Astray

Emma Donoghue, Author
Emma Donoghue. Little, Brown, $24.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-316-20629-7
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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from historical records; the author of Room, who studied 18th-century literature at Cambridge, has a gift for reading historical documents and picking out the odd, telling detail.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. Agent: Kathleen Anderson. (Oct.)
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