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The Knife Thrower and Other Stories
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The Knife Thrower and Other Stories

4.03 of 5 stars 4.03  ·  rating details  ·  711 ratings  ·  64 reviews
The Knife Thrower introduces a series of distinctively Millhauserian worlds: tiny, fabulous, self-enclosed, like Fabergé eggs or like the short-story genre itself. Flying carpets; subterranean amusement parks; a band of teenage girls who meet secretly in the night in order to do "nothing at all"; a store with departments of Moorish courtyards, volcanoes, and Aztec temples: ...more
208 pages
Published (first published 1998)
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Oct 08, 2014 Maureen is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
review to come but for now:

i am in love with the story, "a visit". extended passage transcribed below, in spoiler tags -- i'm not ruining the story here, but by sharing the passage i give away what the story is about.

(view spoiler)
If ever one writer had pet obsessions that he recycles, story after story, that writer is Steven Millhauser. The progression of artists towards stranger and stranger forms and obsessions or children growing up through psuedo-magical means form the basis of almost every story in this collection, and while the prose, as always, is quite strong, there's an equally strong sense of treading water. In "The Dream of the Consortium" we get a picture of an enormous department store selling the world's co ...more
I picked this one up because I couldn't resist the cover art and the fact that it might have something to do with circus. This book lived up to my expectations and then wildly exceeded them. Not all of the stories sung to me, but the ones that did were absolutely amazing. The author creates a magical array of worlds within worlds, dark and mysterious and stunning to explore. In 3 of the stories (which ended up being my favorite) he literally built from the ground up these absolutely incredible s ...more
Rhiannon Frater
People may disagree with me, but a lot of these tales came across as subtle horror. In fact, a few really unsettled me and haunted me well after I finished the novel. I really loved this book of short stories and highly recommend it.
This is the first book by Millhauser that I've read, and I really enjoyed it. As others have mentioned, there are recurring themes in many of these stories - flight, underground passages and chambers, mysterious stage shows, scale models - most of which take place in small towns. Both "The New Automaton Theater" and "Paradise Park" seem like they could be, at least in part, allegories of cultural or art history.

Millhauser is often compared to Borges, and indeed both deal frequently with the nat
Evan Leach
I learned about Steven Millhauser after the New York Times selected Dangerous Laughter as one of the best books of 2008. I loved that book so much that I scooped up The Knife Thrower the second I saw it at the used bookstore. The Knife Thrower is a bit more uneven than Dangerous Laughter, which had at least one novel concept that really engaged me in each story. However, I think that the best stories in The Knife Thrower actually surpass Dangerous Laughter: two of the short stories in this colle ...more
Tim Storm
About half of theses stories are kind of plotless; the other half are quite gripping plot-wise. His plotless stories are Borgesian philosophical fictions that end up being allegories for our postmodern world. "The Dream of the Consortium," for instance, is about an impossibly large department store that sells just about anything you could want, including full size replicas of ancient ruins. "The consortium was determined to satisfy the buyer's secret desire: to appropriate the world, to possess ...more
Zoe Brooks
Millhauser's short stories fall in to two types: the dreamlike more poetic stories focused on individuals and often written in the first person and the more formal almost objective accounts of subtle alternative history. The stories often start out in an apparently normal mundane world before moving into the magical alternative realities, drawing the reader with them.

