... compiled of humorous and tenacious stories that serve as a reminder that the flyover states are rife with folklore and intrigue. The sense of place matches the sense of wonder, a perfect amalgamation of geography and plot. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Bonnie Jo Campbell’s masterpiece collection, American Salvage, given the subject matter and elegant craft, though Horrocks proves to be a bit brighter, the Midwestern grit filtered (for the most part) through a sunnier lens ... If the order of a story collection is comparable to curating an album or mixtape, Horrocks here has front-loaded several of the greatest hits ... The Sleep feels particularly appropriate for the age of social isolation. On its own, the premise is fun and timely, but it’s Horrocks’s patient pacing and willingness to see the town through years and years of change that gives the story its superb shape and ending ... The Sleep is also one of several in Life Among the Terranauts that showcases Horrocks as an undeniable master of the first-person plural. Whereas often this point of view can seem conceptual or essayistic, the author on multiple occasions deftly balances the lyrical panoramic energy of the multivocal narrator with individual characterization in such a way that these selections stand out ... In several stories, Horrocks provides darker tonal range, transitioning from speculative to realist narratives that reveal a more acute violence ... If Horrocks reveals any minor writerly tics, it is the tendency to draw awareness to the artifice of fiction. It’s an effective trick in isolation, but when compounded over several stories becomes a bit predictable, like a shooter’s favorite spot on the court ... The fourteen stories that make up Life Among the Terranauts not only reinforce Horrocks’s status as a maestro of short fiction, but also offer range in prose and style that feels, in some ways, riskier and more intimate. There’s much to be cherished in this shared space.
The majority of these 14 stories deliver a gut-punch reminder of the seeming unavoidability of loneliness and isolation, despite the promises of coupledom, familial bonds and understood social contracts among various groups ... While the collection might be filled with miscommunications and disconnects, Horrocks's storytelling prowess shines, creating communities that draw in readers immediately, even as the inhabitants are on the verge of personal implosions. Horrocks writes with simple precision, her characters wholly convincing in all their flaws and insecurities. Life Among the Terranauts proves shrewd and rewarding.
Horrocks is adept at playing with perspective, delving into the minds of puzzling, sometimes troubling, characters. The loss feels greater, then, when her intriguing premises sap her characters of interiority and her stories of life ... treads into territory better ceded to Lydia Davis ... The title captures the collection’s breadth, its mixture of the strange and the mundane. One only wishes her stories were a bit stranger, or even more mundane, that Horrocks might dive deep in one direction, as the people of Bounty did, diving into sleep.
... stellar ... The narrators throughout the book, whether singular or plural, though often first person, come to feel familiar, like old friends. Even an unfamiliar voice reads like a friendly stranger sidling up to you at a bar ... Horrocks proves herself a master of locating the identity of a place, evoking tone, and summoning a character with a single, authenticating detail ... Horrocks has charted the town’s economic rise and collapse, in concrete terms, in a sentence. Few writers have this power. Fewer still channel it reliably, story after story, without fail. Better yet, the author has imagined a delicious setting, a defunct drugstore where people check out the latest Grisham, but she has resisted the urge to write a story around it. One writer’s premise, after all, is another’s throwaway detail ... brims with other standout stories ... refreshingly, Horrocks’ stories are stories interested in work. Her cast includes farmers, nurses, office workers, a bartender, a teacher, a healthcare worker, a realtor, a banker, a tour guide, the titular terranauts, and a whole cast of white and blue collar workers ... In comparison to Horrocks’ exceptional first collection, the stories of Life Among the Terranauts are perhaps less carefully organized. While the earlier collection gains momentum with the age of its characters, narrators growing older as the stories advance, this book feels less orderly, or, if there is a scaffolding, it’s subtle enough to be easily missed ... while no book is perfect, there isn’t a bad story in this book ... The collection is pristine, and, while the stories are thematically at home alongside Horrocks’ previous work, they are unquestionably an artistic and technical leap beyond.
This dazzling collection of short stories will be pinging around the minds of readers long after the back cover is closed ... Each story is as engrossing as if it were a full-length novel, and just as sad to leave. Perfect for fans of George Saunders and Karen Russell.
Vigorous and supremely crafted ... The title story [is] one of the most arresting and inventive of the bunch ... Horrocks’s linguistic finesse and narrative range is impressive, and she brings incisive humor, pathos, and wit to her characters and their predicaments. The result is an immersive and engaging work that astutely captures the complexities of the human condition.
Horrocks’ stories feel classic and melancholy, like a concerto in a minor key. While the writing may feel overly polished to those who like their fiction a bit wilder, the characters’ flawed decisions add a bit of welcome roughness ... Elegant glimpses into the lives of lonely people.