Ether: Seven Stories and a Novella
While opening Evgenia Citkowitz’ collection of short stories, the spine creaked in an eerie way far too appropriate for the haunting words among the pages between. In Ether, a collection of seven stories and a novella, Citkowitz captures our attention with seemingly stark characters whose depth is revealed in the strange ways they relate to the world.
Tables, nannies, and even pet hamsters become the vehicles through which characters experience stark realizations about their lives and their positions within them. Citkowitz’ efforts to draw out nuances are visible, but often the nuances struggle to have impact. Entering into a short story with little ground available to paint such rich snapshots of a life often leaves the reader feeling rushed, or worse, at the end of the tale, empty.
The subjects her characters examine—an overwhelming loneliness and sense of questioning—are ones that we may easily identify with as readers, but the stories leave answers either unreachable, or sadly negative. Leaving a family, resolving to accept unwanted circumstances, or worse, having a realization that things are unhappy and unsatisfied, but having nowhere to turn is what the author makes her characters face. The circumstances are realistic—many of us, just like her characters, finally find the answer to our questions. But in this volume, often the answer is most unsatisfactory, and these outcomes leave the reader wounded.
The writing in Citkowitz’ debut book is layered and complex. Readers enter each story seemingly mid scene and are left with a feeling of catching up. Multiple characters and voices layer into the work immediately and though the action may not be fast paced, the reader must stutter step to get on board with the character and identify the lead immediately. This unique exercise does draw a reader in quickly and makes our feelings for them more elaborate; you read shoulder-to-shoulder with the character’s past and present and with their quests for identity or direction; this is a powerful strategy on the author’s part.
Ether isn’t light reading, but is an exercise in elaborate storytelling over a theme. At times, it works too hard and it can often be uninspiring, but the stories’ unique haunting qualities do set them apart.