There are certain themes that run through the stories. His characters seem to be trying to escape the world, flying above it on a
I'm reading this very slowly - a story or two every few weeks - and I'm finding that I'm enjoying it that way much more than if I sat down for one long read of it. This way, the fact that the voice of the stories is always so similar isn't bothering me at all, because I am reading them as completely separate entities. I always say I'm not a short story reader, but I'm wondering if that's because I've been reading them wrong all this time, and I should have been approaching them more like I'm app ...more
So, I really had not read this book, or if I had, I utterly had forgotten it. I thought the stories all went on a bit too long and the 2nd and 3rd one were a bit rambly. The imagery was great, though. And I do tend to enjoy a new story that builds upon a legend, as the 2nd and 3rd stories do. But I have to wonder how come the first story was included with these two. I have to guess that it fits with them because of the house imagery as all three stories had interesting structures as part of them ...more
The first couple of stories are of that variety built around on a single unusual premise - the knife thrower who intentionally slightly injures his assistants, a man who inexplicably marries a large frog. Sometimes the magical realism elements seem to serve solely as metaphors, lacking the sheer imaginative joy of outright fantasy. The best and longer stories, "The New Automaton Theater" and "The Dream of the Consortium" for example, have echoes of Angela Carter and Borges. The writing is a bit ...more
I particularly love Millhauser's work with the plural, communal narrator here -- I don't think I've ever seen it done with such skill, and the result is often creepy and insidious in the way that groupthink really is. Title story is amazing, and I feel like I can actually see the unbelievable worlds he created in Dream of the Consortium and Paradise Park. The stories are also fascinating for their approach to form and structure -- they frequently don't follow a traditional narrative built on cha ...more
Natalie Crane
Calvino pastiche. Bad Calvino pastiche at that. When a story is edging up against traditional parameters of storytelling - and I welcome all attempts - something exquisite should happen with the underlying philosophy beading to the surface with stunning language. (Ergo less story logic, more emphasis on prose.) Instead, with this batch, we get stories that are not well told, rife with long-winded and seemingly meaningless descriptions, with thin to no plots, no character development or revelatio ...more
♥Van'Nesia Scott Aka♥ J.K.`s Bitch♥
Sarah Freymiller
I enjoyed Millhauser's use of the collective "we" in constructing a narrative. We are on the outside, looking in. It gives some of his stories an exploratory feel, as though one is standing in a crowd waiting for whispers to spread outwards and onwards. While I loved Millhauser's creativity, I found the themes of automatons/miniatures/pushing an artistic endeavor to its limits and inspiring derision as well as obsession/constructing exact replicas of ancient historical sites to be a bit repetiti ...more
Aun los que nos rendimos ante estas obras sentimos cierto desasosiego, pues nos perturban como placeres prohibidos, como crímenes secretos.

Steven Millhauser es todo un ilusionista. Te muestra una historia que no ha sido pero que pudo haber sido, y lo sabes, aunque al leerla estás más que satisfecho de que te engañe durante lo que dura uno de sus cuentos. Sus historias hablan de hechos, lugares y personajes que nunca existieron, con ciertos elementos de realismo mágico, o directamente elementos
Apr 05, 2012 Alta added it
I discovered Steven Millhauser several years ago, when I found his collection of short stories, The Knife Thrower, at a library sale. Milhauser’s technique is very particular in that it uses a realist-psychological approach only to better thwart it by infusing it with elements of fantastic fiction. For example, in “A Visit,” the narrator is introduced to his friend’s wife, who happens to be a gigantic, ugly frog. A different writer would have described the scene in a surrealist style, but Millha ...more
Tombom P
An amazing collection of surreal short stories that tread the border between normal and supernatural, generally on the topic of what's real and our desires. Only one or two have explicitly supernatural elements but they all have something that feels close to it - you're never sure if it's something that could actually happen or if it's fantasy. I shelved it as "horror" even though it's not really because it comes close a lot - it reminds me a bit of someone like Ligotti, with far fewer horror el ...more
As soon as I read a few of Steven Millhauser's stories in The New Yorker (and Harpers? I think...) I knew that he would be one of my favorite writers. There are certain writers whose voices pierce right into you, and Millhauser is one of them for me. But then I waited a long time before reading a full book by him. In the meantime, one of his stories was adapted into the film "The Illusionist." Despite the fact that Millhauser has won a Pulitzer, every time I looked for one of his books at a Bord ...more
Anthony Tao
No one re-imagines the imagination quite like Millhauser. "The New Automaton Theater" is, quite undisguisedly, about the creative process. "Clair de Lune" is about the confluence of childlike daydreams and adulthood nostalgia. "The Dream of the Consortium" is an inversion of reality, in which creativity is commodified. There are, of course, dangers involved with a mind taking flight, as outlined in "Balloon Flight, 1870," and "Paradise Park" (where there are thoughts of suicide, symbolized by a ...more
Adam Rodenberger
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
This collection of Steven Millhauser's cumulatively feels like one story, the main character a first person plural voice the reader knows as "we." From story to story, We insists on a set of "firmly" established cultural values that are challenged--by a knife thrower, a consortium that develops an extravagant department store, an amusement park developer, etc.--and ultimately proved tenuous. We cannot resist amusement that pushes previously assumed ethical boundaries for the sake of entertainmen ...more
What I love about this collection is the expert use of dark elements and a vague but pervasive sense of something sinister just around every corner. This is present in every story here, but struck me as most successful and walking the finest line in the title story. His details are also carefully chosen and placed with awesome precision. In several stories here in particular, Millhauser exhibits an uncanny knack for singling out the one exactly right detail that will sum up the scene for us, spa ...more
I regret giving this book a three but I think that's what it deserves. Another reviewer called it uneven - I think that's the best description. Some of these stories are simply amazing. If I could rate individual stories, half of them would get 5 stars. But some of the others get repetitive and drag on, and ultimately I ended up not even finishing one of them - "Paradise Park." "Dream of the Consortium" and "Paradise Park" are very similar, but the first is more succinct and better overall. "The ...more
Leah Lucci
As with all collections of short stories, it's a mix of hit and miss. I'm giving it four stars, just for the exceptional stories contained.

