I adore what I have read so far of American author Ramona Ausubel’s work, and was so excited to read her short story collection, A Guide to Being Born. I have been continually impressed and startled with her writing, and my experience with these tales, which I read whilst in France over Easter, was no different.
Another author whom I admire, Aimee Bender, writes ‘These stories reminded me of branches full of cherry blossoms: fresh, delicate, beautiful, expressive, otherworldly.’ The Boston Globe calls the collection ‘Galvanising and almost uplifting… To call these stories ambitious is wholly accurate; Ausubel is constantly pushing for her characters to be more, to feel more, to experience more.’ A Guide to Being Born is a New York Times notable book by an author who has won the PEN Center USA Fiction Award.
A Guide to Being Born collects together eleven stories, all of which have been published in various magazines. I am in agreement with the volume’s blurb, which says that Ausubel ‘uses her inimitable style, her fantastical ambition, and her gift for the imaginative to expose the fundamentals of the human condition as she charts the cycle of love from conception to gestation to birth… As we read A Guide to Being Born, we travel through the stages of life and all the transformations that occur. These stories about the moments when we pass from one part of life into another, about the love that finds us in the dark, and pulls us, finally, through.’
Ausubel is such an exciting writer, with a fresh and dynamic voice and imagination. Every single one of her stories here, which are separated into four sections – ‘Birth’, Gestation’, ‘Conception’, and ‘Love’ – feel energised, and electrically charged. Her prose throughout is beautiful, and has such a strength to it. As a conceptual work, A Guide to Being Born shocks and astonishes. Every single tale here is a miniature masterpiece; all are vivid, unusual, and memorable, and for the most part, they throw up a lot of surprises. A Guide to Being Born is such a polished collection, which feels nothing less than sumptuous to read.
I shall end my review with an extract from ‘Safe Passage’, as it perfectly illustrates the beauty and depth of Ausubel’s prose: ‘The grandmothers have wet eyes. They are all picturing themselves lying there with many pairs of hands covering them, more hands than possible, their bodies hidden. It is just the backs of hands, familiar and radiating and with very faint pulses. In their minds, the grandmothers dissolve under those palms. They go gaseous. It is no longer necessary to maintain any particular shapes.’