Touchy Subjects Review
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“In America, you didn’t have to stay what you were. You could change your name or your nose or just get in your Chevy and drive away.” This is the perception of a young Irishwoman who believed that her brother was drawn to the U.S. in order to start his life over. Worried after not hearing from him for years, she decides to visit Hollywood in search of him and Doris Day in the riveting story, “Baggage.” This is just one of my favorites of the 19 short stories in Touchy Subjects, an anthology by Irish novelist and playwright Emma Donoghue. This compilation is filled with such a diverse but captivating array of themes and characters. Though the stories are often heart wrenching, Donoghue still manages to exude subtle humor in her tales.

The book is divided into five sections: Babies, Domesticity, Strangers, Desire, and Death. Don’t let any of these headings turn you off, as they’re quite broad and somewhat figurative. Stories take place around the globe, in locations such as the Louisiana swampland, France, Ireland, Italy, and New York.

Though not quite controversial, Donoghue doesn’t shy away from delicate issues, such as the candid emotions of a sleep-deprived mother of an infant or even homosexual experimentation and desire. Many stories center on travel (with an unanticipated outcome) and new beginnings. However, Donoghue also treats everyday human interaction in exhilarating fashion, as in the stories of the married couple who cannot agree on the color of their house or the talented writer who refuses to be published. She also explores people’s love for their pets. Another one of my favorites, “The Man who Wrote on Beaches,” deals with a middle-aged man who suddenly yearns to be “born again,” but he unknowingly manipulates others in his newfound desire.

There are so many exceptional stories in this collection. As I finished one, I was excited to embark on the next—and many still linger in my mind. Whatever the subject, Donoghue skillfully develops her plot and characters, and she’s able to convey deep emotion, even in this difficult short story format. Touchy Subjects is one of the best modern day anthologies that I’ve read in years.

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