Tina May Hall’s The Physics of Imaginary Objects (University of Pittsburgh Press), winner of the 2010 Drue Heinz Literature Prize, is comprised of 15 eerie, memorable stories followed by an intriguing novella that mixes poetry and prose in a way that captures readers in a world of complexity and imagination.
The Physics of Imaginary Objects melds ideas of life and death, nature and technology, and feeling and unfeeling into haunting stories that allow the reader to experience the day-to-day life of Hall’s characters through ethereal yet tangible events. For instance, the opening story, “Visitations,” depicts the isolated, wild home of a soon-to-be mother whose husband is away on business. The stench of numerous dead squirrels in the walls a deep reflection on life and death begins as the narrator questions the way she creates life. The stench of death lingers and continues through the rest of the book with in each precise story that follows.
Hall’s stories explore gender through images, objects, and beauty. In “Skinny Girls’ Constitution and Bylaws,” Hall displays the sad reality of how women are portrayed as sex objects through her very brief sketches of various literary authors and characters. The form of the piece rollicks between prose and poetry, and its lists of paragraphs and stanzas creates a mockery of a constitution. The voice in each point embodies moments of depression, frustration, defeat, and courage. In the line, “We love our secrets; anything hidden is so dear to us, we who are always on display,” readers are entranced in a hidden world where women can be safe from the world’s stereotypes. These worlds that are hidden from view are the worlds that are “dear,” whether they are real or imaginary.
When the book concludes with Hall’s novella, readers are launched into a new world. Each of the poems making up the novella tells a continuous story. The prosaic characteristics create a hybrid experience of “oddities,” strangeness, and imagination that compels us to reflect about the human condition. Each piece works together to tell the story about the relationship between Jake and Mercy and how the natural world mirrors and contrasts the trajectory and downfall of their relationship. Hall’s superb imagery enchants the reader into dark corners of nature and human interaction as it pertains to love, ambition, yearning, and individualism.