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"Of This New World" by Allegra Hyde

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One new world is the mythical Eden, one is Mars, one a Caribbean basic training camp for eco-activists, another is a Shaker settlement in 19th-Century New England. All of Allegra Hyde’s stories in this sprightly and clever collection feature some version of humankind’s impulse to build a paradise. It’s a very impressive set of stories and I know the University of Iowa wouldn’t give the John Simmons Short Fiction award to just any collection.

Some stories tackle the theme head-on, like the opening piece, “After the Beginning.” It serves almost as an introductory piece, setting the theme. In it, Eve refers to her troublesome, preoccupied “husband,” but the clever author makes it clear that while a wrenching adjustment must be made on their banishment from the Garden of Eden, they can now rely on themselves and each other, and dream of a new paradise. “Shark Fishing” takes a present-day look at a quasi-military camp set up to train the young and the privileged in environmental activism. This story introduces the idea that not all utopias are well-considered or altruistic.

The story that deals most fully with this theme is “The Future Consequences of Present Actions.”  It features an 19th Century idealist man who has moved on from one failed commune in Massachusetts to a settlement of Shakers. While there, he becomes embroiled in a controversy about his commitment to the community, is ostracized and loses his son in the process. For me, this and “Shark Fishing” are the most accomplished of these excellent pieces. They offer fresh views of the human conflicts that doom utopian dreams, and of the practical minutiae that without
exception undermine the communist ideal.

The thread unifying these stories adds a level of meaning, particularly to those pieces that don’t deal directly with new Edens. The best case in point is “Ephemera.” In it we get an oblique view of one young man’s hope for a new world with the beautiful woman who searches for her missing daughter.  This woman realizes the young man is just another lost child, and it makes her realize the hopelessness of her quest. She goes back to her home so he can return to his.

These stories pack wisdom and recognizable human striving and stumbling. Like all good short fiction, these stories offer sharp focus and leave us lasting images and wonder at the continued creativity in today’s narrative. Take this up, do not delay!

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