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A Guide to Being Born: Stories Hardcover – May 2, 2013
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In 11 short stories put seemingly arbitrarily into the categories birth, gestation, conception, and love, Ausubel probes major events and turning points in life and beyond. Ausubel’s world tends toward the fantastic, as when she posits the human body responding bizarrely to emotion. In “Chest of Drawers,” a husband’s upper body reacts physically to the emptiness he feels during his wife’s pregnancy, and in “Tributaries,” love causes people to grow arms or at least hands; one woman’s upper torso is covered with such appendages, which undulate beneath her clothing. The shortest story, “The Ages,” is also among the most moving; a young couple take time from sex to watch the older people in their community, where “power walking still waited ahead in a future that the unretired hoped would also include polished golf clubs and visits to only the most comfortable of foreign nations.” Author of the acclaimed No One Is Here Except All of Us (2012), Ausubel is a master stylist of vibrant, concise prose, and these stories, with love most often at their cores, can be appreciated for that alone. --Michele Leber
"Each story in this collection finds a way to record the tensions between the corporeal and the invisible, the forces that animate us but ultimately can’t be dissected, our anti-anatomies. The dismay of coming to the final page is easily combated by following the example of Ausubel’s characters and beginning all over again."—The New York Times Book Review
“Aggressively imaginative.”—The New York Times
"Lyrical stories arranged around themes of birth, gestation, conception and love. . . . Ausubel has a gift of language so rich that even the most mundane events are invested with poetry, and many of her characters are in need of all the poetry they can muster."—Kirkus
"Ausubel is a master stylist of vibrant, concise prose, and these stories, with love most often at their cores, can be appreciated for that alone."—Booklist
"These stories reminded me of branches full of cherry blossoms: fresh, delicate, beautiful, expressive, otherworldly. I eagerly read from one story to the next."—Aimee Bender
Top customer reviews
One of my favorites is the first story, the one I often see cited by reviews. Several grandmothers find themselves on a ship with no memory or knowledge of how they came to be there. Some of them make small talk and some take assertive steps to find a solution. I love that they are always called the grandmothers, and I love Alice, the one who submerges herself in the experience. Early one she suspects she has died.
Another deep favorite is the last story in which people grow love arms. When they love someone, an arm grows. It cannot be willed. It will not respond to lust. Young girls dream of their love arms. The iterations and combinations of a love being on clear display are stunning.
And then I find I really liked the story where a consortium of well known academics gather to hear from a Nobel Laureate who does not come. So the evening starts with each one speaking to their own obsessions and evolves to the point that people add their personal obsessions. Our hero, who has lost his wife ponders the most difficult questions of grief, but not out loud. "Is it braver to allow the sadness of your leaving to spread into each of my bones until it is as big as you were to me? Or it it braver to let you drift out nto what may very well be a brighter, finer place than this and happy to think of your joy there?"
This is the "it" book of the literary journals right now, and they are often a drag. But this book is entitled to its place of admiration and well worth reading. Just let some of your rational mind rest for a while and wander where the spirit may be seen.
I'm certain the characters Ausubel has crafted exist somewhere, trying their best to make sense of life. You won't forget these characters. You won't forget these stories.