The Odditorium

256 pages

Trade Paper

List Price US $14.95
ISBN: 9781934137376


ISBN: 9781934137475

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“Emotionally rich.”

New York Times

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“The stories in this strange and original collection bend genres—horror, mystery, western—into wondrous new shapes.”

O, The Oprah Magazine

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“Melissa Pritchard’s aptly titled The Odditorium considers the inner lives of the strange, the damaged and the forgotten . . . with its zest for the macabre and its time-spanning imaginative appetite . . . the singularity of her narrators remains indelible [and] shows that fiction still has the ability to shock and surprise.”

Washington Post

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“Pritchard polishes the strange and makes it shine. . . . These are stories full of holy living creatures.”

San Francisco Chronicle

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“Pritchard’s exuberant prose is perfectly suited to carry the antic freight of these often bizarre, always cerebral stories. . . . This is a fulsome compendium of ripping good yarns.”

Minneapolis Star Tribune

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“Pritchard’s best stories are ambitious, lush and even thrilling. She takes risks, different risks in different stories. Can she write a segment in the form of a comedic Shakespearean dialogue? She can. Does a story evolve into epistolary form? It does. Will she be able to build a story around the format of an old newspaper feature? She will. Can she do it all with poetic, vivid prose? With one hand tied behind her back. Is Melissa Pritchard someone whose short fiction should be well known? Do you even have to ask?”

Los Angeles Times

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“Weird and wonder-filled.”

Albuquerque Journal

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“Any great writer does many things at once, of course, but most lead with a particular strength. And then there is Pritchard, who simply turns all the dials up to eleven. In [The Odditorium], more than in previous works, history gives her the best playing field for her considerable energies and produces some of her most moving and satisfying stories to date.”

Image: Art, Faith, Mystery

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The Odditorium is a stunning read, dense and intricately woven, masterfully assembled and sensitively rendered. Pritchard’s text somehow comes across as at once delicate and forceful. Her interest in history—literary and cultural—in this collection adds a depth of focus and an attention to nuance that is truly arresting.”

California Literary Review

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“A master of the form . . . [Pritchard’s] fiction, like the best Gothic classics, makes us feel like we are traveling on a pleasant, meandering river—until we round the last bend and find ourselves on the edge of a waterfall, looking down into the darkest depths of the human soul.”

Washington Independent Review of Books

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“Very clever . . . all the stories carry undertones of darkness that will creep into your soul and plant their desperate seeds deep within.”

Historical Novels Review

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“Award-winning author Pritchard crosses genres to create energized, fiercely atmospheric tales about holy fools, haunted hospitals, Annie Oakley, and more.”

Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal Best Stories Collections of the Year citation

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“Reading Melissa Pritchard’s short-story collection The Odditorium is a bit like peering into a Wunderkammer, one of those magical cabinets where the rich and adventurous used to display their treasures. The beautiful, the grotesque. The odd, the charming . . . Pritchard uses fiction to bring new life to these figures—some famous and mythologized, and others not—blending the historical and the fantastical to create a collection of great charisma.”

Kirkus Reviews

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“Eight off-beat short stories . . . “Captain Brown and the Royal Victoria Hospital,” the volume’s standout . . . is atmospheric, enigmatic, and moving.”

Publishers Weekly

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“Humor of life, solemness of its loss, and the heroes who make it happen, The Odditorium is a fine assortment of short fiction, very much recommended.”

Midwest Book Review

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“The rewards for a careful expedition into The Odditorium are unforgettable moments of timeless, resonant truth . . . Pritchard’s descriptive talents illuminate not just the emotional depths of her characters but humanity’s physical innards as well.”


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“Mesh[es] the surreal and metafictional with a deeply-felt humanism.”

Vol. 1 Brooklyn

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The Odditorium contains eight ambitious and fantastic stories that transcend genre while fascinating with their language and historical figures brought to life.”

Largehearted Boy

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“Pritchard is one of those amazingly rare contemporary authors whose prose is so lyrical and so thought-provoking that you’re going to want a nice window of quiet time to savor it, like a well poured glass of Malbec on a chilly November evening.”

Brunette Bibliophile

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“The beauty of Pritchard’s short story collection begins with the cover design, which depicts the corner of what looks like a natural history museum with large, frightening fish. Inside, there’s an equally unusual collection of tales, most of them taking the reader to distant lands, distant times.”

Quivering Pen

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“The breadth of [Melissa Pritchard’s] scholarship and imagination, and her accomplished prose left me dazzled. . . . Hers are stories that educate you. . . . If there is risk in being imaginative and stepping outside of certain norms for publishers, then Ms. Pritchard and all of her editors are risk-takers and her readers are beneficiaries.”

Whitelaw: From Books to Law

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“Great storytelling and fantastic writing. I highly recommend The Odditorium to readers who enjoyed high-quality short stories and lovers of literary fiction.”

Magic Lasso

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“Charmingly bizarre . . . [Pritchard] shows she can write—and think—magically.”