The theme of this collection is the thin line between fantasy, art, and reality.

Most of the stories are about magical worlds that people create and then fall into.

Two of the most notable stories feature a department store that begins selling replicas of things that are better than the originals, and an amusement park that the owner becomes obsessed with, a
I tend to be a binge reader of genre fiction (cozy mysteries, some sci-fi & fantasy, and creative nonfiction). But for me, Millhauser is like no other author. I find a number of his stories endlessly fascinating--with unforgettable impact. But he is also remarkably re-readable, just for the sake of savoring more of the rich, intricately detailed worlds he creates.
Miki Habryn
The writing is evocative regardless of the weirdness (or lack thereof) of subject matter, but I didn't find every story equally engrossing. At its best, it left me wanting to savour and re-read a story on finishing it; other times I'd move on to anything else. It's hard to read more than one story at a time, but well worth making it through to the last.
" 'That's all over,' Harter said aloud, and took another step before the ground slipped away from him. He had a fierce desire to explain something, something of immense importance, but it was difficult to collect his thoughts because his chest itched, somewhere a train was roaring, hundreds of yellow butterflies were beating their wings like mad." - from The Way Out

Some of my favorite writing in the universe - one star off, though, for repetition, which has been noted in previous reviews. Millha
N W James
I enjoyed the title story and 2 others. The rest I found difficult to plug into. For me, the short stories that were written as fables worked better. Steven Millhauser (who penned the movie The Illusionist) is always good for interesting plot lines - an ever-expanding fun park in 1907 NYC, audiences reaction when a knife thrower toys with them, a city at the crossroads of an underground passageway system. What I didn't get from most of these stories is a sense of character. They felt more like n ...more
Nov 11, 2011 Theresa added it
Shelves: 2011
These stories have the feel of old Twilight Zone episodes.

The first paragraph of "Flying Carpets" reads like an early draft for the first paragraph of "Dangerous Laughter." So it's interesting to see how Millhauser not only revisits the same themes but also sculpts and refines the language. You could complain that he's regurgitating his own work, but I would argue that this is how a craftsman becomes a craftsman. Painstaking, meticulous stuff. I always feel like I should be wearing a jeweler's
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“To be Kaspar Hauser is to long, at every moment of your dubious existence, with every fiber of your questionable being, not to be Kaspar Hauser. It’s to long to leave yourself completely behind, to vanish from your own sight. Does this surprise you? It is of course what you have taught me to desire. And I am a diligent student. With your help I have furnished myself inside and out. My thoughts are yours. These words are yours. Even my black and bitter tears are yours, for I shed them at the thought of the life I never had, which is to say, your life, ladies and gentlemen of Nuremberg. My deepest wish is not to be an exception. My deepest wish is not to be a curiosity, an object of wonder. It is to be unremarkable. To become you—to sink into you—to merge with you until you cannot tell me from yourselves; to be uninteresting; to be nothing at all; to experience the ecstasy of mediocrity—is it so much to ask? You who have helped me to advance so far, won’t you lead me to the promised land, the tranquil land of the ordinary, the banal, the boring? Not to be Kaspar Hauser, not to be the enigma of Europe, not to be the wild boy in the tower, the man without a childhood, the young man without a youth, the monster born in the middle of his life, but to be you, to be you, to be nothing but you! This is my vision of paradise. And although the very existence of such a vision reveals nothing so much as my distance, which widens into an abyss even as I try to fling myself across, still I am not without hope.” 2 likes
“As we hurry along the sidewalk, we have the absurd sensation that we have entered still another department, composed of ingeniously lifelike streets with artful shadows and reflections--that our destinations lie in a far corner of the same department--that we are condemned to hurry forever through these artificial halls, bright with late afternoon light, in search of the way out.” 0 likes
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