An inventive story collection that spans the globe as it explores love, childhood, and parenthood with an electric mix of humor and emotion.
Acclaimed for the grace, wit, and magic of her novels, Ramona Ausubel introduces us to a geography both fantastic and familiar in eleven new stories, some of them previously published in The New Yorker and The Paris Review. Elegantly structured, these stories span the globe and beyond, from small-town America and sunny Caribbean islands to the Arctic Ocean and the very gates of Heaven itself. And though some of the stories are steeped in mythology, they remain grounded in universal experiences: loss of identity, leaving home, parenthood, joy, and longing.
Crisscrossing the pages of Awayland are travelers and expats, shadows and ghosts. A girl watches as her homesick mother slowly dissolves into literal mist. The mayor of a small Midwestern town offers a strange prize, for stranger reasons, to the parents of any baby born on Lenin's birthday. A chef bound for Mars begins an even more treacherous journey much closer to home. And a lonely heart searches for love online--never mind that he's a Cyclops.
With her signature tenderness, Ramona Ausubel applies a mapmaker's eye to landscapes both real and imagined, all the while providing a keen guide to the wild, uncharted terrain of the human heart.
Ramona Ausubel is the author of a new novel, Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty (on sale 6/14/2016) as well as No One is Here Except All of Us, winner of the PEN Center USA Literary Award for Fiction, the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award and Finalist for the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award. Her collection of stories, A Guide to Being Born, was a New York Times’ Notable Book. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Tin House, The Paris Review Daily, One Story, Ploughshares, The Oxford American and The Best American Fantasy. She is a faculty member of the low-residency MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
I love the way this author writes, her turns of phrase, and how she inserted social and political issues into these stories, and did so seamlessly. These stories are clever, imaginative, and all surprising. Divided into four sections, each section stressing an emotion, and from the title it would be correct to assume each of these stories deal with characters who want to go away. Some on a trip, some from their lives, some from expectations and sameness, and in one story, Fresh water from the sea, a daughter returns to the sight of her mother physically vanishing day by day, fading a little more each time.
Their are insightful comments, criticism which the author does not shy away from making. Metaphors abound and none seem out of place. The less said about these stories the better I think so that each reader will have their own surprise when they start reading. This is the kind of book, the type of stories that I believe can be read again and again, and each time the reader will think, discover or feel something new, different.
Just one little warning, if you plan to register with a dating service, be aware that you may find yourself dating a cyclops.
“Tragedy lends authority, especially with teenagers. There was a whole hierarchy: divorce, absent father, physical abuse, sexual abuse, dead father, dead mother, and then, at the top: dead both. It was the rarest loss, the most terrible, and the sufferer was like a precious gem, pressed by unthinkable forces into shimmering sadness, shimmering beauty.”
Awayland is a collection of 11 quirky short stories on love, loss and memory, on family and relationships, on the female body, pregnancy and motherhood. I haven’t read A Guide to Being Born, but, from the title, I would guess that pregnancy and motherhood are recurring themes in Ausubel’s prose. I was expecting a lot more weirdness, for some reason, after opening with Cyclops creating a dating profile in “You Can Find Love Now,” and then following with “Fresh Water from the Sea,” which, albeit a bit clichéd, I found quite endearing.
The rest of the stories are a somewhat whimsical commentary on various aspects of our contemporary lives, but the obsession of her impersonal female characters with pregnancy and their yearning for children was something I couldn’t connect with. Consequently, halfway through the book, the novelty of her fanciful creations wears off and my thoughts would often wonder, which almost never happens. Then, I encounter sentences like, “The morning arrives. Monday. It came after Sunday and before the Tuesday, and that should not have been a surprise.” or “It’s good to be a man when there’s a woman around.” and I just…
Maybe this was not my kind of weird and whimsy and, while I can appreciate the way everything comes together in this collection, I found all those meandering descriptions and meta-fictional tidbits distracting. I mean… “Is there some through line, a theme, they do not understand?” Ausubel seems to think we won’t get it…
Bay of Hungers “You Can Find Love Now” 3 stars “Fresh Water from the Sea” 5 stars “Template for a Proclamation to Save the Species” 2 stars
The Cape of Persistent Hope “Mother Land” 2 stars “Departure Lounge” 2 stars “Remedy” 2 stars
I have been super in the mood for short stories and decided to start with a collection I was sure I would enjoy. Ramona Ausubel’s first collection was one of my favourite books of last year – there is just something about her brand of dark and twisted but whimsy and fantastical short stories that really works for me. And for the first three stories, I was in love and sure this would be another 5 star collection – but I didn’t love many of the stories that came after.
