The Archivists by Daphne Kalotay (Short Stories)

A collection of stories taking place in Charlottesville, Virginia, spanning a wide array of people who all seem to be somewhat lost in their own lives (as anyone who spends time thinking about larger issues often will be). Some good reflections on self with respect to those larger issues. My favorite story was the eponymous The Archivists which introduced the concept of possible epigenetic manifestations throughout generations from an initial extreme trauma (in this case the Holocaust). One phrase really stuck with me: heart-scalded — meaning “an anguished, active, grief.” Not just grief at the loss, but “the ongoing torment of her regret.”

I admit I found many of the stories mildly depressing, though all were thoughtful and piqued my interest in some way. One made me laugh while simultaneously despair: Guide to Lesser Divinities — wherein an adjunct professor of English lectures her class on the subtle difference between similar meaning words:

“To deny the accuracy of one versus the other, I explained, was a first step toward moral corrosion. I told them how the degradation of language set the stage for ethical misjudgment, that our careful parsing of word choice and allusion were skills to combat despots and charlatans. That the semicolons they so blithely misused might be the last feeble shims propping up our teetering republic.”

And later in the same story: “To be imprecise is moral laziness. Not idleness. Not sloth. Moral laziness. It’s a matter of morality because to knowingly misuse a word is a way of lying. And deception is, of course, immoral.”

I’m not a big short story person, but I like Kalotay’s writing and each of the stories did provide insight into experiences outside of my own.

Thank you to Northwestern University Press, TriQuarterly and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on April 15th, 2023

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