Nice Big American Baby

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Judy Budnitz has been compared to Franz Kafka, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Angela Carter, the Twilight Zone, and Donald Barthelme for her ability to create real worlds filled with fantastic events. This is her first set of stories since Flying Leap (1997) marked her impressive debut at age twenty-six.

The title of this collection of twelve wonderful new fantasies and fables comes from the opening piece, “Where We Come From,” about a woman who remains pregnant for four years while she tries to cross the border into the United States so her child will be a “nice big American baby.” It's typical Budnitz, very funny, but with a pinch of social criticism. The criticism is more overt, and not so effective in “Miracle,” about a woman who gives birth to a coal-black baby, even though she and the father are white, or in “Motherland,” about an island of war widows who create a myth to protect their children from the truth about their real fathers.

Some of Budnitz's fables are silly, for example, “Sales,” about a guy who captures traveling salesmen and keeps them penned up, and “Saving Face,” about a man who is commissioned to paint a picture of a totalitarian female dictator, but uses his girlfriend's face instead.

Others are more painfully human, for example, “Flush,” in which two sisters have mammograms in place of their mother, who is so afraid of cancer that she walks away from the procedure at the last moment, and “Nadia,” about how an Eastern Europe mail-order bride is poorly treated by a group of supercilious American women.

These stories may not be of the same magnitude as Franz Kafka, but they are certainly quite a cut above Rod Serling.