While the subjects of Steven Millhauser's The Knife Thrower and Other Stories vary (a theme park, a man married to a frog, dueling, the craft of minaures, flying carpets, a shopping mall…) consistent themes emerge throughout.
He deals with antiquated past-times and spectacles like traveling circus acts, puppet theater, and roller coasters; he pushes the boundries of reality to create elaborate fantastical worlds. Many of the stories are told in first person, but as the royal “we”. One narrator will take it upon himself to describe how a whole community reacts to something new, unfamiliar, and exciting. The style and themes repeat so often in the stories, that my only complaint is that it can begin to feel a bit repetitive. Not in content, his visions are always imaginative, but in style. Sometimes the magic of his creations are lost in the feeling of familiarity.
My favorite stories in the book are the suspenseful titular tale; the fanciful history of the most amazing amusement park that never existed, Paradise Park; the brilliant saga of a cult of teenage girls, The Sisterhood of Night; and two stories that differ considerably in technique and style, The Way Out, a tale of adulterous aftermath; and Clair De Lune, a brief and innocent coming of age story about a boy who sneaks out one night only to discover a neighbor he has a crush on.
Millhauser gained renown for his novel Martin Dressler, a Pulitzer Prize winning historical novel; Brooklynites would be interested to know that novel inspired the name of Williamsburg's Dressler restaurant.