Ancestry: Where We’re From and Where We’re Going

Book Review by Katy Haas

Readers can look forward to Eileen O’Leary’s Ancestry, winner of the John Simmons Short Fiction Award, forthcoming this fall. The characters in this collection’s short stories look back at where and who they’ve come from as they try to discover who they can possibly become.

In “Adam,” the titular character reconnects with his father whom he has never met and finds that the man in front of him is not quite how he imagined. Living together in a dilapidated building, he’s suddenly faced with a change in expectations. Cecile from “Michigan Would Get Beautiful,” is finally getting what she wants as an interior designer, just as the lives of her first clients implode, leaving her to look at where she is and where she’ll end up. In “The Flying Boat,” Vera leaves her family behind to start a new life overseas. On the cusp of war, she returns to her family to find that everything has unexpectedly changed in her absence.

Family ties and inner tensions propel these stories, the characters grappling with the changes happening within them and around them. Even in the small space of short stories, we’re able to see the characters grow and adapt as they learn more about themselves and the people in their lives. A quick read, each story grabs the reader’s attention and holds on tightly until the end.

Ancestry by Eileen O’Leary. University of Iowa Press, October 2020.

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