n Still, Life, a collection of lyrical and lilting stories, Melissa Volker examines—under the loop of her quirky microscope—the magic and madness of New York City.
A low-grade depression runs through the collection, linking the stories with moodiness, self-obsession, and edginess. Volker puts her characters on a psychological hamster-wheel, spinning their dreams and fears into a dark tapestry woven with many shimmering threads of light.
My favorite piece, "Can You See the Whales?" tells the story of a young woman sitting on a bench overlooking the East River, contemplating the sadness of her lonely Manhattan life. Deep in a funk, out of money, and sure that the city has nothing left to offer, she contemplates her next move. At that moment, a whale leaps from the water, evoking joy and reminding her that Manhattan, in spite of its shroud of despair, does occasionally offer a gleaming moment or two.
At the end of the collection, one of Volker's characters deserts the city before it deserts her. This melancholic passage illustrates the essence of the collection's main theme: unrequited love for a place— cloaked in glamour, powdered and polished and pushed-up to the max—that sends mixed messages to those with plain and fragile hearts.
"I shall miss you and think of you often; as I gaze at the spinning current of the river, each time I pass an upended trash can, its contents strewn like urban rose petals lightly across my path, in every child blowing streams of opalescent soap bubbles that find their way up to my fire escape...in the glow of the street light, scrap of paper in a puddle, a sunset reflecting off the cold steel of the Brooklyn Bridge."