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Awayland: Stories


Awayland: Stories

From Beirut, a mother calls her daughter to tell her she is shrinking, thinning, dying and “like a thick fog, burning off.” The daughter, despite the mother’s reassurances not to worry, travels to be with her and finds her, indeed, vanishing. The disappearance is about death, but it is also about a life lived far from home, uprooted from places of meaning, identity and attachment. There is no salvation for the mother Ramona Ausubel writes about in “Fresh Water from the Sea,” one of 11 stories in this new collection, and the daughter is left behind, responding to this loss and the loss her mother lived with for so long.

The stories in AWAYLAND are diverse in style, theme and success. “You Can Find Love Now” is the dating questionnaire completed by a cyclops descendant of the ancient Greek variety. He is eight feet tall, interested in all sorts of women --- anyone who may want to create a life with him below the earth, gazed upon by his beautiful blue eye. It is a quick read, a bit gimmicky but appealing nonetheless. Cyclops15, the username of the hopeful dater, is poetic and melancholy, engaging with his own emotions and history as well as the inane application instructions.

"Some [stories] are strange and speculative, others brutal in their emotional realism, some delightfully humorous, and others heartbreaking and sad.... Ausubel’s talent and imagination are undeniable."

“Club Zeus” shares Greek mythological references but none of the lightness or poetry of “You Can Find Love Now.” Here an American teenager is spending his summer at a Mediterranean resort, telling stories about the gods and goddesses to children and occasional drunks. The narrator’s exploration of his relationship with his new-agey mother is interrupted by the death of a resort guest and the desperation and misplaced affections of his grieving wife.

Loss, in its many varieties, is a recurrent theme in this collection. The loss of a parent, a mother especially, is explored in some of Ausubel’s stories. In “Mother Land,” readers meet Lucy, the twin sister of the daughter in “Fresh Water from the Sea.” Lucy finds herself, like her mother before her, in a new country, forced to confront ideas about self, belonging and love while mourning her mother’s death.

On the flip side, parenthood, as well as the related concept of possibility, is also central to the book. In “Departure Lounge,” a woman leaves her job at a space training facility to try to get pregnant by her gay college-aged ex-boyfriend. “Template for a Proclamation to Save the Species” is about a not-quite-lonely small town mayor in Minnesota and his plan, inspired by a Russian program, to boost the town’s population with a Love Day and prizes for families who have babies nine months later. The couples who participate, or opt not to, are unaware of the mayor’s emotional and ideological commitment to the plan, but it underpins this domestic tale with a sweetness and thoughtfulness.

AWAYLAND is divided into four sections, referencing places of hunger, hope, loneliness and dreams, giving readers clues to the map of Ausubel’s literary geography. It helps unite the stories, which are, once again, diverse in many ways. Some are strange and speculative, others brutal in their emotional realism, some delightfully humorous, and others heartbreaking and sad. Although the quality of these tales vary, Ausubel’s talent and imagination are undeniable.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on March 9, 2018

Awayland: Stories
by Ramona Ausubel

  • Publication Date: March 5, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books
  • ISBN-10: 1594634912
  • ISBN-13: 9781594634918