When Ausubel’s stories work for me, they are exactly in my sweet spot for short stories: dark and mean and filled with allusions to mythology; stories that deal with motherhood and being a daughter; they are challenging without being inaccessible; lyrical without being overly wordy. My absolute favourite story of this collection was “Fresh Water from the Sea” – both an exploration of the distinct feeling of returning to a country one has emigrated from and an exploration of the complicated relationship between a mother and one of her daughters influenced by this emigration. On the other hand, when they don’t work for me I find them vague and the weirdness off-putting; I also start to stumble over her sentence structure that I loved in other stories. In the story “Club Zeus” all the things I loved about the very first story of the collection (“You Can Find Love Now” about a cyclops setting up a profile on a dating app) – whimsical but dark allusions to mythology – really rubbed me the wrong way. I could just not get on board with the story at all.
Content warning: suicide, death, incest, pedophilia, in one story a woman has this idea of getting a doctor to surgically attach her hand to her husband’s arm and vice versa
You can find this review and other thoughts on books on my blog
I think readers will either love or hate these stories - it's a shame I fall into the latter group. Ramona Ausubel's quirky stories are full of magical realism and whimsy, but were ultimately almost all forgettable for this reader.
I liked A Guide to Being Born well enough, but this collection I truly and completely loved. If you like Karen Russell, you'll probably dig these, too.
The stories are all wonderfully imagined. In looking for a theme to tie them together, I noticed that many of the stories are about feeling like you don't belong, anywhere.
The author has a deft hand with metaphor and the stories are soaked in it. Ausbel understands the interior voice, the one that feels changes before the rest of the senses catch up to the idea that a place, person, or posession, can easily lose their shine, and contribute to more of a matte-finish dull environment.
There's a touching poignancy to these stories: people who feel rejected, ignored, unloved, abandoned, or invisible. It's an effective exploration of all of these heartache-inducing themes.
The conclusion I reached by the end of the book is that since life is ridiculously absurd, and the big questions about creation, life, and our mortality are in the main, unanswerable, perhaps we ought to ride the wave a bit better, step lighter, and not spend such an inordinate amount of time and energy trying to make our mark, to plant each footfall down so forcefully upon this crazy world.
There is only so much quirkiness and whimsy that I can take before a book begins to test the waters with my patience and interest. There is also only so much of both that a book can have for the sake of having them before the effect begins to wear off and the shortcomings become apparent. That is how I felt about "Awayland" - while the first story "You Can Find Love Now" was short and quirky, albeit a little cliche, I gradually found it harder to enjoy and dive into the stories that came after it.
"Template for a Proclamation to Save the Species" and "The Animal Mummies Wish to Thank the Following" were the only two I truly like, which I thought managed to use the quirkiness as both an attack and defense mechanism in a way that I thought was successful. I had issues with almost all the rest of the stories: I was very uncomfortable with the fact that the male protagonist in "Mother Land" was just called the African; I had an issue with how "Departure Lounge" just couldn't seem to wrap its head around the fact that yes, different people want different things in life, whether that's to leave everything behind and go to Mars or to stay here on Earth, so what's REALLY the point of being catty and snarky about it; I loathed "Remedy", which I thought was naive and also had a rather disturbing premise, and Summer's "I'm chronically sick because I am dying" really didn't work for me; "Do Not Save the Ferocious, Save the Tender" also made me very uncomfortable because of the role the female characters had in the story.
