The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead is a wonderful title for this collection of short stories. It calls to mind those old westerns that glorified toxic masculinity as an aspirational ideal. Crossing the centuries from the sixteenth century dissolution of the monasteries to a post-environmental collapse archaeological dig excavating a community of today, the stories connect by exploring violence through the voices of people on the downside of power–women, slaves, people of color, and dissolution-era monks.
The collection opens with a strong, breath-taking story called “West of the Known” that flips the usual outlaw western by telling the story from the viewpoint of a woman, a reluctant outlaw, whose brother saved her from the frying pan into the fire.
The story “Snake Doctors” from which the title quote is taken has rich and beautiful language such as this description of how grief silences your world. “Instead a road of airless wool had unfurled wide in her head, winding monotonous through the astonishment of her loss.” Reading this, there is a recognition, a knowing that this writer understands grief, that it is not just keening pain, but it in muffle the world into silence.
The final story is a bit awkward at first, the beginning steeped so deeply in the language of the sixteenth century it takes work to follow, but forsooth, it gets better. More than one story is puzzling at the beginning before its true shape is revealed. It’s a good way to draw us in, though it adds a sameness in architecture to these stories who varied so widely in time, place, and person.
The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead is an excellent collection of short stories. I found I enjoyed it more if I read one story, read something else, and then came back and read another story. When I read several in a row, the framework of the stories became more obvious, taking away some of the art and mystery. Benz writes with rich economy. Her language is beautiful and textured. She adopts the sounds of time and place. It is beautiful. Yet in the space of a short story, she shares as much story as many novels. Each of her short stories could have been a novel, fleshed out, of course, but the bones are already there.
The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead will be released by Harper Collins on January 17th. I received an electronic galley from the publisher through Edelweiss.