Anxious, whimsical, and deeply felt, Ausubel’s stories weave a remarkable and beautiful tapestry of emotion ... they deemphasize the presumed centrality and greatness of the United States in favor of a more global view of the world ... Over and over again, characters underestimate and misunderstand lands not their own, and always they are humbled by those spaces, by the un-Americanness of it all. Throughout, Ausubel’s irony-tinged third-person narration conveys the limitations of her characters’ simplistic beliefs ... Ausubel’s signature ability to create atmosphere is in full force throughout Awayland ... By also touching upon social and political issues, she adds a new layer to her work that invites readers to move away from their comfort zones as well.
Reading this, you’d be tempted to think the imagination’s work is to make life more beautiful. And isn’t that plenty? But by the time you come to the sixth story, the wonderful 'Remedy,' a near novella-length meditation on mortality, it’s clear that Ausubel’s imagination wants to do much rougher, harder work: It wants to offer consolation for how ghastly things can get, a type of healing that only reading can provide. All 11 of these stories are deeply involving ... 'Come with me and be adored, deep below the earth,' one of Ausubel’s characters, who happens to be a Cyclops, writes in his dating profile. This doubles as the writer’s invitation to the reader to enter her very private, haunting and beautiful worlds.
It’s great fun to watch Ausubel’s enormous imagination at work and to share the joy that emerges from her writing ... Ausubel’s prose is assured and often lovely, descriptions and insights presented in new and different ways. ... California love threads its way through many of these stories. But no matter where you call home, you’ll find much beauty and insight throughout this collection.
In vivid, precisely fashioned language, Ausubel spans the globe, from the tropics to the Arctic, in these 11 stories ... Sometimes Ausubel poses mind-bending questions: What if a Cyclops, looking for love, registered on an online dating site? What if the mayor of a stagnating Minnesota town offered a car to the mother of the first baby born on Lenin’s birthday? Vibrant stories that expand horizons and mind.
Eleven stories laced with humorous developments, mythic tendencies, and magical realist premises ... Many of the stories are both interesting and amusing; some are a little juvenile ... Clever literary games.
What Ausubel is evoking is love, which animates Awayland like the beating of a secret heart. Her characters can’t get along without it, although it is a source of turmoil and upheaval in their lives ... We create distinctions, Ausubel insists, that are nothing if not arbitrary, then cling to them as if they define something essential about who we are ... This, in the end, is all we can hope for, that our loved ones do not suffer, whatever else may happen to them. As for the rest, it’s inexplicable, a source of wonder and terror, the mystery at the center of the world. Such a mystery inflects the stories in Awayland, weighting them like wishes cast against the void.
Ausubel’s prose is pared down to a children’s book simplicity that matches these seemingly whimsical plots. Her sentences are lean and precise, ho[m]ing in on the exact right image ... In fact, these stories are so deceptively simple and spare, about a quarter of the way through, I closed the book and thought to myself, is this really it? But as I continued to read I realized Ausubel’s fabulism was not the mythmaking sort practiced by Kelly Link and Shirley Jackson but more closely akin to Voltaire and his satirical novel Candide. Like the titular protagonist of Voltaire’s novel, Ausubel’s protagonists—almost all straight, white, and callow—lead privileged lives, unable to comprehend the world’s cruelty outside the frame of their solipsism ... In the end, Awayland is the fabulist short story collection America deserves in the moment when we find ourselves gripped in another fabulist’s narcissism, slowly evaporating, being rendered nothing more than a blip in the world’s weather.
Ausubel clearly enjoys using the outlandish or mythical to underscore her characters’ predicaments, but sometimes the quirkiness grows tiresome and the air tends to go out of her stories once they have exhausted their magical-realist premises. Still, Ausubel’s best stories have an affecting vulnerability; fans of Kelly Link, Karen Russell, and Miranda July will want to give this a look.