Sentences like "The morning arrives. Monday. It came after Sunday and before the Tuesday, and that should not have been a surprise" (p. 140) sprouted like wild mushrooms on the pages of "Awayland". They weren't so much examples of bad writing as they were of what kind of writing becomes annoying when it becomes a gimmick, just like extraneous details like the mango tree that was fertile with fruit or other such images felt very jarring because they attempted to be edgy and appeal to the reader but had the opposite result for me.
I hoped for something more when I picked up "Awayland". I didn't think I would encounter such generic stories where I didn't care about the characters, didn't share their fear or loss, where the two stories that I liked only appealed to me because of how well they set up the tone and used humor to craft a commentary on contemporary life. I wasn't blown away by Ausubel's skill or truly believe in any of the tensions she tried to create. I was left trying to navigate a rather flat world of words in which generic cliches about dying and disappearing were rampant to the point of being boring.
‘Tragedy lends authority, especially with teenagers. There was a whole hierarchy: divorce, absent father, physical abuse, sexual abuse, dead father, dead mother, and then, at the top: dead both. It was the rarest loss, the most terrible, and the sufferer was like a precious gem, pressed by unthinkable forces into shimmering sadness, shimmering beauty.’
Ramona Ausubel’s newest collection of stories in Awayland, published on March 6th 2018, lends itself to be wholly original, whimsical, inventive and endearing. This is my second brush with the author's work having read and enjoyed her other collection, ‘A Guide to Being Born’ and I do think this is a stronger collection on the whole. Of course, there is the factor of recency to consider, however I did feel a majority of the stories were more fully realised in this collection compared to her previous.
The underlying thread that holds this collection together is the feeling of isolation and loneliness. Not in a depressing way, but in a rather melancholic, everyday, yet elusively off-beat way. What I really find commendable is that though there is an existing theme, every story feels so titular in its standing. The setting for each story is so widely diverse, ranging from Beirut, to small town America to the Caribbean islands, to Africa and even one in a simulated environment of Mars. Most of the stories felt realistic with a tinge of the otherworldly, fantastical in the most unexpected ways.
As is common in most collections, they were few stories that fell through the cracks for me, but the ones I enjoyed, I truly loved! Her writing style is so imaginative without being overwrought. My favourites from this collection were Fresh Water from the Sea, Template for a Proclamation to Save the Species, Remedy & The Animal Mummies Wish to Thank the Following.
Basics: 11 stories, grouped under 4 mythical locales
Settings: California, Beirut, Africa, Turkey, a museum, an unnamed island
Themes: motherhood, loss, travel
Links: Greek myths (opener “You Can Find Love Now” is the Cyclops’ online dating profile); the sister in #2 is the main character in #4
Stand-out: “Template for a Proclamation to Save the Species” (the mayor of a Minnesota town, concerned about underpopulation, offers a car to the first mother to give birth on a date 9 months in the future)
Similar authors: Aimee Bender, Lydia Millet
Aside: I’d want to read her novels just for the titles: No One Is Here Except All of Us and Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty
Awayland is a collection of short stories of love, loss, family, inspiration, and longing. Hopping around globally and even otherworldly, this compilation is just the right amount of ying for my yang of late. I especially loved the story called Remedy. The thing I love most about short stories is that you get a great deal of bang for your buck.
Ramona Ausubel is one of my absolute favourite authors, but her work has proven to be rather difficult to find in the United Kingdom. When I spotted a copy of her newest publication, a short story collection entitled Awayland, for an affordable price on AbeBooks, I just had to order it. This gorgeously designed paperback has been well received, with the San Francisco Chronicle, for instance, writing that it 'astounds for its daring visionary scope and compassion.'
Eleven tales make up Awayland, and these have been subsequently split up into different sections, something which feels rather rare in the form of a short story collection. They introduce us, says the blurb, 'to a geography both fantastic and familiar', and to the 'tangle and thump of her characters' inner worlds and emotional truths'.
The first rather humorous story in the collection, 'You Can Find Love Now', takes us through the dating profile of a Cyclops; he calls himself Cyclops15 online, as 'Cyclops 1 through 14 were taken'. In 'Freshwater from the Sea', a woman in Lebanon is nearing the end of her life, and is beginning to disappear. Ausubel writes: 'Where she had once been a precise oil painting, now she was a watercolor.' Her state is continually changing, and as we near the end of the story, her daughter observes: 'She looked more and more like weather, like a brewing storm.'
