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Cities I've Never Lived In

3.51  ·  Rating details ·  989 ratings  ·  114 reviews
In subtle, sensuous prose, the stories in Sara Majka's debut collection explore distance in all its forms: the emotional spaces that open up between family members, friends, and lovers; the gaps that emerge between who we were and who we are; the gulf between our private and public selves. At the center of the collection is a series of stories narrated by a young American ...more
Paperback, 160 pages
Published February 16th 2016 by Graywolf Press
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Julie Ehlers
Her gaze had gone soft looking at the painting. She didn't seem to want to look away, in the way that shy people can have while examining things at parties. Is that why shy people are so curious? A life spent looking at things until the things themselves become interesting, until you have to see the bookshelves at parties, the small paintings outside bathrooms, all these places feel forbidden, but in fact everyone is right around the corner, and when someone passes you smile and try to leave, or
Larry H
Feb 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
I find books in so many different ways—I hear about releases getting particular hype or buzz, I see someone else reading something that intrigues me so I need to check it out, or I receive a recommendation from someone whose opinion I trust. Interestingly enough, I first heard of Sara Majka's emotional, intriguing new collection, Cities I've Never Lived In from Amazon when I picked up Amy Gustine's fantastic You Should Pity Us Instead , which I read last month, and then I heard some prais ...more
Mar 03, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: started-stopped
I liked some parts, some words, string of words. I felt myself getting lost, getting distracted, things placed in the middle of an empty room I couldn't figure out where they came from, backtracking missing details. Feels like, oh, is this autobiographical? I kind of really liked it not enough to continue on. ...more
Vincent Scarpa
Jul 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I admit to frustration in the beginning of my reading experience, feeling, although Majka's writing was undeniably great, that everything was just a bit thin. The stories didn't feel like stories, quite, and even though I'd done a complete 180 by the end of the collection, I think this still may be the case. Perhaps only "Boy With Finch" reads and moves in the manner we expect of a short story. Majka often enters in odd places, exits abruptly and without resolution. However, taken as a collectio ...more
Jul 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
As I said mid-book: Oh, I'm loving this more than expected. The stories are delicate, almost gossamer, like those five minutes after you wake up from a glorious nap and you're warm and the sun is at the right angle, and everything still has that edge of dreaminess.

And that doesn't change. Majka writes so vibrantly but with such restraint. Everything echoes and aches and you wonder what's real. There's the sense that these stories were pared down lovingly, extraneous detail scraped away until you
Apr 11, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
DNF at 58%

I think I gave this a fair chance - reading 9 out of 14 stories, but safe to say this collection is not for me. The subject matter was boring and mundane, every story was written in the same voice and most of them were flat and instantly forgettable (I found myself struggling to remember what a story was about just minutes after finishing it). Many people love this though, so if you like short stories on lonely people drifting around maybe this will be for you.
Jul 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
My parents very kindly found this for me in the wondrous Strand bookstore in New York, and I was so very excited to begin! This is Majka's debut short story collection, and it is nothing short of brilliant. I was drawn in immediately. Nothing is predictable here, and elements surprise throughout. I adored the way in which each of the narrators and protagonists were so different; they each sprang to life incredibly quickly.

Cities I've Never Lived In is a collection about people; about displacemen
Jan 06, 2016 rated it it was ok
Sorry, but I just couldn't get into these stories. I found them dark and not very engaging. Sometimes stories really speak to you and sometimes they just fall flat with you. This was a case of the latter. It's simply a matter of personal preference and what themes and styles you enjoy reading. This one just didn't jibe with me. ...more
Jill Hahn
Apr 28, 2016 rated it did not like it
This book made me realize that I don't have to finish reading a book just because I started it. I read about half the stories before I decided that it feels inauthentic, I don't believe the characters' motivations, this feels like a writing students pretentious effort to write something tortured and meaningful. ...more
Feb 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I'll read this collection again and again.

