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Other People We Married by Emma Straub

So it’s official: I’m sick of short story collections. This was another book club selection, and while I didn’t dislike it, I’m so fed up with short story collections that I have to really work at reviewing it objectively. Here we go—let’s see if I can do it.

Emma Straub is apparently an Internet blogstar? I don’t know, my friend who picked Other People We Married as her book club selection said that she is, so we’ll trust her on that. It seems plausible! Anyway, aside from blogging and Twittering, she published this collection of short stories called Other People We Married. It has a great cover and was very poorly copyedited. I read it a while ago, so I don’t remember a lot of the particulars, but here’s what I do remember: All of the short stories are varying degrees of fine, but there is one that, as I was reading it, caused me to think over and over again, “This should be a novel. It should be five times the length and just be a novel.”

That story is called “Abraham’s Enchanted Forest”, and it’s about a teenage girl who lives and works in this weird amusement park her parents own. Her father (Abraham) is this larger-than-life character who leaps out of the page and paces around your living room while you read. His daughter, Greta, feels trapped in her small, strange, lonely (not-so-enchanted) life, even though she loves her parents and, to an extent, the park that forms her cage. One day, a young man and his friend visit the park, and over the course of an evening Greta has resolved to leave everything behind and run away with him.

Actually, I was just re-reading the last few pages of “Abraham’s Enchanted Forest”, and now I’m not so sure that she actually left. She’s standing with the boy who’s about to take her away, watching her father perform, for an audience, Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”, and the last line of the story is: “There would be better times to go.” So does she leave? I don’t know! I thought she did. I thought I knew what the story was saying and now I’m not quite sure.

But what I am sure of is that it ought to be a novel, and it ought to be a YA novel, and it would be great. As it is, it’s the best short story in the collection and the only one I can recall without looking at the table of contents. I guess the only other thing I have to say is that a lot of the short stories seem like they might have an element of autobiography to them, but don’t all stories, short and long, written and acted and sung?

To answer my own question: Yes.

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