This Is Not Your City

Caitlin Horrocks

You could summarize this collection as: stories of isolation from the perspective of female characters. While I think the collection could have varied a bit more in overall feeling, Caitlin Horrocks creates some pretty exceptional moments and her characters are distinct. She has a very intuitive perspective that makes for rich stories that feel complete.

The two stories that have stuck with me the longest both involve the isolation of boats at sea. “Going to Estonia” tells of Ursula leaving her village in Northern Finland to go to college in Helsinki, where she meets a good-for-nothing guy named Jukka. From the start, as a reader, you assume only bad things will happen with him, but Ursula believes strongly that in addition to an education, she will find love in Helsinki. An experience on the bus ride to the city feels like a bad omen to her, but she still doesn’t really see the problems with Jukka herself until he invites her to go on a cruise with her to Estonia, which is actually just an overnight ferry that has a duty-free shopping center aboard it. Later “In the Gulf of Aden, Past the Cape of Guardafui” introduces a couple, parents of a disabled boy, who are on a rare vacation, a cruise which is hijacked by pirates. Being trapped in their cabin as the negotiations drag on, the mother writes postcards to her son back home, increasingly blurring the stress of being a hostage with the challenges of being a long-term caretaker.

Horrocks has a novel coming out this year called The Vexations, which is written around the life of composer Erik Satie.