Almost a decade since her debut collection, This Is Not Your City, Caitlin Horrocks returns with Life Among the Terranauts. The majority of these 14 stories deliver a gut-punch reminder of the seeming unavoidability of loneliness and isolation, despite the promises of coupledom, familial bonds and understood social contracts among various groups. Horrocks begins and ends with outwardly constructed worlds--a dilapidated shrinking town in the opening "The Sleep"; the manmade NovaTerra in the titular "Life Among the Terranauts"--which become constricting, even fatal, cages for the inhabitants. More and more citizens in "The Sleep" choose to hibernate rather than face the depressing reality of winter, while the six citizens carefully chosen to create "Life Among the Terranauts" realize too late they cannot fulfill their two-year residency contracts.
Horrocks's women are especially prone to solitary confinement, even while surrounded by others. In "Norwegian for Troll," a midwestern woman living alone in an oversized, aging house is visited by distant "cousins" from Norway she never knew she had. A gay woman who has a proud affinity with her dead grandmother, who seemed to live openly with her lover, faces jarring truths in "Sun City."
Bad decisions--knowing better, yet still acted upon--cause further estrangement in "23 Months," in which a woman new in town goes to a co-worker's party and sleeps with a stranger under false pretenses. While the collection might be filled with miscommunications and disconnects, Horrocks's storytelling prowess shines. She writes with simple precision, her characters wholly convincing in all their flaws and insecurities. Life Among the Terranauts proves shrewd and rewarding. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon