Thursday, May 5, 2016


Caitlin Horrocks
Sarabande Books

Ms. Hen stumbled upon this book by accident. She had no idea what this slim volume would be like, but the book ended up dazzling her. She does not want to say that she is stalking the author, so she will not say such a thing. Ms. Hen is a hen of discretion, and will not answer any incriminating questions.

This collection is composed completely of stories about women. Ms. Hen realized as she read the book that the ages of the characters get progressively older as the book goes on. The first story, “Zolaria,” is about a ten-year old girl, and the last story, “In the Gulf of Aden, Past the Gulf of Guadarfi,” is about a woman about fifty years old.

The stories in this book are strange, but some of them are strange in an ordinary way, such as “Steal Small,” about a couple who looks for dogs to sell to make a little extra money. In the story, Lyssa and Leo live together with a dog kennel in the back of the house. Lyssa works at the Goodwill and Leo works at a slaughterhouse killing cows all day. Ms. Hen didn’t like their world, but she understands that people can live like this. Leo finds dogs to sell to a friend, who in turn sells them to laboratories for experiments. Lyssa pities a beautiful Dalmation and almost sets the dog free. This story is visceral in a way that brought Ms. Hen into their lives. Some people do things that others could not imagine doing, but they do those things because they don’t know how to survive any other way.

The story “Embodied,” is about someone who seems completely normal, but is not because she believes she has lived 127 lives. She sees people all over the town where she lives that she used to know in her past lives. Ms. Hen loved this story. She doesn’t believe in past lives, but it’s fun to imagine we could have been someone else in a different life. She’s not sure if the character is crazy, or if she truly has had all those lives, but for the purpose of the story, the reader has to believe that the character is telling the truth. The lengths to which the woman goes to fulfill her duty to her former selves shocked Ms. Hen, and she knew the character is serious about her former lives, and probably isn’t crazy.

Ms. Hen likes to assume that everyone is crazy sometimes, or they have been crazy, or will go crazy, but sometimes that is not true.

The characters in this collection all seem to be sane to Ms. Hen. In the title story, “This is Not Your City,” Daria, a Russian woman, deals with the disappearance of her daughter. She lives in Finland, and her Finnish is minimal. She is a tortured Russian soul; she offered herself on a dating website to find a Finnish husband, and brought her teenage daughter, Nika, with her when she got married. The daughter does not do as well at school as she did in Russia, mostly because of her language skills. This is a story about a woman who survives; she wants to help her daughter flourish in the world. She teaches her daughter that sometimes the honest way isn’t always the best road to travel.

Ms. Hen loved this book. The stories are short, but engrossing, and Ms. Hen found from these stories that even what seems like an ordinary life can be extraordinary in its own way. Ms. Hen realized from reading THIS IS NOT YOUR CITY that some people have astounding survival skills, and Ms. Hen would like to think that she would be up to the challenge if the time comes. This book took Ms. Hen’s breath away.

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