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Book Reviews

What’s Left Us

by Aislinn Hunter

The stories and novella in Aislinn Hunter’s What’s Left Us concern themselves with young women muddling their way through love affairs and family entanglements both mundane and dramatic. Hunter’s storytelling voice is savvy and contemporary, unafraid of literary tricks and pop culture markers, and there are many promising moments in this, her first collection. However, these moments are sometimes marred by unnecessarily complicated narrative strategies.

In “We Live In This World,” the story that opens the collection, a series of flashbacks reveal a web of uneasy relationships plagued by mental illness and its fallout. The first person voice is forthright and appealing and the revelations aptly timed. At their least accomplished, however, the stories have a gimmicky feel, the characters reduced to paper dolls and manipulated with a chilly objectivity. For example, “Unto Herself,” which explores a woman’s loss of identity within her marriage, employs an extended metaphor comparing Nora, the protagonist, to a deteriorating house. The metaphor becomes increasingly confusing as the story progresses, muddying the prose and making it difficult for readers to gain insight into Nora’s plight.

In the novella, “What’s Left Us,” a young Londoner, pregnant by her married lover, yearns for some form of legacy to pass on to her unborn child and embarks on a search to uncover her family’s history. These explorations are prompted by what she sees as fate, a pattern in her family of men who leave and single mothers who make do and get by. Here, Hunter uses a second person narration, which sometimes creates a desirable intimacy between narrator and reader, but also alienates with its smug instructive quality.

As an extended meditation on the importance of genealogy, “What’s Left Us” is sketchy; as a depiction of the particular, binding intimacy between mother and daughter, and the preoccupations of pending motherhood, it is much more sound and convincing.