Majka writes some of the most beautiful sentences I've ever read. And they add up to stories, too.
Toshi Parmar
Feb 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Interwoven tales of mediocre small-town life. About love and the emptiness from its absence; suburban loneliness; lies and fantasies that could've been truths and reality but we'd never know, neither would the characters. Heartbreaking in essence, primarily because of the naked storytelling and the undefined misery of the characters. Docked a star because of some repetitiveness of setting and plot.
A wonderful read.
Susan Merrell
Feb 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Elegant and unusual, these somewhat-linked short stories do not adhere to any "school" of storytelling; they create their own set of rules, visiting and re-visiting emotional states and situations with a quirky straightforwardness I found compelling in every iteration. The shaping of this world is skillfully done. I admire this book immensely. ...more
Apr 04, 2018 marked it as did-not-finish
The writing style was so incredibly boring. Every sentence was constructed the same way, and there were no feelings, and everything was told and not shown.
The plot was boring and nothing came alive when reading the words. I expected this collection to be something out of the ordinary, and the title and cover totally fooled me into believing that it could be true. It's not.
Mar 20, 2016 rated it liked it
Very odd collection. Enjoyed the writing but think I want more from stories. Probably lots of points I'm missing or connections that I should be making but feel like that would require more thought and commitment than I am inclined to give atm. ...more
Sep 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful prose, poetic and imaginative. Perfectly painting the line between the feeling of memoire and fiction.
Mark Wenz
Jul 21, 2020 rated it liked it
I pulled this book randomly off the shelf at the public library, and it ended up being a decent read. The problem I have with the book is that it smacks of memoir rather than fiction and that the style and tone of each story is identical. Not a lot happens in the stories--the book is basically a chronicling of the narrator’s (author’s?) daily life--and if you can’t relate to the main character, who narrates all 14 stories, then you won’t enjoy the book. The narrator struck me as somebody I would ...more
Feb 20, 2019 rated it it was ok
From my review at

"There's a line in one of the short stories in Sara Majka's collection that, I think, really sums up this whole book. "To her we must be God, I thought, though I wasn't sure what I meant." You get the sense that Sara Majka was writing things that she thought sounded beautiful without ever having a clue what she was saying. There is some absolutely beautiful writing within these short stories but, if I'm honest, I felt that a lot of the content was shallow a
Feb 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Best collection I've read in a long time.

"Once he learned he was beautiful he would become less beautiful."

"It was amazing to me -- one couldn't look at a building in a puddle and not know that it existed, that all of life existed there, only a different life. Where did the second life go, if not further? If there were people inside the building when it was reflected, weren't they reflected as well? Eli bending over the table, screwing in a lens, the man passing him the screwdriver, all the lam
David Dinaburg
Sep 13, 2017 rated it it was ok
Gloom is pervasive from the moment Cities I’ve Never Lived In begins. It is indistinct, in the way that life can be hazy. Ponder the last week as it fades into the derived amalgam of the past. Things were likely quite unremarkable, time passing as it will.