'Template for a Proclamation to Save the Species' is set in the 'shittiness' of a town in northern Minnesota, where the residents are failing to reproduce. The narrator of the story observes: 'It is as if their lives are so boring, so deeply muddy that it hardly even occurs to two people with enough feeling to create anything other than a disappointed sigh.' The town's mayor puts into place a 'designated sex day', which culminates in the prize of a free car for whichever couple gives birth first on a chosen date.
'Departure Lounge' is a story about a group of astronauts, in training in a remote part of Hawaii: 'We lived in a bubble on a crater on a mountain on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, but where we imagined we lived was Mars.' The chef of the group, who narrates the story, later reveals her loneliness, and her sadness at the way in which her own plans have been put on hold in order to take part in the experiment: 'I would be a good mother. I would be generous and interested in all the side-roads of childhood - superheroes and princesses and dinosaurs and bugs and minor weaponry and animal rights. I would mean it, if only someone would join me in my little life.'
There is much in Awayland about bodies changing, both in terms of ageing, and from flesh into other states. Many of the stories contain pregnancy, and what it means to move into the state of motherhood. Ausubel also reflects at length on what it means to confront one's own mortality. Throughout, Ausubel's prose is layered, and unusual. In 'Remedy', for instance, protagonist Summer is described as 'the smell of fire and the smell of pine forest and the smell of a storm'.
I find Ausubel's work wondrously inventive, but I must admit that Awayland is my least favourite of her publications to date. Whilst there are undoubtedly some great and original ideas to be found here, I did not feel as though the sense of creativity and imagination which normally suffuses her stories was as strong as it perhaps could have been. The tales are not as memorable as I was expecting, either.
There is whimsy here, something which Ausubel usually excels with, but this sometimes feels a little overshadowed by other elements. There is also a great deal less magical realism than can be found in earlier stories and novels. Regardless, Ausubel definitely deserves a great deal more attention, and I wholeheartedly look forward to her next book - whatever that may be.
I waited to read another book by Ausubel because I was afraid this would happen. No One Is Here Except for All of Us was such a beautiful and powerful story, a full world of sadness, joy, fear, fight, love, and loss. After reading it I looked at Ausubel's other work and didn't feel drawn to it. The subject matter seemed much lighter, almost vapid in some cases. The reviews were lackluster. But I did finally pick this one up because it felt downright irresponsible not to give such the author another try after loving her first novel so much.
These stories just felt a bit. . . empty. The characters were concerned mostly with trivial matters, the weird/magical/surreal elements felt bland somehow, and while the writing crackled with life sometimes it didn't leave a lasting impression or mood in most of the stories. For all of that I might say 2.5 or 3 stars.
But there were these small details that caught me off guard and made me feel skeptical of the author's position. Several of the characters in these stories were subtly racist (full of "micro aggressions" you could say). Many took place in "Africa" or pristine foreign islands. I kept waiting to find the commentary hidden within, the critique of white, upper-middle-class people having their voyeuristic vacations in "wild" lands. But it never came and I began to wonder if this was just the perspective of the author, her own gaze, the way she sees and experiences the world.
Needless to say, I was disappointed with Awayland. Maybe one day she'll write another masterpiece, or maybe she's one of the many authors out there who have just one good novel stored up in there, a novel written from a deep place of ancestors and historical trauma and love and grief, and that's it. One is enough. Maybe more than enough. But still I'm greedy for another.
Ausubel is wonderfully imaginative in these remarkable strange stories. Her writing is such a pleasure - fresh, economical, unexpected, beautiful. There's a lightness to these tales even when the subjects are dark, but it's a lightness that's also luminous. There's not much more I care to say beyond the fact that I loved reading this collection of gems.
3.5 stars. I always enjoy reading Ausubel. She is an imaginative writer who blurs the lines between reality and the fantastical. Her writing often feels otherworldly and can be quite strange, but I always find it to be beautiful and often quite emotionally affecting. The eleven stories in this melancholy collection are loosely connected by themes of loneliness, grief, and longing. Like most short story collections, I found it to be a little uneven, a combination of stories that I loved and a few that I didn’t care for, but the ones that I loved, I REALLY loved.
