"Black Vodka" consists of ten stories, half of which can also be found in Pillow Talk in Europe and Other Places (Lannan Selection). In the title story an advertising man, known by his colleagues as 'the Crippled Poet', is tantalized by the promise of love from an archaeologist fascinated by his deformity. This sets the tone for many of the collection's stories in which the bonds which connect people are examined, both as they form and as they fall apart.
As in her recent novel Swimming Home, Levy's style is lucid but poetic. Surreality or strangeness often intrudes into her recognisable settings and one gets glimpses of the whole history of twentieth-century Europe in her characters. This is especially true of 'Vienna' in which a man of Russian descent imagines his rich lover as being middle Europe, specifically Vienna: "She is the sound of polite applause. She is a chandelier. She is a velvet curtain. She is made from the horn of deer found deep in the pine forests of middle Europe."
In other stories the strangeness takes centre stage. 'Stardust Nation' tells of a man who absorbs the life experiences of those around him, whilst in 'Cave Girl' the narrator is unsettled by his sister's desire to have a sex change - one which will turn her into a different sort of woman, a caricature of a femininity.
"Black Vodka" is an enjoyable collection and most of the stories leave a strong impression. I found myself re-reading several, savouring Levy's characters, imagery, and poetry.