Chris Power’s debut might almost convince you that the 10,000-hour rule applies to mastery of that exacting art form, the short story. Since 2007, he’s been writing a regular column for The Guardian about expert practitioners of the genre, from Chekhov to George Saunders. Now the London-based writer has dared to publish a collection himself. Forgive the cliché, but you won’t be able to put it down: As soon as you finish the quietly suspenseful book, you’ll want to reread its opening story.
Power’s title seems off at first. His stories focus most obviously on travelers, adrift in various ways—a map-obsessed preteen loner named Eva, a fraught group of wedding celebrants in Mexico City, an ill-matched couple on a hiking trip, a solitary young woman drawn to visit one foreign place after another, a stand-up comic on a sad gig in America, a husband and daughter making do with postcards from an elusive wanderer.
But three of the 10 stories form a linked trio, and there the mother motif emerges. Maternity entails its own unsettling journeys. The solitary young woman in the fifth story is Eva of the first story, now grown up. Her mother, always remote, is long dead, but her “mum’s travel guide” charts her uneasy path. The elusive wanderer of the closing story is also Eva, who flees marriage and motherhood. At her death, she leaves behind a story about her past—the story, we learn, that opens the collection. If that sounds like a recipe for facile closure, a rereading proves the opposite. “The author laureate of not knowing,” as Power once described Chekhov in a Guardian column, has taught him well.