The Library of Congress’ perfunctory “Cataloging-in-Publication Data” (printed on the verso of the title page) rarely has anything novel or even in the least bit helpful to contribute to the discussion. However, in the case of Fugue State, a collection of stories by Brian Evenson, the dissembled “data” contains a single bit of notable information. Fugue State, the Library-of-Congress proclaims, belongs in the category of “psychological fiction, American.”
The collection of stories gathered in Fugue State is representative of the best and the worst of what may be considered "psychological fiction". Some stories careen in Southern Gothic sensibilities, causing you to seethe as you read, in the way only the best can. Others have an appeal more reminiscent of Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain, which is unsettling in a very different yet distinct way. In one story, a woman glibly sleeps with a mime, who never speaks, pretends to be in an invisible box all the while, and then replaces it over her as he leaves her bed. The woman as a result, is unable to sleep thereafter, becoming increasingly taciturn. The box remained my bedmate as well for several nights.
Other stories fall flat. Making little, if any, sense on their own, and even less in the rich context of the other stories assembled in this collection, several of the stories are aberrant. The only way in which one can conceive of their belonging is that these stories, in fact, cause you to scratch your head. Perhaps the psychological undercurrents flow so deep and are so subtle in these stories that in a preliminary reading they were overlooked—on second review, perhaps not.
Evenson, in something of a departure from psychological fiction, casts the women in his stories in the role of victim. Even as villains the women are victims as the plots turn this way and that. One can imagine the little girls in plaits and pink and the women similarly from central casting. Evenson is sympathetic, yet many of his characters radiate a naïveté about women that give away the fact that they were written by a man.