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Review: 'Of This New World'

Story collection show utopias are never as they seem

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By Laura Farmer, correspondent

In her prizewinning short story collection from the University of Iowa press, author Allegra Hyde presents a series of variations on a theme: what happens when characters are confronted with the reality of their perceived utopias. The characters’ ideals are wild and varied, from as far out as a colony on Mars to as banal as the woman who got away. And the styling and pacing the stories fluctuates too, from literary fiction to fabulist to everything in-between. But rather than result in a choppy collection, these genre shifts allow for a clear division between the utopias, and give authenticity to each dream. No matter how outlandish, how sad, how unexpected, Hyde gives each vision its due, resulting in a collection filled with both wonder and respect.

Even her shortest stories give startling insight. Just three pages long, “Syndication” is a sharp snapshot of a life off the grid gone wrong, told from the perspective of the oldest daughter. With her tight language and keen attention to detail, Hyde’s flash fiction keeps pace with her longer, more traditional stories, such as “Shark Fishing,” a gripping tale of life at Camp Hope, “the nerve center of an eco-revolution.”

But there are some confusing turns in the collection. In Delight, a George Saunders-Esk story of a small town where everything from foods to phrases is copyrighted, the bombardment of copyright phrases makes the story more gimmick than heart. In “Free Love,” the story of a 15-year-old girl leaving a commune for life with her grandmother, doesn’t conclude so much as just stop.

Even with these curiosities, the power of Hyde’s collection is undeniable, particularly in this day and age when we routinely romanticize the past and life in nature. Hyde’s stories remind us that utopias are rarely what they seem, and provides a glimpse not only into these other, often idealized lives, but into the brave new world we are forced to consider when our dreams go astray.

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