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Nicolette Polek Books In Order

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Imaginary Museums (2020)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Nicolette Polek
Nicolette Polek is a fiction writer from Northeast Ohio. She holds an MFA in Fiction from the University of Maryland, where she also taught creative writing, and a BA in Literature from Bennington College.

Nicolette’s work has appeared in Muumuu House, The Paris Review Daily, New York Tyrant, Electric Literature, and Lithub, as well as other places. She has also won the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award.

Nicolette has always loved Jan Svankmajer, dress-up, theater sets, fairy tales, and Kafka. She also lied a lot while growing up, and tended to exaggerate everything. That, combined with being a quiet observer, lent itself to a misty reality, something supranormal that is endured well into adulthood.

Both of Nicolette’s parents immigrated from former Czechoslovakia then raised her in Ohio. She grew up hearing about another place. Her parents never found the community in the Midwest, and Nicolette never had that many companions, so she learned how to mimic their longing for somewhere else that she never went to and that no longer existed.

When she began going back to Slovakia with her mom, she was stunned what she recognized. Its familiarity, with shocks of reality that that recalibrated her, out of the dreams that she had built.

Her collection, “Imaginary Museums”, in that way, are her cockeyed imaginings of what Slovakia is like, and all the inherited stuckness that she felt while in America.

During college, when she began writing stories, she was very depressed and turned all around. She monitored herself and just said very little, stayed silent, or dissimulated what she felt. Nicolette became interested in other people’s feelings of rottenness and their methods of masking them with language.

After she got out of college, something changed in her and she no longer wanted to write these darker stories anymore. This didn’t mean that her characters got any better at being in the world, however she attempted to give them some better worlds to inhabit, filled with wonder of some kind, even if they were unable to see it.

As she wrote stories like “A House for Living”, “The Rope Barrier”, and “Invitation”, she constantly stunted her paragraphs and cut them back for months, so that these stories never got too long, like keeping a bonsai tree. Some of the stories were huge to start with, and she whittled them down in the end.

She learned that sounds take a long time to vanish in water. A whale is able to sing its song and the sound waves are going to be traveling through the sea for hundreds of miles. She enjoys writing stories that feel like that, small songs that blossom tenfold. Some of her favorite sentences she has ever read contain actions that stretch over multiple years and locations, and feel as though they could continue on into separate stories.

At the time of publication, the oldest story in “Imaginary Museums” is five years old, while the newest was about ten months old.

Nicolette wrote the book twice, with the intention of it being a book. She wanted to write something on willfulness or ways that people attempt to escape their psychology, and attempted writing stories to serve some shape. This didn’t work out that well. The second time around, she tried to just write stories and making a mess. The shape emerged at the end when she began filing stories as though they were different wings in a museum.

Once she started filing the stories into different sections, it became a collection. She read Robert Walser’s Berlin Stories and liked how there were different categories, and she tried it, considering the categories to be like wings of a museum, after which the book found its shape. A lot of these stories began from images that she’s recorded in her notebook. Like a story called “Owls From Nitra”, which began as two falcons fighting, and one green Ferrari.

When she writes something, she doesn’t choose where the story goes after her initial images. For the most part, these images naturally bleed out. The image of the birds fighting became a more dominant image, which turned into writing about a falconer she met shortly before starting the story.

The Ferrari ended up falling by the wayside, and the tale became more of a nonfictional profile on falconry, which was later cut. She fictionalized the falconer and brought the Ferrari back in again, to serve as a kind of contrast, and she worked to link the two. When she does writing exercises for herself, she can put disparate images or stories together and try to solve how they link, like a meaning puzzle.

Polek has also cited “The Middle Stories” by Sheila Heti and “Karate Chop” by Dorthe Nors as influences for the book. She attributes the dominance of third-person narration in her work to the fondness that she has for parables and fables that utilize this perspective.

“Imaginary Museums” is the first story collection and was released in the year 2020. Nicolette Polek, in this collection of short fictions, transports us to a gently unsettling realm inhabited by two two rival falconers from neighboring towns, a fugitive bride, disheveled landlords, and a seamstress who forgets what people actually look like.

They find themselves in sports bars, forests in search of exits, bathhouses, grocery stores, pink tennis balls, independence, and licorice. Yet all of her beautifully odd characters are possessed by a human and familiar for connection: to their families, homes, themselves, and God.

Readers found these stories to be wonderful little gems that pack in quite a bit about the human experience. Within these inscrutable logic, ultimately a grasping of something without words, and poetic flow of language. Fans of the book like Polek’s sentences and phrases, and how these stories are striking in their surrealist beauty and surprising humor. This book is like a view-master, with each tale giving the reader a snapshot of humanity and when you click over to the next slide (or turn the page) you are in another scene, dimension, or era.

Some found that Polek delivers a succulent, succinct, and successfully executed little book with some magical writing.

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