Astray by Emma Donoghue

Maybe it’s the craziness of the season, but I’ve really been appreciating short story collections. This latest title from Emma Donoghue – the author of the phenomenal Room – is an intriguingly composed compilation: Donoghue presents a story introduced with a specific city and year, then gives the ‘ripped-from-the-headlines’ historical background that both explains and enhances her fictionalized narrative. Each is part of a centuries-old immigration journey, grouped together in three sections: “Departures,” “In Transit,” and “Arrivals and Aftermaths,” and in the final “Afterword,” Donoghue – herself Irish-born, British PhDed, currently Canada-domiciled – explains “why, on and off, for the last decade and a half, I’ve been writing stories about travels to, within, and occasionally from the United States and Canada.” [If you choose the audible version, you’ll get a full cast of effective narrators, but the best reward comes at the end when you get to hear Donoghue herself read the “Afterword” – that leftover lilt is just soooo inviting.]

Like Donoghue who has “gone stray, stepped off some invisible track [she] was meant to follow,” her characters begin in one place and are driven out, run away, move to, or search out somewhere else. In “Man and Boy,” two “self-made prodigies” are willing to accept “[w]hatever Barnum offers” – yes, as in P.T. – and prepare to sail from London in 1882 across the Atlantic toward waiting audiences. A young woman living in 1854 London in dire circumstances in “Onward” finds a surprising benefactor (I hope you’ll be as tickled as I was to learn his identity!) who offers the possibility of a reinvented life in the new world. In “Last Supper at Brown’s,” a slave and his missus flee 1864 Texas, leaving the master “facedown in the okra” (not my favorite veggie, either!).

In “Counting the Days,” plans for reunion between a waiting husband in Canada and his Irish wife and young children are tragically thwarted. A lawless woman of the Wild West captures a wayward prospector, and acting as her own “judge and jury,” decides to return him to his family with a few adventures along the way in “The Long Way Home.” In “The Gift,” a destitute new mother gives up her daughter in 1877 and spends the rest of her life trying to reclaim her. The private lives of a 1639 Cape Cod community are transgressively revealed, then recanted in “The Lost Seed.” And, in my personal favorite, “Daddy’s Girl,” a young woman learns the true identity of her father only upon his death.

Harnessing her own searching spirit, Donoghue ventures through centuries and continents, across oceans and cultures, to present a unique collection of peripatetic characters, each ready to confront, challenge, or flee what life presents next. Be assured: Going rogue never read this good.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2012


Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, .Short Stories, Canadian, Irish, Nonethnic-specific

10 responses to “Astray by Emma Donoghue

  1. Looooooooooved Room! This one sounds like I will have to pick it up soon!

    • I think you’ll really enjoy Astray. And it’s a single volume, hee hee ho ho! Loved the ingenious set-up especially … and many of the stories made me go google for more information, as well.

      Hope your holidays are grand indeed!

      • Haha! As long as its not another series where only books 1 and 2 out of 700 are out! ;)

        • Only 700? Would at least keep us entertained for quite a few years, no? But really, there is nothing more literally frustrating than volumus interuptus for sure! [Couldn’t resist, hee hee ho ho ho ho!]

          • Well, I might be exaggerating with the 700 number. . . but like the Ender’s Game series has (I’m pretty sure) 13!!!! That’s a ton for a series. . . makes it a little intimidating to pick up!

          • Certain prolific authors have recurring characters in unrelated books that make surprise appearances — and that always delights me to no end.

            Carl Hiaasen is one of those writers (not quite up to 700 titles, but who knows … ) who I find completely formulaic (and I think his titles for younger readers are actually better books, because he just can’t ramble on as long as he does in his adult novels). But I also intermittently need a kooky Hiaasen eco-terrorist adventure, just because I know exactly what to expect. The recurrence of Clinton Tyree, also known as Skink, ex-Florida governor, roadkill chef, and all around nutjob with an awesome streak of justice always, ALWAYS makes me giggle and guffaw. He’s my literary cotton candy of choice … I hope to find him caught between a few hundred more covers!

          • I haven’t read any adult Hiassen, but I know that he always writes, or many times writes, about Florida, where I’m from, so I think I’d get many of the connections. I’ve read a few of his YA books, though, since I taught 5th grade for a few years.

            Stephen King does that too, where a character will show up, or more often, a street will be the same or something else will pop up from another one of his unrelated novels. He intertwines each novel in some small way, and I love love love being able to find that piece! It’s like a teensy, hard to find puzzle piece.

          • Harlan Coben, too! Although at least two of his recurring characters are so cringe-inducing racist, you have to wonder WHAT he was thinking … not to mention how embarrassed his editors should be to allow him to keep repeating them from book to book. Explanation is in this post:

            Do check out a few adult Hiaasen when you want just some brainless fun. You’ll quickly decipher his successful formula … but that’s why he keeps repeating his successes! The hubby grew up in Miami, and he enjoys the occasional few, especially because of the Florida settings. He has his father now addicted to them!

          • I do not enjoy the Myron Bolitar at all (and I’ve only read one of those), but I do like Coben’s other novels.

            I have a few adult Hiassen on my Kindle, so I’ll get around to them eventually! :)

          • “Eventually” being the operative word. The “eventually” pile must be about at least a hundred times higher than the ever-growing “must-read” stack, no??!! All waiting for “someday.”

            That’s my story, anyway! Not a whinge in any way, however — feel mighty blessed to have such endless choices.

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