This collection ranges from thought-provoking to downright disturbing and bizarre. A Guide to Being Born is an interesting collection of stories bound together by important moments in life: love, pregnancy, parenthood, and aging. Ausubel’s stories dip into magical and fantastic. Her characters seem to be given a special lens in which to view life and the events around them. The stories are well written. The presentation/categorization of the stories leaves a little to be desired. The collection contains eleven stories, broken into four categories: Birth, Gestation, Conception and Love.
In the Birth section, the stories had magical elements, but the emotions seemed truer to me than in any other section. The stories were touching and viewed familiar scenarios from a different perch. Some of the stories were touching and relatable, like “Poppyseed” where two parents are tasked with raising a mentally and physically handicapped daughter. Ausubel hands the parents a unique set of decisions and difficulties to navigate. The parents navigate their troubles beautifully and with great care.
The stories that were relegated to the Gestation section were my least favorite as the subjects and stories seemed bizarre. Some of the imagery and emotions in those stories are still stuck with me and not in a good way. The story, “Welcome to your Life and Congratulations” follows a family through burying their recently deceased cat. Their emotions were not touching, but rather more disturbing and a bit odd.
In Conception and Love, I enjoyed the characters. The story lines had the same fantastic and odd elements, but the characters really seemed to take center stage. That is until the last story, “Tributaries,” where people grow extra arms when they fall in love.
I enjoyed the collection for the most part, though her stories will definitely not appeal to everyone. Ausubel’s characters are mostly relatable and she has a good sense of when to add humor and drama and when to back out of a particularly small moment and allow time to smooth out the emotions. Although some of the subject matter may be a bit odd for some, Ausubel will keep you reading with her well-written words. I found her understated descriptions and ability to stretch a small moment over several pages to be quite impressive
Part-time fiction writer, Alisha Churbe lives in Portland, Oregon. In the rare instances when you can pry her away from books, Alisha can be found travelling in foreign countries, cooking, or hiking with her husband Michael and dog Euro.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Riverhead. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.