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Of This New World (Iowa Short Fiction Award)…

Of This New World (Iowa Short Fiction Award)

by Allegra Hyde

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Allegra Hyde's debut story collection, OF THIS NEW WORLD, is a clever mix of the dystopian, utopian, feminist, and futuristic fantasy, with generous dollops of tongue-in-cheek humor thrown in here and there. From the first story, "After the Beginning," with its snarky feminist take of Eve doing all the work while Adam lies around feeling sorry for himself following their expulsion from the Garden, to the final story, "Americans on Mars!," portraying a carefully chosen colony of 'breeders' on the red planet, Hyde pulls her seemingly disparate tales together under an umbrella of wishing and hoping for - and maybe even experiencing - a better world with better lives.

In "VFW Post 1492" Hyde gives us a maimed veteran of the Iraq war visiting the local VFW (with a post number reminding us of the year Columbus first set foot in the New World) and finding "something airtight about the room ... As if even time is trapped there." A sealed refuge for the veterans gathered there.

Or in "Delight" a peep into a perfect (trademarked) community, with a narrator who proposes "a BigWhitePicketFence" be built around the town, a la the Trump BigWall between the U.S. and Mexico, "sealing our borders and protecting our Bright'N'ShiningFuture ... this wall that is too thick to punch through, too deep to tunnel under, and, most importantly, TooTallToSeeOut."

There are thirteen stories here, and they are all clever, sometimes funny, sometimes sad, and yes, they are all loosely tied together by that "new world" theme. Hyde is a good writer. In fact "clever" is the word that most often came to mind as I read these brief tales. Sadly, "clever" just doesn't do it for me. While I admire a facility with the language and a witty phrase as much as the next person, I prefer some substance to my fiction, some characters that stay with you after you close the book. This is pretty thin stuff. Hence, I suppose, my ho-hum reaction. I would call this book "an entertainment, " but hardly serious fiction. (three and a half stars)

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER ( )
  TimBazzett | Sep 16, 2016 |
I love a really good short story collection but they are hard to find. This sounded intriguing but I can't even finish it. It's not horrible. It's just really not my thing and I'm determined not to waste my time on books I absolutely cannot connect with anymore. I'm giving this 2 stars generously but also because it's not bad writing, just not for me. I'm sure this would be someone else's preference.

I received this as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. ( )
  CynthiaMR | Aug 31, 2016 |
I'm not usually a huge fan of short stories (The Tsar of Love and Techno is, of course, the exception, although one could argue that it should be labeled as a novel, but I digress). In Hyde's collection, each story deals with the theme of paradise - paradise lost, finding paradise, establishing a new world, etc. The concept is great. There's Adam and Eve dealing with the aftermath of being kicked out of Eden, a daughter who has left her hippie parent's commune for a normal life, and a group of couples attempting to colonize Mars by repopulating, to name a few.

The stories are interesting, but I felt that the execution could have been better in places. There is a sense of unbalance - some stories have an identifiable plot, while others feel like an afterthought. The characters and plot are not important, take a backseat to the overall theme. I enjoyed the writing style, and there were moments of inspiration. Overall, this one was just ok for me.

Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. ( )
  joyhclark | Aug 25, 2016 |
One new world is the mythical Eden, one is Mars, one a Caribbean basic training camp for eco-activists, another is a Shaker settlement in 19th-Century New England. All of Allegra Hyde’s stories in this sprightly and clever collection feature some version of humankind’s impulse to build a paradise. It’s a very impressive set of stories and I know the University of Iowa wouldn’t give the John Simmons Short Fiction award to just any collection.

Some stories tackle the theme head-on, like the opening piece, “After the Beginning.” It serves almost as an introductory piece, setting the theme. In it, Eve refers to her troublesome, preoccupied “husband,” but the clever author makes it clear that while a wrenching adjustment must be made on the couple's banishment from the Garden of Eden, they can now rely on themselves and each other, and dream of a new paradise. “Shark Fishing” takes a present-day look at a quasi-military camp set up to train the young and the privileged in environmental activism. This story introduces the idea that not all utopias are well-considered or altruistic.

The story that deals most fully with this theme is “The Future Consequences of Present Actions.” It features an 19th Century idealist man who has moved on from one failed commune in Massachusetts to a settlement of Shakers. While there, he becomes embroiled in a controversy about his commitment to the community, is ostracized and loses his son in the process. For me, this and “Shark Fishing” are the most accomplished of these excellent pieces. They offer fresh views of the human conflicts that doom utopian dreams, and of the practical minutiae that without exception undermine the communist ideal.

The thread unifying these stories adds a level of meaning, particularly to those pieces that don’t deal directly with new Edens. The best case in point is “Ephemera.” In it we get an oblique view of one young man’s hope for a new world with the beautiful woman who searches for her missing daughter. This woman realizes the young man is just another lost child, and it makes her realize the hopelessness of her quest. She goes back to her home so he can return to his.

These stories pack wisdom and recognizable human striving and stumbling. Like all good short fiction, these stories offer sharp focus and leave us lasting images and wonder at the continued creativity in today’s narrative. Take this up, do not delay!

http://bassoprofundo1.blogspot.com/2016/08/of-this-new-world-by-allegra-hyde.htm... ( )
  LukeS | Aug 22, 2016 |
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