With the turn of each page, the characters that roam across these pages go astray. They are emigrants, runaways, drifters; gold miners and counterfeiters, attorneys and slaves. They cross borders of race, law, sex, and sanity. They travel for love or money, under duress or incognito.
This fascinating collection from Emma Donoghue, author of the internationally bestselling Room, is a sequence of fourteen fact-inspired fictions about travels to, in and from North America, Astray offers a past in scattered pieces, a surprising and moving history for restless times.
The stories in Donoghue's new collection all come, to varying degrees, from historical records; the author of Room, who studied 18th-century literature at Cambridge, has a gift for reading historical documents and picking out the odd, telling detail. There's the Plymouth Plantation man who accuses his neighbors of indecency, in "The Lost Seed"; the woman who gives her daughter up for adoption, then writes the Children's Aid Society demanding her return, in "The Gift"; the Tammany Hall bigwig found to be a woman, in "Daddy's Girl"; all outlines begging to be filled in. The 14 stories are all short (many too short), and by the time they've set up the circumstances and the era, they're almost done, and we're leaving characters we know as creatures of a time and place rather than individuals. When Donoghue establishes a distinct voice and person, the stories are vivid, curious, and honest: we'll remember the serial Puritan accuser and the young German soldier in revolutionary America long after we've forgotten other characters like Jumbo the Victorian elephant and his keeper or the men who tried to hold Abraham Lincoln's body for ransom in stories that are notable more for the historical moments they reconstruct than for the people who inhabit them.