Tag Archives: Robert Petkoff

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

Room by Emma Donoghue

Room will leave you speechless. Listening to the audible version, pitch-perfectly performed by Michal Friedman, Ellen Archer, Robert Petkoff, and Suzanne Toren, is a chillingly addictive experience; even after you’ve turned off your device, you won’t be able to stop Jack from haunting you.

In spite of the book’s widespread media attention, its countless accolades and awards, I had few content details before I picked up the title for which I’m eternally grateful. In this case, less was absolutely more.

Here’s what I did know: a young boy and his mother are trapped in a small room, imprisoned by a violent man who snatched the mother off the streets when she was still a teenage student. The boy, born in captivity, knows only this room as his entire world, created for him by his inventive, fiercely protective mother who keeps him safe and happy at whatever cost.

Here’s what little else you can know: Jack turns 5 on the first page. Room is 11×11 square with a single high skylight. Ma has bad teeth. The unnumbered chapter titles are: Presents, Unlying, Dying, After, Living.

If you must have something visual to draw you in (although that cover couldn’t be more powerful), click here for the book’s goosebumps-inducing trailer.

To the credit of the superbly talented Emma Donoghue, Room miraculously proves to be funny, uplifting, affirming, even as it is wrenching, brutal, and every parent’s nightmare come true. Listening to Jack narrate what he sees, hears, thinks with such unguarded truth will make you wince, gasp, laugh, mourn, and ultimately believe. Enter Room … and see what happens …

Readers: Adult

Published: 2010


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