R.W. Gray is determined to avoid convention; as a result, his stories both intrigue and occasionally alienate the reader. They are impossible to classify in terms of genre, and are set in a slightly off-kilter reality that reflects our own in a distorted manner through obscure language and images.
The experience of reading Gray’s second collection feels like watching a piece of experimental theatre or cinema. In the first story, a couple have a secret room with a special light box that allows them to edit their own lives as though they were a film. Elsewhere, we meet an actress portraying patients in a training program for med students and a man who films himself sleeping until he finds he’s “watching his life like it’s a TV show.”
A handful of motifs are touched upon: dreaming and sleep, the uncanniness of beauty, the middle-aged longing for the chance to redo one’s life, and – perhaps strongest of all – the feeling of being buried or submerged. Even in the middle of the desert, a character “drowns” in sleep, a process that leads to the repeated revelation of another world. These patterns weave together in this varied collection: there’s a strong, if subtle, sense of unity.
The most successful stories are those that remain tied to everyday experience. When Gray wanders deeper into the field of fantasy, as in the story “Sinai,” he becomes less accessible. The same can be said of the writing, which can be strained and remote, but also evocative and poetic. The end of “Mirrorball,” the collection’s final story, is a nice example of the latter, using sound and rhythm to create a hypnotic susurrus of sleeping nature that brings the tale to a dreamy conclusion.
In short, Entropic is an uneven collection. But when Gray is good he’s very good, his modern parables peeling off layers of convention to get at subconscious truths, submerged archetypes, and emotions.