Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Review: A Guide to Being Born

A Guide to Being Born: Stories
By Ramona Ausubel 
Riverhead Books 2013
195 pages
From the library

A Guide to Being Born: Stories

A Guide to Being Born is a short story collection that ponders the ways we love each other and how our lives are affected by major events like births and deaths. As in her novel No One is Here Except All of Us, Ausubel weaves together the mundane with the fantastic. We meet a woman named Alice who suddenly finds herself adrift on a cargo ship with other elderly ladies, a young boy who is frustrated that his parents are more interested in each other than in the death of his cat, and a family dealing with the death of its matriarch in very different and terrible ways.

It's easy to finish a book and say that you enjoyed it. I did enjoy some of the stories in here, but there were also some that made me uncomfortable, some that made me mad, and some that made me feel like grieving right along with the characters. I think this is the measure of a good short story collection and a good writer - Ausubel has written very different stories, but managed to produce a strong reaction in the reader with each one.

This book is separated into four sections - Birth, Gestation, Conception, and Love. Aubusbel is an author who surprises, though. Her first story is not, as you might expect, about a happy family who has just received a little bundle of joy. Instead, it's about an elderly woman at the end of her life, preparing to embark on a sort of rebirth as her family makes the difficult decision to take her off of life support. These tales also have elements of magic woven throughout. This writer seems particularly interested in physical manifestations of emotions as evidenced in the society where people grow an extra arm for every time they fall in love and the soon-to-be father who sprouts drawers out of his chest.

My favorite of the collection was the second story, entitled Poppyseed. It tells the story of small family - Roger, Laura, and their daughter Poppy. Roger works as the head guide of a ghost tour on an ocean liner and Laura stays home with Poppy, their beloved daughter who is eight years old but will never walk or talk on her own. The parents are struggling with the possibility of medically stunting their daughter's growth so that she will never have to deal with changes to her body that her mind cannot understand. This story broke my heart and I had a moment when you finish a story and you just sit, amazed by what you have experienced.

The best indicator of this book's effect on me though is, that while I am sitting here and writing this review, I'm trying to figure out if I can read a few stories again before taking it back to the library. A Guide to Being Born, like any short story collection, will have some that become favorites and some that won't. But each story in this slim collection will make you feel something and stay with you after you have closed the book. 

7 comments:

  1. I need to read this. I really do. :D

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    1. I think you would really like it. Hypothetically, you could space out the stories but I'm just not very good at that!

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  2. First, I love the cover. Second, I love short stories. Third, I love a little bit of magical ... and to still think about a story or two once the book is closed .. that's a very good sign. Thanks for the review!

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    1. Then I think you will really enjoy this collection!

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  3. Hmm...it sounds like something I'd like, but also something I'd put off reading as long as I can because I just can't handle sad things haha (it took me a decade to watch The Last of the Mohicans. That's how much I hate sad things)

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    1. I can understand your reservations about reading sad things. That being said, this short story collection is sad but it isn't hopeless. I think that makes a big difference.

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    2. It really does. For example Last of the Mohicans really wasn't that terrible for me to sit through devastation wise. I blame my mom for hyping up the sad factor haha. The hopelessness...those books tend to stick with me forever (1984 and The Handmaid's Tale are two of my absolute favourite stories...I probably should have come up with examples that were a little bit varied haha), but they really sort of tear you down for a while. Which of course is why you remember them in the first place, but still. I have a fragile soul!

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