The stories in Sara Majka’s debut repertoire Cities i’ve Never stayed in are connected by a typical narrator named Anna who recollects the years the follow she painful divorce. For the most part, the stories take location in coastal Maine and also center on characters like Anna who are at loosened ends and struggling come cobble with each other a minimal existence. Some of the story recall Anna’s childhood; others take place during her marriage. Others execute not involve Anna at all, and instead Anna recounts the stories of world she knows—like Majka, Anna is a writer. Over there is an admirable stoicism and also wry humor in the way these personalities see your lives. “Don’t talk too much,” one guy remembers his mommy telling him, “If you continue to be quiet, people will assume complexity.”

Yet to describe this publication as a arsenal of connected stories showing the lonely and difficult lives the disappointed personalities does it a disservice by making the sound favor something you’ve currently read, as soon as in fact, Majka’s voice and world space wholly her own. A actual feeling of warmth and nostalgia lifts these stories above the ordinary. There is likewise a gentle streak of magic. In probably my favorite story, “Saint andrews Hotel,” a boy is sent out to a mental institution top top the mainland, only to find, as soon as it comes time come return home, the the island he is from has disappeared. In “Boy v Finch,” Anna’s childhood friendship with a boy named Eli Cotter is defined simply and realistically, before, through a single wonderful observation, the story becomes something else. Leaving an antiques shop, Anna stops in former of a puddle “to find the building reflected there”:

Light skimmed end it, and also it wavered in the wind. It was remarkable to me—one couldn’t look in ~ a building in a puddle and not recognize that that existed, that all of life existed there, only a different life. Whereby did the 2nd life go, if no further? If over there were people inside the building when it was reflected, weren’t they reflected as well?

This idea of doubling, that “reality can contempt altered, leave traces that another,” shows up throughout the book. “I was trying to explain another world,” Majka writes in “Boston,” the final story in the collection, “one i had constantly wanted come find. . . . Some light—the light at the end of the day, the way it hit the pigeons that flew around the steeple, the means it hit the sides of the building—that irradiate felt like entrances to one more world.”

In “Boy v Finch,” one attic door leads to a shop where a various version the the human being seems to be preserved. The is never ever quite clear; the fantastical elements are never totally resolved, a decision I discovered both frustrating and beguiling. I’ve never ever read a story quite prefer “Boy v Finch,” where the possibility of the wonderful is introduced and also then for this reason offhandedly glossed. Anna’s preoccupation v doubles and doppelgangers, v the dead, the disappeared, and the abandoned, gives a feeling of unease, an atmosphere of the uncanny. Majka’s pass out may additionally hint at a darker emotional current, a ide of mental disease that operation throughout the collection.

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“I wasn’t well in the method that I would be numerous years later, and also the wave of the strength lines in the midday sun appeared alive to me,” Anna tells united state in the opening story, “Reveron’s Dolls,” which features a visit to an exhibition by the “mentally ill, more than likely schizophrenic” artist Armando Reveron. “Boy v Finch” ends v Anna’s mommy taking her to a mental health and wellness clinic: “She knew among the doctors and wanted me examined.”

Even the much more strictly reality stories are distinctly dreamlike. An additional favorite of mine, “Miniatures,” starts with a description of a store complete of knickknacks where Anna finds a collection of miniature books. “The publications reminded me the something ns hadn’t assumed of because that years,” Anna speak us. “Once, when I was little, my father carried home an antique dollhouse.” turning on a sentence, we move ago in time to Anna’s childhood. Anna remembers she father’s slim hands, “red in ~ the knuckles and along the webbing between his fingers”—and from here we peel back yet one more layer of memory. This time the transition comes with dialogue: “Well now,” Anna’s dad asks, inspecting the dollhouse, “do you think the blackberries room ripe yet?” unexpectedly we space picking berry on the beach through Anna and also her family, and also then, in the following moment, top top the ferry to the mainland to offer the dollhouse. Every one of this occurs in three quick paragraphs the compress imagery and also description right into vivid flashes that offer an intimate feeling of character: Anna tells us that she mother, while dressing her, “pinched she mouth in anytime she did laces or buttons.” The next paragraph swerves in a brand-new direction: “On the mainland, we checked out my grandfather’s. . . . Possibly it was then the my dad left—it was hard to know for sure.” Anna and also her brother Stuart then stay for number of months in their grandparents’ farmhouse, whereby Majka transitions deftly into yet one more scene:

In the library, rotate the pages that a book about France . . . I think it to be his means of saying what was happening come us—being left there—would just be one occasion in our life. That life would be many events; this was simply one, and also going come France could be another. He gripped mine shoulder together if ns were a bread of bread, tried a various grip, then gave up altogether. Her father, that said, however then he no continue.

“There were flowers everywhere,” the following paragraph begins, and yet another memory has actually commenced, that Anna and Stuart in a field of flowers. The stories proceed choose this, revealing layer after ~ layer; “Miniatures” covers all of this soil in a mere 5 pages. Majka excels at moving lightly v time, restlessly backward and also forward, memory of Alice Munro, both in just how her story unfold and in the thematic region she explores: loneliness, loss, absence, abandonment. Very couple of of the stories room told in a linear way, along a classic narrative arc. Rather they drift choose daydreams indigenous one minute to the next, developing a tapestry of storage that offers them the top quality of recollection, of said story. W. G. Sebald is never mentioned, but Robert Walser is, and an “old version of a cutting board Bernhard novel” renders an appearance. These impacts are feeling strongly—in particular Sebald (although Majka is less grave and also scholarly)—not just in the free-flowing narration, where every little thing is framed and also refracted through memory and also meager “plot,” yet in just how Majka deliberately straddles the line between fact and also fiction. Though Majka names she narrator Anna, she appears to court autobiographical comparison, and, in an unforeseen move, the title story is a item of nonfiction in which Sara (in this case) travels to assorted soup kitchens in heartland cities, talk to the poor and homeless.

But the is Majka’s obsession with lack that most recalls Sebald. Anna rarely mentions her father, but his absence haunts the collection. A small girl is kidnapped indigenous an apartment, and Anna starts to imagine children as “souls in a hall, waiting for someone to open the door so they can pass through.” Anna muses: “I felt the lose of the child—perhaps together a representation, the the little girl mine father had actually left, of the little girl I had actually never to be able to become, of the little girl I want to have.” In another story, Anna tries come reimagine the last night of a “lost girl” who disappeared turn off the finish of a pier. Elsewhere, a man does not identify his youngsters in a photograph; an artist whose wife has actually abandoned him in turn imagines abandoning his young daughter because he cannot “handle the intimacy of gift alone with her.” Anna, functioning as a museum assistant, city hall an old defense tape and recognizes a girl that looks favor herself approaching a male who may or might not be her father. Time and also again, Majka attempts to recognize the absence at the center of her narrator’s life—a task that she knows she will never ever complete, as she notes movingly: “How strange we are. How different we room from exactly how we think we are. We autumn out of love only to fall in love v a duplicate that what we’ve left, never understanding that us love what us love and also that it no change.” Majka’s story wander v a maze that memory and also recollection, lot as Anna wanders in between the homes and apartments that friends and also acquaintances. Her personalities are lonely; plenty of of them struggle to discover work; lock live difficult, itinerant existences. Certainty is tough to come by, and also that, to my mind, is precisely what renders this arsenal so good.

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Matthew Oglesby is from Tallahassee. The loves reading, running, and least of all, writing. He right now lives and works as an editor in Washington, DC.