ASTRAY by Emma Donaghue: A Review of a Short Story Collection

As I read the stories in this 2012 published collection, several seemed familiar, and I finally realized where I had originally read them. I had encountered them in The New Yorker over a period of time. Although I did not recall the author’s name, her style and type of topic her stories are based on was what rang a bell. Many of the stories are based on newspaper clippings or snippets of history.

The Houston Chronicle referred to it as “one of the best books of the year” in 2012, and every story is of “New Yorker quality”, whether a longer piece or a very short, short story. The book is divided into three sections: “Departures” (My favorite of this section was “The Widow’s Cruise” where a scheming lawyer decides to take advantage of a grieving widow, only to have his plan boomerang on him.), “In Transit” (My favorite of this section was “The Body Swap” which tells of a little known plan to steal and hold for ransom Abraham Lincoln’s corpse.  Its denouement is a humorous, “gotcha” ending which made me chuckle.), and “Arrivals and Aftermaths,” more or less miscellaneous stories (My favorite  of this section was the shocking and true story, “Daddy’s Girl.”).

The author chose her title expressed in the front from a thought in Virgil’s Aenid:

“…We wander, ignorant of men and places,

And driven by the wind and the vast waves.”

Indeed, all of the characters in all of the stories have gone adrift or “astray” in some way or another.

It is a masterful collection.

Author: Rae Longest

This year (2019) finds me with 50 years of teaching "under my belt." I have taught all levels from pre-K "(library lady" or "book lady"--volunteer) to juniors, seniors, and graduate students enrolled in my Advanced Writing class at the university where I have just completed 30 years. My first paying teaching job was junior high, and I spent 13 years with ages 12-13, the "difficult years." I had some of the "funnest" experiences with this age group. When I was no longer the "young, fun teacher," I taught in an elementary school setting before sixth graders went on to junior high, teaching language arts blocs, an assignment that was a "dream-fit" for me. After completing graduate school in my 40s, I went on to community college, then university teaching. Just as teaching is "in my blood," so is a passion for reading, writing, libraries, and everything bookish. This blog will be open to anyone who loves books, promotes literacy and wants to "come out and play."

6 thoughts on “ASTRAY by Emma Donaghue: A Review of a Short Story Collection”

      1. It’s the book where she wrote in the pov of a 5 yr old boy whose mother had been kidnapped and they were both living in a garden shed where they’d been imprisoned since before Jack was born.

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      1. No, not really. I won’t deny there are parts that are grim and parts that are frightening, but it is also very funny – and moving. I think it’s a remarkable read and it is certainly a book that has stayed with me.

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