At first glance, Pasha Malla’s intriguing first short-fiction collection, The Withdrawal Method, seems like a mishmash of narrative oddities, complete with a perplexingly unappealing title. But long after I had finished reading them, Malla’s stories – several of which have been nominated for the Pushcart and Journey prizes and/or published in McSweeney’s – resonated in my mind, revealing his tenacious skill.
Just as the stories jump from 1755 Vienna (“The Love Life of the Automaton Turk”) to an eerily Huxley-like vision of the future of Niagara Falls (in “Being Like Bulls”), so do they span diverse narrative styles. As well, the stories include an astonishing range of ideas about love, relationships, family, and culture, to name just a few themes.
What is most alluring about Malla’s writing is his unfailing ability to grasp the fallibility of his characters as they try to do the right thing, fail, and then go on. Sophisticated and unpretentious, Malla’s approach shows endless empathy for his characters. Like David Foster Wallace and Rick Moody, Malla often asks painful questions, revealing equally painful truths.
The final story, “When Jacques Cousteau Gave Pablo Picasso a Piece of Black Coral,” ends with an image of Cousteau’s skin being impressed by the piece of coral. It’s a good metaphor for how each story of The Withdrawal Method has been carefully layered to affect the reader in a similarly subtle and profound way, making a lasting impression with its integrity and narrative skill.