Emma Straub, Other People We Married
A promising collection from a bold new writer
Take Lorrie Moore’s wit and combine with Annie Proulx’s sparseness, add a dash of Maile Meloy’s melancholy, and the result is Emma Straub’s captivating debut collection, Other People We Married. Though it’s a short listen that manages to pack 12 stories into five-and-a-half hours, Straub’s characters are fully realized as smart though oftentimes heartbreakingly vulnerable people in search of true connection.
Opening story “Some People Must Really Fall in Love” sets the tone for the rest of the collection. It concerns a Victorian Literature professor with a crush on her 18-year-old student. Franny Gold, whose recurring appearances in the book portray her first as the object of her Barnard roommate’s affections, and later, one half of a dysfunctional marriage, focuses Straub’s work around the eternal themes of loneliness, loss and unrequited love. In standout piece “Fly-Over State,” Sophie and James move from New York to Madison, Wisconsin, only to find there’s too much space, and too much has been forgotten. Sophie, in a line that sounds like it might have been written by Emily Dickinson, thinks about “how each time you moved, you left behind more and more: the antique furniture; the soft, faded T-shirts; the garbage and then the garbage cans themselves, until maybe one day you were left with only what you could carry on your back, and what was packed inside your own skin.”
While the Siri-esque quality of Collen Marlo’s narration can occasionally offset the humanity of the characters in OPWM, it can’t hide them completely. It’s a beautiful and promising collection by a bold new American writer.