Imad Rahman’s I Dream of Microwaves

In Imad Rahman’s debut collection, I Dream of Microwaves, B-movie actor Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, has just lost his role on America’s Most Wanted (playing Manuel Gutman, a convicted felon who had “crossed the line from gun-toting menace to shotgun-wielding assassin”), and his prospects are so poor that his next job is to play a Bosnian refugee in order to get his wife Eileen’s philanthropic grandmother to part with her money.

Abdul-Jabbar’s wife convinces him to act the part because, she says,

Americans have no sense of international politics, of global community, of social duty outside their neighborhoods. The world falls apart and we dream of microwaves.

Eileen takes off for South America shortly thereafter, and Abdul-Jabbar drifts from one job to the next, dressing as Zima Zorro to hawk booze to customers, renting his wife’s home out to pornographers who want to “combine fucking with intellectual social commentary,” posing as a repo-man for a video-rental company, taking a part in Apocalypse Now: The Musical, and so on.

There are some wonderfully realized moments in the book. The opening story, for instance, works both as an ironic send-up of how we look at minorities and as a reflection of the struggle to fit into expectations. And Rahman displays a biting sense of humor throughout.

Eventually, however, the one-liners and absurd set-ups are all that keep the stories going, each new joke trying to top the one before it. Substance recedes to the background in favor of pop-culture references, and the reader ends up alienated.

I really wanted to like this book. So few short-story collections are published these days that I often start them with a favorable stance. But this Eugene Ionesco-style universe didn’t quite work for me.