Flatiron Books: The Guest Book by Sarah Blake

Difficult People

Catriona Wright's debut short story collection, Difficult People, examines the ways women behave in families, in relationships and with each other.

In "The Emilies," a lonely young woman blames her awkwardness on her namesakes, Emily Brontë, Emily Dickinson and Emily Davison, unmarried recluses and feminist icons: "Whenever Emily is stuck in some expanding moment of socially induced panic... she tells herself not to worry; it's just a case of The Emilies." It's a genius name for a familiar discomfort and a perceptive story about figuring out how to forge adult relationships. "Major Prude" is particularly timely and affecting, as the narrator refuses to take seriously her wild friend's rape allegations. And in the title story, "Difficult People," a woman attends a corporate seminar on enthusiasm soon after her eccentric brother's death. The story highlights the standards people--particularly women--must uphold to attempt not to make others uncomfortable: "I take a moment to remind myself to smile, to participate but not in an overbearing way, to be cheerful not cloying, assertive not strident, to be a team player, and under no circumstances to mention Devon." Later, she reminds herself: "Be positive, be proactive. Try harder."

The title story highlights what each selection confirms. Wright's characters don't seem so difficult after all, especially for fiction. While they may make mistakes, the things they strive for are mostly common--work, friendship, love, correct grammar on public signage, success in open-mic stand-up comedy, the experience of motherhood. Readers may find themselves questioning whether it's really the people who are difficult or, instead, the world around them. --Katy Hershberger, freelance writer and bookseller