By McKenna Middleton | Page One Editor
Freed from the bondage of essays and classic literature, I took a trip to the public library at the beginning of the summer. On the new arrivals shelf sat a book with a charmingly simple cover illustration and a title that immediately caught my attention: “Cities I’ve Never Lived In.”
“Cities I’ve Never Lived In,” written by Sara Majka, is a collection of loosely connected short stories. The frame tale is narrated by a young New England woman who has gone through a divorce and recounts cities she has lived in, towns she has visited and places she’s only imagined. She tries to make sense of her new life as a single woman and human life as a whole.
The book includes 14 stories. Most of them are about the young woman’s past and are told out of chronological order, from her childhood to life with her ex-husband and after her divorce.
This book is about being lost. Majka’s stories are where real human emotion and experience meets a touch of fantasy, haunting in their relatability.
The main character has an affinity for stories of lost people, making the foundation of this interest clear in the telling of her own stories of loss. She writes about people lost to society, living on the poverty line or removed from society on New England’s islands. From lost people to lost love, from lost places to lost things, Majka’s stories find beautifully tragic endings and heartbreaking realities.
Majka tells another story of a boy who is sent off his island home to live in a mental hospital because of a suicide attempt. When he attempts to return home years later, he finds the island has mysteriously disappeared. Haunting stories like this and tales of doppelgangers and unsolved mysteries leave the reader hungry for more.
Majka demonstrates a mastery for subtle yet poignant observations of the human condition.
“We fall out of love only to fall in love with a duplicate of what we’ve left, never understanding that we love what we love and that it doesn’t change,” she writes amid detailed imagery.
The complex themes and stand-alone nature of Majka’s stories makes this a slow read as it warrants reflection and even introspection. Engaging and heartbreaking, “Cities I’ve Never Lived In” is artistic, but not to the point of being inaccessible. This is Majka’s first and only book to date.