Reeling and Writhing and Fainting in Coils

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“Inventive and satisfying . . . each story is a unique reading experience.”

Forever Overhead

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“Melissa Pritchard’s The Odditorium is as strange, wonderful, and (most important) as much fun as anything good old Robert LeRoy Ripley could ever have envisioned. Passionate, bold imaginings that illuminate the darkest, most precious reaches of our lives. Believe it: these stories are a gift.”

Pinckney Benedict, author of Miracle Boy

“Melissa Pritchard has her GPS set to find the how it is—out there and in the heart—and she makes her way forward with her language on high alert. The prose is rhythmically astute, finely pitched, serving both imagination and witness.”

Sven Birkerts, author of The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age and editor of AGNI

“In this thrillingly protean collection of stories, Melissa Pritchard has done something profound.  By imagining her way into historical moments and illuminating their shadows, she amplifies the music of history so we hear beautifully strange, wondrous notes we never knew were there. These stories resound with a fierce yet playful intelligence and a rare, magnificent generosity.”

Maud Casey, author of Genealogy

The Odditorium is a dazzling wonderment, its cast drawn from the far-flung corners of history and imagination, its language crystalline and high-voltage, its stories fearless and even visionary. Here is an irresistible curiosity cabinet of the famous, the infamous, the mysterious, the half-forgotten—conjured with prodigious empathy, wit, and energy by one of our finest writers. Melissa Pritchard is a treasure and this book is her glorious trove.”

Bradford Morrow, author of The Diviner’s Tale and The Uninnocent

“Fueled by roofless imagination and fearless curiosity The Odditorium is a case study in how one writer’s wisdom and empathy transforms known facts of existence into something more than magic. Pritchard draws from the cold, deep well of myth, legend, and history to redefine what narrative can do. Each story is a lesson in compassion. Each story is nothing short of genius.  Each story was written for you.”

Gina Ochsner, author of The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight

“No one is quite so brilliant at voicing the all-but-impossible-to-track interior lives of the most complex human beings as is Melissa Pritchard . . . there is so much energy and inventiveness!  Her linguistic flexibility is stunning, comic and gravely substantial. At its heart is always the troubled, often confused but courageous and tenacious human heart.”

Brad Watson, author of Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives and The Heaven of Mercury

In each of these eight genre-bending tales, Melissa Pritchard overturns the conventions of mysteries, westerns, gothic horror, and historical fiction to capture surprising and often shocking aspects of her characters’ lives.

In one story, Pritchard creates a pastiche of historical facts, songs, and tall tales, contrasting the famed figures of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, including Annie Oakley and Sitting Bull, with the real, genocidal history of the American West. Other stories are inspired by the mysterious life of Kaspar Hauser, a haunted Victorian Hospital where the wounded of D-Day are taken during WWII, the courtyard where Edgar Allan Poe played as a child, and the story of Robert LeRoy Ripley, of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not,” and his beguiling “odditoriums” as seen from his life-long fact checker.

New Mexico-Arizona Book Award Finalist

O, The Oprah Magazine “Title to Pick Up Now” & Book of the Week

San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year

Library Journal Best Stories Collection of the Year

Image: Art, Faith Mystery Top Ten of the Year

Largehearted Boy Favorite Short Story Collection of the Year


Excerpt from The Odditorium

Part the Third: Dung, Cockroaches and Frogs

Turn a blind eye while looking both ways. Cross over now, petits enfants! Pelagia was rejected by Diveyevo’s nuns, scourged and beaten as she twirled about breaking windows with stones and generally acting completely out of her head. Abbess Xenia assigned her a companion who beat her with a stouter stick than anyone, yet unlike ordinary people, Pelagia rejoiced in her chastisements, for the Holy Fool’s fate is to turn the universe upside-down, dodge moral lassitude and rise above the Great Human Myopic. A Fool-for-God liberates herself through humiliation, climbs heavenward up a steep, lonely incline of lunacy.

All at once, Sister Folly stopped twirling and settled into a routine. Squatting in the courtyard of the convent, Pelagia chipped a trough in the dirt, a mock catacomb, using a spoon stolen from the trapeza or refectory. Filling the niche with manure, she sat down in shit, spooning dung into her gorgeous bosom. When her first companion died, she was given another, Anna Gerasimovna, with whom Pelagia would live out the next forty-seven years in a plain wooden cell on the edge of the forest, at a slight distance from the convent.
For a time, Pelagia collected large stones, rolling them, willy-nilly, into the cell she shared with Anna. She slept in the dirt by the open door, stepped upon, spat at, taunted. Like naughty children, Diveyevo’s nuns devised sly tricks and impious pranks to torment their demented sister. No longer was the question how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but how many evil nuns can jump up and down upon the prostrate body of Pelagia as she howled and whimpered with delight? How scalding can the well water be that they dribble over her head, drenching the foul, unwashed tree roots of her once-yellow hair?

