by Kathleen Alcott
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Pub Date 18 Jul 2023 | Archive Date 04 Jul 2023
A searing volume of stories starring women facing points of no return, from a “penetrating and elegant” (Paris Review) writer.
A woman finds a photograph of her deceased mother in a compromising position on the wall of an art museum. A divorcee decamps to a place where nobody knows her name but can’t escape the watchful eye of the world she’s slipped away from. A transplant to a new city must make a choice about whom she trusts when her partner reveals a fundamental truth about himself.
For readers of explosive stories by Lauren Groff, Joy Williams, and Deborah Eisenberg, Emergency presents seven radically intimate, masterfully executed excavations of the unfreedoms of American life and the guilt that stalks those who survive them. Grappling with poverty and addiction, class ascension and sexual power, the women in these stories try to pay down the psychic debts of their old lives as they search for a new happiness they can afford.
About the Author: Kathleen Alcott is the author of three critically acclaimed novels, including Infinite Home. Her work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the Guardian, Harper's Magazine, and elsewhere. Listed twice for the Sunday Times Short Story Award, her short fiction has also been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories. She lives on the Sonoma Coast of California.
"I've long loved Kathleen Alcott's novels for her whip-smart voice and her taut prose. I was delighted to discover that her collection of short stories, Emergency, is also wonderful, spiny and wry and thrumming with subversive power." - Lauren Groff, author of Matrix
"Skillfully wrought and possessed of an exquisite eye for detail, this marvel of a collection contains enough insight and wisdom to fill several books. Alcott proves again that she is one of her generation's sharpest and most gifted writers, with her hand over the beating heart of our complicated, crisis-ridden nation." - Alexandra Kleeman, author of Something New Under the Sun
"Kathleen Alcott’s Emergency left me windswept and altered—this is a book that reveals to us our forgotten joys and secrets, all the unexpected paths of our days. There is an abundance of the world here, a bright, haunted pulse you want to follow endlessly. Alcott is a mesmerizing writer, and this is her best book yet." - Paul Yoon, author of Run Me to Earth
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 27 members
This is how you put a story collection together. Not by collating 15 or 20 stories together, even if published in magazines prior, but with a focus and a theme, limited to seven, that are sharp and devastating and written gorgeously with a surfeit of incandescent details, starring women in their own lives, haunted by themselves, their pasts, their parents, and upbringings, class, love, violence, desire, and more. Six out of the seven will stay with me in some form or another.
Thanks to W.W. Norton and Netgalley for an ARC
A beautiful collection of short stories that revolve around the intimacy of human connection, friendship, conscience, regret, weakness, the list goes one....Despite the fact that each story told is shortened in length, Kathleen Alcott is able to get amazing depth and deep connection with each character. You really feel yourself immerse in the lives of these flawed, but still beautiful women. I would not say this is a light read. Each story told was thought provoking, insightful, and stirred deep emotions within me. Highly recommend!
Emergency by Kathleen Alcott is an exceptionally well-written collection of seven short stories that revolve around themes of marriage and relationships, friendship, regret, conscience and guilt, poverty and addiction, and ambition and compromise to name a few.
The title story, “Emergency” (4/5) revolves around a woman whose life post her divorce creates a ripple in her former circle of acquaintances. In “Worship” (4.5/5) we meet a woman who moves halfway across the country only to discover that there was a lot she did know about the man with whom she was about to begin a new life. A woman finds a photograph of her late mother in a compromising position on display in a museum exhibit that compels her to reflect on her own life and choices in Natural Light (5/5). “A World Without Men” (5/5) follows a couple, married for over forty years, as they are forced to take stock of their relationship while forced to shelter in place during the pandemic. In “Part of the Country” (4/5) we follow a woman who strikes out on her own as she contemplates ending her marriage. In Reputation Management (4.5/5) a young woman experiences a moral dilemma when torn between her professional commitment and personal accountability. We follow her as she is plagued by feelings of guilt and finds it increasingly difficult to remain detached when she learns of a tragedy that she feels could have been prevented. The final story in this collection, Temporary Housing (5/5), revolves around the complex feelings of nostalgia, guilt and despair our protagonist, now a successful adult, experiences as she reflects on the friends and the life she has behind.
The women in these stories are flawed and real and the situations they find themselves in are believable and relatable as are their reactions. Not all of these characters might come across as particularly likable (some will find it easy to judge them) and while we may find some of their choices questionable and express disbelief at the poor judgment they exhibit in crucial moments, the author provides enough insight to allow us to attempt to understand them and their motivations. The tone of these stories varies between reflective, melancholic and defiant with a few moments of dry humor peppered in between.
Do not mistake these stories to be easy or light reading. Despite the length of these stories, the author achieves a level of depth to these characters and the storylines that I could not believe possible in a short story format. Each of these stories is thought-provoking, insightful and intense. Exquisite prose, complex characters and the varied themes that are explored make for an absorbing read.
My favorite quote:
<i>“We’re born knowing everything, which is why we wail. We begin to forget, which is how we can stop. And here’s the thing: here’s the thing: here’s the strangest, loving thing, which helps until it doesn’t, which is kind until it’s wicked: At the end of your life, you’ve forgotten the most.”</i> (Temporary Housing)
Many thanks to W.W. Norton & Company and NetGalley for the digital review copy. All opinions expressed in this review are my own. The book is due to be released on July 18, 2023.