CITIES I'VE NEVER LIVED IN by Sara Majka

CITIES I'VE NEVER LIVED IN

Stories
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A clutch of delicate stories, for the most part set in Maine but generally occupied by more cerebral concerns about distance and disconnection.

In the title story of Majka’s debut collection, the artist narrator decides to bail on a relationship and instead travel the United States to tour soup kitchens. Perhaps needless to say, it’s a glum grand tour: from Buffalo to Detroit to Cleveland and then parts further west, she wrestles with the question of “what was effective art about the hungry or homeless,” paralleled by her own loneliness. The other 13 stories are defined by similar emotional brittleness among its female protagonists. The narrator of “Nashua” sinks into a relationship with a heavy drinker; in “White Heart Bar,” a declining marriage is paired with the narrator’s contemplation of a missing girl; a child who went missing from a church’s day care weighs heavily on the mind of the narrator of “Travelers.” These could be the same fragile women from story to story, the same lost girls, the same despairing bars in Maine, or different ones (the narrators are typically nameless). Regardless, the emotional pitch remains the same—brittle, hurt but plainspoken, unassuming or airy prose. To her credit, Majka has a talent for striking observation. “Four Hills” opens with a brilliant line: “He had the sort of face that made me check for a ring.” And “Saint Andrews Hotel” has this somber note: “We fall out of love only to fall in love with a duplicate of what we’ve left, never understanding that we love what we love and that it doesn’t change.” Such gemlike sentences come with trade-offs, though. There’s little sense of forward movement, and though Majka doesn't rely on tidy endings, avoiding closure for the sake of contemplation makes these stories relatively inert.

A stylist to watch but one needing a broader palette of conflicts.

Pub Date: Feb. 16th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-55597-731-3
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Graywolf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2015




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