Nobody Gets Out Alive: Stories by Leigh Newman
My rating: 4/5 cats
I WON A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY!! HOORAY!!
Your average happy person didn’t last in Alaska. It was too much work not to die all the time.
i was going to do that exhausting thing where i review all of the stories individually, but there are only eight of them, and since the collection folds over itself, visiting some of the characters at different points in their lives, it’s a more like a location-specific The Candy House-shaped book, where the stories are linked-but-standalones, so i’ll just
starcat-rate the stories separately and review the collection in toto.
short stories don’t always do it for me, but i thought this was an excellent collection, and my ARC is now full of dog-eared pages signifying a phrasing or description i particularly liked. the stories are set across different points across time, tied together by the romance, the promise, the mythology, and the reality of living in alaska, and the types of people drawn to a life off the grid.
I have a radio. Bland, official fuzz from NPR informs me of Obamacare, Social Security, the new Section 8 housing the city is building. I do not know how to do any of this: what forms you fill out, what websites will prove you were alive before you blew off the edge of the world into human vapor. I am fifty-six, and no official trace of me exists.
when i read the synopsis of this book, i thought the whole “survival against the unforgiving wilderness” thing would be a more prominent theme, but it’s more about emotional/psychological than physical survival; the conflicts are “anywhere” kind of problems—infidelity, loneliness, regret, scraping by—but the juxtaposition of alaska’s stark and beautiful natural landscapes backdropping the tumultuous inner lives of the characters was a nice contrast. nature doesn’t give a shit about your failing marriage—nature just quietly, stoically endures whilst you live out your comparatively tiny struggles. newman, whose characters manage to get by with limited financial, social, or actual, life-sustaining resources, also makes the most of her prose, conveying so much with succinct little phrasings:
A little dead light explodes in her heart.
Her face scrambled.
but she also gets to the center of her characters’ hopes and disappointments with chewier prose:
“Think about it this way,” said Benny. “We live or die together.” I was nineteen by then and he was the age I am now—sixty-seven. I held on to his words as though they were special to our situation, not an agreement you enter into with every person you ever care about. Even just in passing.
She knew me so well…and still. I knew her so well…and still. Were these twin snowflakes of delusion the only reason we were even married—believing that one amazing day, either she or I would finally do something so unlike ourselves that we would finally make the other happy?
i mean, “twin snowflakes of delusion” is a bit much, IMO, but the way she unveils the weary resignation of that story’s relationship is otherwise extraordinary.
Alcan, An Oral History is the longest story and the collection’s standout piece—a swerving, heart-scooping emotional road trip that is, indeed, about the convergence of two differently-motivated road trips. it’s long, but it still leaves questions tantalizingly unanswered. since so many characters pop up in multiple stories throughout the collection, i was hoping that some of these alcan-travelers would pop up again in a later story to fill in some blanks, but alas(ka), ’twas not to be.
i’m glad i won this through the goodreads giveaways, because if i hadn’t felt the gratitude-fueled pressure to read it within a reasonable timeframe, it would likely have just sat on my shelf collecting dust, because i’m just never hungry for short stories, and on the rare-ish occasions i DO pick up a short story collection, it’ll be one by an author i have already read and enjoyed, not some stranger-danger risky-read. so, thank you to the gr-gods for forcing this debut collection into my hands. if anyone is reading this, the book is NOW AVAILABLE because i am slow at reviewing these days. argh.
★★★☆☆ (but ★★★★★ for that title)
Nobody Gets Out Alive
Alcan, An Oral History
Slide and Glide
Valley of the Moon
Our Family Fortune Teller
An Extravaganza in Two Acts
read my book reviews on goodreads