From remote Australian settlements to the snows of Siberia, from Colorado to Cumbria, restless teenagers, middle-aged civil servants, and Quaker spinsters traverse expanses of solitude to reveal the secrets of the human heart. Spare, precise, and charged with a prickly wit, the stories in Carys Davies's sparkling second collection remind us how little we know of the lives of others.
Former journalist Davies's second collection of short stories, following Some New Ambush, is a perfectly formed gem that won the 2015 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award after it was first published in the U.K. The 17 stories travel across multiple continents and range over several centuries, and each whisks readers into the orbit of a different character people whom readers might ordinarily dismiss as uninteresting. Often surprising, these stories contain nothing so unsubtle as a twist but instead ambush readers with tiny details and revelations that shift everything they thought they knew. The title story does this wonderfully when the reader's assumptions about Patience Haig, a seemingly worthy prison visitor, are quietly and satisfyingly up-ended. Another story, "Miracle at Hawk's Bay," shocks with its unexpected treatment of a gruesome death. This collection has a deliberately formal feel that makes even the contemporary stories seem timeless. Davies has an enviable talent for creating entire internal universes for her characters; her spare prose and somewhat elliptical style give her enormous control over both characters and readers. This sophisticated collection observes that everyone contains multitudes, and people's darkest corners are what make them interesting. The book never falters in its delicate touch and confident, nuanced observations about the human condition.