Done with hauling rocks, Pelagia began sailing bricks into a murky frog pond, wading in up to her broad hips before hurling them back onto shore again. She didn’t mind the army of emboldened frogs who hopped into her cell and hunkered, croaking voluptuously, in damp, foul corners. One day, Anna, who had had enough, swept the frogs, like so many green, slimy doorknobs, into a pile, tossed them out by their legs, then locked Pelagia inside. Holy Folly retaliated by pulling the door off its hinges, setting it on fire, and sitting in the pond overnight. After that, the two women dwelt in their forest cell, undoored, exposed to brutal Russian winters and insect plagued summers. Hear, too, that Pelagia never bathed or trimmed her huge, filthy finger or toenails, and was impervious to cockroaches, those shiny, black revulsions of the devil, skittering across the unhygienic humps and hummocks, the hairy tussock, of her unwashed body.

In time, a succession of miracles began to occur. Anna witnessed Pelagia deliberately jump upon on a board with a great iron nail sticking up from it, driving the rusted point straight through her high, naked arch. Rushing off to slap together a black bread and onion poultice, Anna returned to find no mark at all, not even a red dot, on Pelagia’s stinking, sprouting potato of a foot.

As soon as Pelagia took to roundly thrashing herself with switches and sticks, another Holy Fool, a fellow Arzamassian, Theodore Mikhailovich Solovyov, showed up, and with Anna looking on, (terrified but willing to be glorified by martyrdom,) the two, matched in girth, began a fierce dueling of sticks and warring words. Like actors in some divine improvisation, they fought with clubs and branches, hurling insults like flaming javelins, like lightning bolts as they chased one another back and forth through the cell and into the Church of the Nativity cemetery.

When the bruised and muddied Pelagia began uttering streams of pure clairvoyance, pilgrims straggled then elbowed their way into Diveyevo from far and near to be blessed, healed, beaten and screamed at. She predicted dates of birth and more often, death, and on the day Sergei Vasileivich, some hundreds of miles distant, fell mortally ill, Pelagia mimed his agony and howled like a wolf the instant his soul broke free from his spent, vainglorious body. Even the Tsar, dressed in the clichéd disguise of a woodcutter, made his way on foot through the forest to seek counsel from the reputed saint, later claiming she was the one person who would talk with him forthrightly and without guile. Still, when she warned him of his downfall, he did not listen, which proves that even in the presence of a seer and a saint, people hear only what they want to hear.

On they came in droves, day and night, seeking out the vile, stinksome creature sitting on her felt mat, asking their Matrushka what they should do about this or that or the other. To one she might scream “Hussy!” and deliver a stinging slap to the cheek along with a riddle, to another she might coo a lullaby, tender a silky caress. Wealth and rank offered no insulation from her unpredictable clairvoyance. When Venerable Vladyka Nectary paid an unannounced visit, Pelagi stood waiting faithfully for him in a blinding hailstorm, yet when he named a replacement for Diveyevo’s abbess, she boxed both his ears, making of him a devotee, her faithful one.

Eating only raw mushrooms, Pelagia hoarded the many offerings of sweets she received. Candies, cakes, prosphora, or holy breads, all were stuffed into in a lumpy homemade sack, or “storehouse,” which hung from her neck, bending her by its dulcet, rotting weight, nearly to the ground. In Pelgia’s final years, Anna Gerasimovna began to wake nights to find their cell on holy fire with the terrifying radiance of supernatural visitors. Father Seraphim, many years dead and a venerated saint, arrived to administer the sacraments, and Anna claimed to have seen, with her own eyes, an angelic being descend through the roof, whisk Pelagia off in its alien arms, and then return her, babbling incoherently, at dawn.

In the winter of 1879, Anna Gerasimovna woke one morning to find Pelagia outside, standing near the edge of the forest, in extreme austerity, an orant, arms upraised, wearing only her sarafan, a long, sleeveless undergarment, its thin hem nailed by ice to the snowy crown of earth. A caryatid made of flesh and ice, Pelagia upheld, for one night, the harsh, sorrowing, human world.

On January 30, 1884, she contracted a high fever and, enclasped by a dry, withering rosary of nuns, seemed one moment to battle invisible demons, the next to be lifted up in beatific rapture. At the last, she raised her head a little, its golden nimbus stinking of manure, frogs and rotten cakes, cried O, Mother of God! then fell back, asleep in the Lord, upon her pillow of iron shackles. An ocean of candles flared up throughout Russia. Panakhidas, memorials, were held everywhere, and overnight, painted icons, mosaics, carved panels of ivory and cloisonné enamels, images of Pelagia, Fool-for-Christ, sprang up like stars. Thousands mourned Matrushka, their holy mother. Thousands spun in keening ecstasy.

Tune in to the PBS American Experience documentary Ripley: Believe It or Not to hear Melissa Pritchard discuss Robert LeRoy Ripley, whose strange and wonderful world she researched for the title story of The Odditorium.

Melissa Pritchard talks about The Odditorium and the ways in which faith intersects with creativity with IMAGE: Art, Faith, Mystery and discusses how she brings passion and imagination to historical fiction with Kirkus Reviews and ASU News.