You Are Not a Stranger Here (Adam Haslett)

5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This is a beautifully written collection of short stories that explore mental illness, death, depression, homosexuality, and how we experience our own pain, as well as the pain of others. The descriptions are sparse yet powerfully compelling, and the stories that work will stay with you, pulling you in and forcing you to feel the turmoil the characters are experiencing. Though there are some weak stories here and there, the powerful stories are more than worth the purchase price of the collection as a whole. One of my favorites… though it is a bit of an exercise in misery, with all of the stories being tragic, tragic, tragic..

Greater Detail:
As always, here are a few of the summaries so you can get a better idea about the collection as a whole:

“Notes to My Biographer” — is about this eccentric, mentally ill older man who visits his younger son and has all these great new ideas/inventions. He’s paranoid, thinks everyone is out to steal his ideas, and trying to reconnect with his family via a long road trip.

“War’s End” — the story from which the collection gets its title, a man who is very depressed, and now that he is thinking more clearly, feels like death is the only option… right before he jumps off a cliff, he meets an old woman, who invites him back to her house to meet her grandson

“The Good Doctor” = a recently graduated psychiatrist finds himself in a rural, slightly backwater America. Though he took the post because of a loan forgiveness, he has since found out that funding has been cut and he meets one of his most compelling patients who shows him how painful life can be.

“The Beginnings of Grief” — a young teenage boy has just lost his mother to suicide and his father to a car accident within the same year. Now he struggles with both that and having a crush on a boy who is struggling with his homosexuallity.

“Devotion” — a slower paced tragedy about sibling devotion, the sacrifices each sibling has made for the other, and also, the ways in which they’ve both inadvertently ruined one another’s lives…

“Divination” — this is one of the ones that fell a little flatter for me; it deals with a younger brother who’s initially at a boarding school and believes that he’s having premonitions about when people might die…

“My Father’s Business” — most of the story takes place via a series of transcribed interviews between a bipolar man who’s struggling (during his more manic phases) to learn to deal with his father by conducting a series of interviews questioning how people got interested in the idea of philosophy.

Comparison to Other Authors:
Compared to other Pulitzer winning collections (like Lahiri’s The Interpreter of Maladies), it does feel a little less finely tuned — there are definitely stories here that really work, and ones that don’t work as well. So, as a collection, I can understand why it was a finalist as opposed to the final winner… but as I said in the review, the ones that work are heartbreakingly amazing.

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