If you’re like most people, you’ll most likely say “pass” when offered a book of short stories. You were force-fed enough of those in high school, right? But this time – I’m telling you – don’t.
Caitlin Horrocks’ debut This Is Not Your City is an ambitious eleven-story collection about women “held hostage,” Horrocks says, “by the circumstances of their lives.” But don’t take that to mean the stories are depressing. Each story contains a measured dose of humor and familiarity – and an element of bizarre.
Take, for instance, the story “In the Gulf of Aden, Past the Cape of Guardafui.” Lucinda and her husband Wil take a “respite care” cruise to recover from the draining responsibility of parenting their severely mentally handicapped son. Sounds familiar, right? The humor comes in when the husband and wife, during dinner conversation, fabricate elaborate stories about their well-to-do, accomplished fictional children. The story takes a turn for the bizarre when the cruise ship is taken hostage by Somali pirates, forcing Lucinda to confront the reality that she too is held captive by the proverbial “hand” life dealt her.
Critics are impressed by the width and depth of 31-year-old Horrocks’ collection, which spans several generations, three continents and a wide range of scenarios. Horrocks dons the voice of a Russian mail order bride whose daughter has gone missing (“This Is Not Your City”) just as convincingly as she assumes the voice of an unnamed American 16-year-old caring for her house-bound mother with rheumatoid arthritis (“It Looks Like This”).
And though the characters do not live in “our city,” we might be surprised to recognize parts of ourselves in each one. We might resemble Renee, whose peaceful Grecian vacation is interrupted by a gnawing and desperate desire to be pregnant (“The Lion Gate”). We might see pieces of ourselves in Robin, a newlywed whose faith in her husband is shaken by the comments of a lonesome, slightly off-kilter elderly man (“World Champion Cow of the Insane”). We may find that we turn up in “Zolaria,” where a woman recalls her fifth-grade best friend, the imaginary world they created together, and how a sudden illness broke them both away from that imaginary place. From the kick-off of the collection to the close, Horrocks adeptly embodies women struggling to establish a sense of place and identity at all stages of life.
If you are looking for a light escape from reality, This is Not Your City probably won’t interest you. But collection of stories does promise to challenge, redefine and maybe even repair our sense of place and identity, should we be brave enough to pick it up.
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