a fire rage through his nose and into his head’ as Perry describes it himself. Later there are tweezers and ice picks involved to kill the bugs in his head. I was worried about the life and sanity of Perry. What I liked about this story is that it is a horror story in a very domestic setting. I expect stories about ghosts, murderers and evil ghouls to scare the living daylight out of me, but in this story, I was terrified by a guy in a bathroom trying to remove a bug from his nose. This shows good storytelling in my opinion. Also, this story had a very good build-up where things escalated quickly.
The last story I will discuss is A Holliday Junket because this story is so very very strange. This is the story where people are required to carry a fishbowl with a barking goldfish in it all the time. The barking goldfish eats kamikaze spiders which are as big as a basketball and attack your face to suck out your eyes. When you’re attacked the only thing you can do is put your face in the fishbowl for the goldfish to eat it. The protagonist and his girlfriend visit the planet for a holiday, but upon hearing about the spiders and the fishbowls they want to leave as soon as possible – the need to carry the fishbowls was not in the brochure. Escape is not easy though, because they must touch heads to communicate (don’t ask me why) and the heavy fishbowls make it hard to connect because they are super large. However, I did not really get why they were struggling to meet heads so much because it did not sound like a big problem. This made me think whether the story was meant as some sort of slapstick because of the futile and clumsy attempts to connect. Or maybe it has a deeper meaning about human connection. In this story, carrying the fishbowl leaves people isolated because they are too big and heavy to manoeuvre around freely. The only way the couple could reconnect was to drop the fishbowls in danger of their own lives. The bliss they experience at that moment made this story a romantic one as well. This story is a good example that Vukcevich’ stories are interesting, but do not always make much sense.
Many of Vukcevich’ stories in this collection made me wonder whether there was some deeper meaning behind the stories I was missing, or that there was no point to them at all. The answer is probably a bit of both of them. That makes this a very hard book to judge because, on the one hand, I loved some of the stories, but also some I did not get. The stories that were good were brilliant because they gave me images in my mind even Hollywood cannot think of. Also, they often were funny or revolting, such as the bug story, which made me wonder again what’s going on in Vukcevick’ mind. Although he did not manage to execute all of his ideas well because some stories felt he just threw a strange idea on paper and left it at that. The ideas still make the book worth reading, especially if you look science-fiction and the strange and fantastical. Don’t rush reading this book though, because it is better to take time to make a movie in your mind out of every idea in this book. In that way, even if you didn’t like the story it will give you plenty to think about whenever you’re bored.
Trying to speak French drunk and other confusing things award for being a fun, but very bewildering book to read
Ray Vukcevich, meet me in the moon room (Easthampton, 2001)
Bella G. Bear