Astray, by Emma Donoghue

AstrayAfter reading Room for my in-person book club a while back and really enjoying it, I was pretty excited to have another Donoghue book to read for my online book club. And it was a book of short stories, which are things I am trying to read more of! How perfect!

Well, kind of perfect. I read the first story and I was like, ooooo-kay, what is this that’s going on here? And then I read the afterward to the first story and I was like, oh, I see, this story was based on a real thing that happened, I guess that’s cool. I read the second story and I was like, uh, weird, this is also a confusing little story. And then I read the afterward and I was like, oh, I see, this whole book is full of stories based on things that really happened. Hmm.

Then I read the third story and I was like, hey, this is an awesome little story that reminds me of James M. Cain! And it’s based on a true story! How cool!

Probably about half of the stories in this collection are like that one, and they are pretty fantastic — the aforementioned “The Widow’s Cruse”, “Snowblind”, and “The Body Swap” in particular are quite good stories on their own merit, made more intriguing by their historical backgrounds. I mean, ladies up to no good! Yukon gold-panning! Grave robbing! Sold!

The other half, though, are like the first couple of stories in that they are midly to completely baffling as written, and then make a little more sense when you take into account the true story behind them. These were not my favorites, though others in my book club liked them just fine.

On the plus side, the stories are all quite short (less than 20 pages each, on average) so you don’t have to spend too much time with the ones you don’t get along with. And the history parts are intriguing enough, if you have a little extra time to research them. I used to listen to a couple of history podcasts, and any one of these stories would make for an excellent half-hour knowledge dump. In fact, as I said during the book club meeting, I would read this book all over again, and possibly even like it better, if it were redone as a non-fiction essay collection on the actual things that happened to these people. Donoghue should get on that, or get someone else to do it for her, or I guess I could go do all that research myself… someday…

Recommendation: For fans of very short historical fiction and very strange truths.

Rating: 7/10

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