Sarah Hall’s Madame Zero: 9 Stories begins and ends with the two strongest short pieces, which both examine heterosexual marriage from a male perspective. The husbands, willing but almost passive participants, marvel at the changes that overcome their wives. In “Mrs. Fox,” the wife transmogrifies into a vixen. In “Evie,” the titular character becomes erratic and reckless, driven to satisfy new cravings. Both husbands navigate this new home life, the dualistic nature of their wives – the cultivated and the primal – and their own cultivated and primal responses. It’s no wonder that “Mrs. Fox,” a fluid, engaging story, won the BBC National Short Story Prize in 2013 and “Evie” was shortlisted for the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award in the same year.

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“Later that day, tense with anxiety, he leaves the house and goes to the library. He researches the world of madness. Folie à deux. Imposter delusion. Cotard. Capgras. Madame Zero” (16).

Some of the remaining seven short stories are more experimental. “Case Study 2” is just that, a case study of a boy recently removed from a cultish commune where he was born. “Theatre 6” thrusts the reader into the second person point of view of a surgeon. Hall’s stories dive into a character to give a snapshot of their daily world. Madame Zero is a quick read for anyone who enjoys contemporary literary tales that sometimes trespass into slipstream and magic realism.

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