The stories here are all connected, I think. They come from the same narrator—who is the author—until they don’t, unless they aren’t. It can be difficult to tell, hard to focus on center mass. It could be that I am not smart enough, or it coul
Feb 05, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016
This books definitely puts you in a depressed mood. But I find that a good quality of the books that the works and stories can put you the mood and feelings of th characters. This book took me a lot longer than I thought it would because I kept getting distracted. There really isn't much action per se in these stories and the characters are all very lost and don't really know how to deal with their lives. It's a lot of emotion and a difficult book to get through. I do have to say I enjoyed most ...more
Oct 23, 2016 rated it liked it
I know everyone on Goodreads is all googley-eyed over this book, but I can't muster up the adjectives to describe it glowingly. My apologies The short stories seemed scattershot and rambling to me, which may have been the manner intended by the author as a way to convey a certain sense of isolation and restlessness following an uncoupling as it is known in modern parlance, but I felt that the author kept adding non-sequiters that kind of threw me off and made me think of people who constantly in ...more
May 25, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction
This book makes me want to go back to only reading travelogues; what a frustrating and disappointing read. I can see why many people didn't even bother finishing it. It makes it very, very hard to do so. I have no issues with descriptions of the mundane and observations of the everyday and the author does build a very bleak and sad existence/atmosphere throughout but it ends up being utterly self-serving, almost as if trying to say, look at how boring/sad my life is. There are glimpses of truth ...more
John Newton
Dec 30, 2019 rated it liked it
These stories are so quiet, maybe I just wasn't in the right mindset when I read them. I think Majka does a wonderful job of describing spaces and people, and with many stories I felt like she was setting the scene—and then nothing happened. Even in the few stories where things of consequence do unfold, they seem lost in observations of people looking sadly out the window or with melancholy at old photographs, books, and other memorabilia. There were some sentences that stuck with me, mostly one ...more
Dec 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
I generally don't go for short story collections unless they're written by an author I'm absolutely sure of and despite the fact that I had never heard of Sara Majka before reading this collection I fell in love with these stories pretty much immediately. I could not read through them fast enough and when they were done I wished I had more to read. Sara Majka so beautifully touches on what it means to be lost and lonely, how it feels to be out of place, and what it means to lose something you ch ...more
Timothy Schirmer
Mar 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
There were moments while reading this collection when I found myself pausing to more fully savor the small, but darkly pivotal moments in each story. Sara Majka strikes me as a writer who has slowed down and has dipped herself whole into the darkness and the coldness of the world. These stories are like walking through a beautiful fog; a world full of doubles, doppelgangers, unsolvable mysteries. The characters continually explore the sometimes closeness of complete strangers, and also the impos ...more
May 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
I had a little bit of trouble getting into the first story or two. The author's voice, while beautiful and lyrical, is a little jarring and obtuse, as well, and stylistically there is some adjustment in pouring through her brand of familiarity mixed with erudition. But once you get past that, the stories are beautiful and tragic, and the invisible thread resolves itself into an ethereal tie of people trying to move on and find their place in life. I ended up really liking it, may even need to th ...more
Jul 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: kindle
Devoured this, which was a nice change of pace. The author's style of stitching stories across a familiar region with recurring tropes and narrators reminded me a bit of Lucia Berlin's thing. However, I found the sentences here more lovely, haunting, elegant.

But we all want, in some way to be able to record our life, and for some reason lovers do that for each other. Of all things. Of all jobs for them to be given.

Some stories are injected with a bit of magic realism (or maybe just psychosis?);
Nastya Khyzhniak
Nov 16, 2016 rated it liked it
Everything is slipping away: the ferry, the island, the girl, the husband and the book itself. It left me wondering, searching for the deepness. Yes, the language is gentle and touching, but the characters are ghosts who might disappear one you turn away. Some stories were better than the others, but the overall theme of the book is quite weak. Sometimes there is a connection between different stories, sometimes there is none, except for the cities that just pass through and don't invite you to ...more
Mar 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Wonderful, brief collection of short stories that are grounded in personal identity, longing, memory, and sense of place. The stories were all similar to one another but not interconnected. It was a quick read but I felt like taking my time with many of the stories because they were just beautifully written and just complex enough to have some meat on them. Very solid collection without many outliers as there often are in short stories collections.

I seriously love anything Graywolf Press puts ou
Apr 05, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: unfinished
I really wanted to like this book. When I saw the cover I was afraid it might be dark but after skimming the back I decided it might be okay. As I got further along though the darkness really came through, and I'm sorry but I don't need more depression in my life.

I think I gave up after the Museum Assistant. I couldn't quite figure that one out. I really didn't like the story about the man who abandoned his daughter though. That got to me in a bad way. Sorry.

I got this from the library and I'm r
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When she was young, Sara Majka's family moved along the New England coast, living in Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, and small towns in Maine. She received graduate degrees from Umass-Amherst and Bennington College and was awarded a fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Her first book, Cities I've Never Lived In, was published by Graywolf Press / A Public Space in 2016. She lives ...more

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