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.