cover image A Guide to Being Born

A Guide to Being Born

Ramona Ausubel. Riverhead, $26.95 (208p) ISBN 978-1-59448-795-8

Ausubel follows up her debut novel, No One is Here Except All of Us, with a charming, at times precious collection of stories that tackles the frustrations and fantasies of being alive. Split into four parts—birth, gestation, conception, and love—the volume deposits characters in a real world gone awry, a place where true adoration is accompanied by the growth of additional “love-arms,” men sprout drawers of bone in their chests, and the ghosts of Civil War generals play catch with youngsters. Dabbling frequently in broken families, the author’s greatest triumphs come in narratives that weave the defeated with the absurd. “Atria” finds a pregnant teenager convinced her growing baby will not be human, and in “Snow Remote,” a family practices strange habits, from manning an elaborate Christmas display to engaging in phone sex—all while living under the clouded memory of a lost matriarch. Quite often, and with great effect, the misplaced and aimless find solace. Still, the quirk factor occasionally works overtime, leading to eccentric character-naming (Mother Mom; Professor Paul Pretoria) and jarringly peculiar moments, like in “Saver,” when a character performs an impromptu dental inspection on a first date. Agent: PJ Mark, Janklow & Nesbit. (May)