Following the death of a renowned and eccentric collector—author of Stuff, a seminal philosophical work on the art of accumulation—the fate of the privately endowed museum he cherished falls to a peripatetic stranger who had been his fervent admirer. This peculiar institution (The Society for the Preservation of the Legacy of Dr. Charles Alexander Morgan) is dedicated to the annihilation of hierarchy: peerless antiquities commune happily with the ignored, the discarded, the undervalued and the valueless. What transpires as the caretaker assumes dominion over this reliquary of voiceless objects and over its visitors is told in a manner at once obsessive and matter of fact, and in language both cocooning and expansive. A wry and haunting tale, The Caretaker, like the interplanetary crystal that is one of the museum’s treasures, is rare, glistening, and of a compacted inwardness.
Kafka or Shirley Jackson may come to mind, and The Caretaker may conjure up various genres—parables, ghost stories, locked-room mysteries—but Doon Arbus draws her phosphorescent water from no other writer’s well.