Tales of Survival

Acts of God, by Ellen Gilchrist, (Algonquin Books)

Ellen Gilchrist’s short story collection, Acts of God, is a quick, interesting read that will leave you with lots to turn over in your mind. The characters in these stories face, as the title suggests, acts of God: floods, hurricanes, and smaller, but equally unnerving disasters. These characters aren’t heroic in any grand sense. They’re ordinary—sometimes irritatingly so—individuals faced with immense challenges outside their control. As the publisher’s write-up notes, these people “somehow manage to survive, persevere, and even triumph.”

In so many permutations, this cast of characters and their ability to overcome could lead to unsatisfactory results: sacchrine or histrionic or just plain unbelievable. Gilchrist’s achievement is that she allows her characters to overcome while keeping them human. Some of their triumphs are small, but they ring true. And together these stories build a sense of hopefulness that feels more like realism than like wishful thinking.

This is a good book to pick up when you’re feeling worn down, dissatisfied, and short on energy. It won’t transport you to any magical world—but it will make this world seem a bit less daunting.

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