Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century

Reviewed by Anna Kate Baxter

Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st century by Kim Fu, Portland, OR: Tin House, 2022, 232 pages, $16.95

Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century is a collection of 12 short stories which author, Kim Fu, creates different worlds with fantastical realism to discuss themes of grief, mortality, coming of age, relationships, regret, and much more. A client trying convince a simulation operator to allow him to relive moments with their deceased mother; a married couple continuously murdering each other only to be brought back to life by a magical printer; and a salesman who deals special cubes designed to control and regulate aging. These are only a few of the tales Fu uses to describe controversial topics in the 21st century.

Each story builds a new world all its own with genres including science fiction, fantasy, and even crime fiction. Through humor and philosophical questioning, Fu peels back layers of normalcy in each story to reveal dark truths about our modern world. A group of kids are haunted by the doll of a recently deceased family; A woman in a troubled relationship walks away to find her house infested with beetles; A “Bridezilla” who is unsure of what she wants befriends a sea monster. Each story is uniquely its own and provides commentary on the 21st century world we live in. Fu’s prose is captivating in a way that will keep you on your toes. Her memorable stories will leave you analyzing their meanings and monsters for days.

Even though there is not a cohesive plot throughout the stories, each one is just as intriguing. Enchanting stories of regret, love, nostalgia, mistakes, betrayal, this collection explores human connection in its complexity. A story of a young girl who grows wings and with the help of her friends, tries to learn how to fly; A woman finds creative ways to relive her favorite foods after she has lost her sense of taste; A woman who attends the memorial of a friend and processes his mysterious mountain climbing accident with his sister. Through metaphors we see monsters ambiguously described through the collection, and each story has their own.

The satirical tone and supernatural elements incorporated in each world, unify the collection as a cohesive book. These monsters are not the monsters that we see on tv, exist in another realm, or those who society deems as monsters. The monsters of the 21st century are the ones that live within each and every one of us. The darkest parts of ourselves that we may not even be aware of. Our selfish behaviors that are the result of a lack of inhibition and accountability. The parts of us that are vain, elitist, cold, and self-obsessed. In the 21st century we escape the empty darkness with technology, social media, and obsessive behavior that clouds our inhibition, creating a vicious cycle of assuaging the darkness within us with things that enhance it. Throughout Fu’s collection of short stories I found myself searching for the monsters within my own life.

Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century is Fu’s most recent published work. In it she displays her wild imagination, thought provoking writing, and addictive storytelling. Fu keeps you on your toes with strange and surprisingly relatable concepts in human behavior. In an attempt to unveil the contradictions that live within all of us, this powerful collection handles controversial topics with subtly and honestly using metaphorical worlds to mirror our own.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is in a reading slump and is a fan of fantastical realism with dark themes. The short stories and ambiguity keeps you turning the pages. Readers who enjoy creative thought provoking commentary on today’s society would enjoy Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century by Kim Fu.