In this debut collection, seven connected stories set in the Ozarks explore the relationships between people, place, and the changing culture of rural America through the lens of characters involved in various shady or troubling predicaments.
What you have here is a collection of loosely connected stories set in northern Arkansas, full of characters motivated, to a large degree, by their own unscrupulousness. They are hardscrabble, morally questionable, and sometimes even violent people. They are also supremely entertaining. Here’s a writer who understands and exploits the sort of ethical inversion that good fiction demands—an inversion in which misdeeds become fodder for effective storytelling ... The characters are too busy sabotaging themselves, and watching them do so is great fun. The resulting tone is both sardonically comical and mournfully honest, keeping with the Southern Gothic literary tradition from which this collection was born. One of the common factors between these stories is the setting: Arkansas become its own kind of character throughout the course of the book, its presence looming over the characters’ decisions ... The book positions the reader as an outsider, peering into a culture that feels at once foreign and yet oddly familiar. The characters’ capacity for violence is mirrored by the rugged landscape and its lonely grace ... Mitchell is a gifted storyteller who offers glimpses of her characters at their most vulnerable and most vicious. As a result, it’s impossible not to identify with them, and it is even more impossible not to like them. This is a bold and well-crafted debut.
Mitchell’s stories don’t offer characters redemption or revelation, but confrontation. Often, characters escape only to circle back where they started ... Unnatural Habitats is steeped in place—rural roads, chicken farms and small towns where families know one another too well ... They’re dark stories with narrators who aren’t always sympathetic ... Mitchell’s strongest stories are her most tender, drawing us closest to her female protagonists through first-person narration ... they’re carrying pain and trauma and the weight of a difficult landscape.
These imperfect characters are continually intriguing ... The author’s stark writing style examines details with an unflinching eye, much as the characters do, and the occasional moments of violence are haunting. The stories are linked not only by their common location, but also by recurring players, which allows for unexpected, additional character development ... Engaging stories that highlight extraordinary moments in the lives of ordinary people.