The fascinating characters that roam across the pages of Emma Donoghue's stories have all gone astray: they are emigrants, runaways, drifters, lovers old and new. They are gold miners and counterfeiters, attorneys and slaves. They cross other borders too: those of race, law, sex, and sanity. They travel for love or money, incognito or under duress.
With rich historical detail, the celebrated author of Room takes us from puritan Massachusetts to revolutionary New Jersey, antebellum Louisiana to the Toronto highway, lighting up four centuries of wanderings that have profound echoes in the present. Astray offers us 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from historical records; the author of Room, who studied 18th-century literature at Cambridge, has a gift for reading historical documents and picking out the odd, telling detail.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.
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Having read and loved the creativity and follow-through of Jack’s voice in “Room”, I starting reading Astray, not originally realizing it was a compliation of short-stories. I am now amazed at how well Donoghue is able to capture the range of voices; from an elephant caretaker, to a prostitue, to grave robbers, to a slave….you seriously don’t know who’s mind and world you’ll be in next! And each narrative has one fact different that makes that story unique and unpredicable. It is a book full of stories, that you won’t know if they pull it off or not!