"Astray" (Little, Brown and Co.), by Emma Donoghue.
How do you follow up an international best-seller like "Room"? With a collection of short stories inspired by snippets of history, naturally.
"Astray" is obviously not a book Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue wrote to build on the audience she gained from that chilling piece of 2010 fiction about a captive 5-year-old and his mom. But it is a book that shows her confidence as a writer, bringing to life the characters that piqued her interest in everything from 19th-century letters to a line in a New York newspaper in 1735.
If you're not sure whether you want to give it a chance, commit a forgivable sin and read the Afterword first. Donoghue writes eloquently about what binds the stories together: "Emigrants, immigrants, adventurers, and runaways _ they fascinate me because they loiter on the margins, stripped of the markers of family and nation; they're out of place, out of their depth."
All the stories are brief, featuring characters far from home who find themselves not just geographically astray, but morally, too.
Donoghue is gifted at imagining narrators from all walks of life. She writes one in the voice of a slave in 1864 Texas who murders his master and runs away with his wife: "She turn, she look in my face, she say I packed my bag. Her hand like a knot in mine." Another tells the story of a pair of 1896 gold diggers in the Yukon who create their own "Brokeback Mountain" when snowstorms force them inside their tent for days at a time.
Anyone who appreciates a well-told tale will enjoy these 14 short stories. It's perfect for the bedside table or the quiet commute _ rich tales by a writer near the top of her game.