“What she means is that I am on my own. What she means is that tragedy is also currency. That enlightenment depends on grief. That love grows in soil that has been tilled.”
4.5/5 Fantastic read; quick witted and sharp short stories which are fantastical yet extremely grounded in everyday emotions. For fans of modern fairy tales and dark humour. I can’t wait to pick up another one of this author’s works!
2.5 stars. I really enjoyed her previous collection, A Guide to Being Born, and was looking forward to reading this, unfortunately I did not connect as much to this one as the other one. There was something almost... unsettling about some of the stories, in ways I can't quite pinpoint. Not necessarily a bad thing, mind, but it was an uncomfortable sort of unsettling, vague spikes of existential anxiety--perhaps for the recurring themes of dying, of loss, but in a way that didn't quite enchant me, or moved me, or didn't get under my skin. There is something also about so many impersonal characters (the woman, the man, the daughter, instead of names) that I think is supposed to feel universal but instead just leaves me kind of disconnected and uncaring instead. There was something beautiful in the language, but I couldn't quite let myself be moved by it.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed:
You Can't Find Love Now Departure Lounge Club Zeus The Animal Mummies Wish to Thank the Following Do No Save the Ferocious, Save the Tender
I really enjoyed these short stories. They were intense and a little dicey but so different in tone and topic both. My favorites were "You Can Find Love Now" and "The Animal Mummies Wish to Thank the Following."
"They were alive and together and God, whichever god was theirs, had shaken this day out like a crisp sheet for them to lie down on."
"High school showed up and she started smoking and watched every meteor shower for four years."
"The problem is not her affliction, which is painless and possible to remedy. The problem is that her body was once a house where her daughter lived. The problem is that the two of them lived there together."
"Will they become crocodiles or hens? Surely, when the egg mummies finally crack, it will be a god who has broken them."
You Can Find Love Now (⭐️⭐️⭐️) Fresh Water From the Sea (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️) Template for a proclamation to save this species (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️) Mother-land (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️) Departure Lounge (⭐️⭐️) Remedy (⭐️⭐️⭐️.75) Club Zeus (⭐️⭐️.5) High Desert (⭐️⭐️⭐️.5) Heaven (⭐️⭐️) The animal mummies wish to thank the following (⭐️⭐️⭐️) Do not save the ferocious, save the tender (⭐️⭐️⭐️.5)
Awayland is a collection of 11 stories all centered around travel and geography with magical realism woven in. I enjoyed most of these from a creative stand point, but there were really only a few that stood out to me as really good! None unfortunately blew me away.
The fantastical and mundane meet and meld in Ramona Ausubel's short collection, Awayland. These are certainly my kind of stories—a Cyclops searches for love online, a mermaid washes ashore an island bearing three shipwrecked men, a real estate listing for a house halfway between heaven and hell—ones steeped in the strange and mythological, playful, and unpretentious.
Publishers Weekly claimed these stories are for "fans of Kelly Link [and] Karen Russell," and I am inclined to agree. Honestly, I can think of no better compliment.
Short story collections are usually hit or miss for me. I found this book at Dollar Tree and was instantly intrigued by its description. Anything melancholy, quirky, weird and wonderful is speaking to my own heart. I enjoyed every story in this collection and have to say that the descriptive terms held true. Themes of love and loss and death and life abound in this collection. They are truly magical and have the ability to transport you from every day life to the beautifully imagined.
Leider nicht "meins" in der Gesamtschau; nur eine der Kurzgeschichten "Fresh Water from the sea" hat mich bewegt und Erinnerungen wachgerufen, zu den übrigen habe ich schwerer bis keinen Zugang gefunden.
I'm not a short story lover - so these may have been wasted on me! They were mythical, with a touch of magical realism, some felt profound, some humorous, some a little silly. Bundles of symbolism, loosely into connected and all provoking a sense of connect / disconnect to place. They were interesting, but they didn't convert me!