Characters in Wendell Mayo’s collection, The Cucumber King of Kédainiai, are one of a kind. A Lithuanian mafia boss strives to achieve world domination with black market cucumbers. A starving Russian artist discovers he can profit by selling paint-by-numbers portraits of former General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev. Two spiders re-enact the Cold War years in the bathtub of an abandoned Soviet sanatorium. A woman is interrogated by former-KGB police about the whereabouts of an American she’s never met. A man trades a bag of cold fried pike for clues about his Lithuanian ancestors. The concluding narrative, “The Universal Store,” assembles all in a kind of marketplace of the heart, where the new realities of an Eastern Europe adapting to change since the fall of the Berlin Wall emerge. These stories by turn are not only dark, comical, surreal—but feel terribly true.
We all come from beneath the overcoat, and Wendell Mayo—that expert tailor, that quilter deluxe—rips out the moth-eaten “seems” of the short story, hemming up, in these blue tissue patterns, the sad sadness of the threadbare Baltic. These fictions warp and woof! You want to hold them close to your skin—in comfort, as dressing. Raw silk. Worsted wool.
Wendell Mayo is author of Centaur of the North, winner of the Aztlán Prize; B. Horror and Other Stories; and a novel-in-stories, In Lithuanian Wood. Over one hundred of his short stories have appeared widely in magazines and anthologies, including Yale Review, Harvard Review, Manoa, Missouri Review, New Letters, Prism International, and others.
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