Quantum Convention’s eight genre-bending stories balance precariously between reality and fantasy, the suburban and the magical, the quotidian and the strange. Caught at a crossroads in his marriage, a high school teacher attends a parallel universe convention, where he meets his multiple selves and explores the alternate paths of life’s what-ifs. The story of Margaret Hamilton, the actress who played the Wicked Witch of the West, parallels the coming of age of a cross-dressing boy whose crisis of identity is tied to The Wizard of Oz. Other stories feature characters labeled as “outcasts” by society—whether physically, morally, or fantastically: an alcoholic lucid dreamer, a closeted bisexual, a bachelor time-epileptic, orphans-turned-keeners, a vengeful banshee, a nerdy cyclops, and more. Many struggle to find what Dorothy and her entourage searched for: the wisdom to trust or discount their faith; the ability of the emotionally detached to love; the courage to speak up for oneself; a place to belong.
Schlich's first solo story collection showcases a formidable ability to walk the emotional tightrope between uncanny setups and deeply relatable characters. The centerpiece (and the only original story), "Not Nobody, Not Nohow," hits the uncomfortable side of nostalgia in parallel tellings of Margaret Hamilton's experience on the set of The Wizard of Oz and a cross-dressing boy's obsession with the film. Schlich dives precisely into his stories, lingering just long enough on central story elements to immerse the reader; a world in which orphans are auditioned by nuns as professional keeners is fully set within the first three lines of "The Keener." Immanent, humorous prose and easy dialogue bring a sort of surreal lightness. In "Quantum Convention," Schlich explores life's regrets through a delightfully ridiculous doppelg nger convention in which the narrator engages his selves and his wife's selves from alternate timelines. "Lipless" underdelivers with a more mundane story about closeted bisexuality, but otherwise the stories are consistently enjoyable and thought-provoking. They share an aesthetic, but they're different enough that the book seems almost too short, leaving the reader hungry for more.