Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews Pretend We Live Here by Genevieve Hudson. (Future Tense Books)
Oftentimes, people view collections of short fiction as a randomly cobbled together set of stories.
They’re supposed to be standalone, so why would there be any connective tissue from story to story? And if they’re interconnected, then why not just make it a novel?
I’m inclined to agree, to an extent—but like always there are exceptions (like Samuel Ligon’s collection, Drift & Swerve). Then there are collections like Pretend We Live Here by Genevieve Hudson whose stories don’t overlap characters but achieve connection in a much more subtle way—interconnecting them through theme and setting. This move makes it a more powerful book in the end because we can see a central idea explored from so many different perspectives.
Pretend We Live Here is a collection about unrequited connections. Through every story we see someone reaching out for more, but nothing seems to ever reach back. There is a deep emotional connection to the human condition, whether it is a seemingly mythical man who is expected to heal a rotten tooth, or a woman haunted by a remix she created from the noises of a dolphin, we are seeing this theme from a very human perspective. It’s one that engages and pulls us into these character’s lives even further and gives its reader an obsession to get to the bottom of the inner workings of these characters. They are people living fantasies they want to be real that they bank on a lie becoming their truth, and that level of hope is appealing because we’ve all been there in one way or another.
This might be the closest thing to a perfect book that I’ve read in quite a while.
While many of these characters struggle with their identity, they are fully formed. They have more going on in their thought process than how they see themselves in the world. They’re looking at themselves not only internally, but also how the greater world views them, and this juxtaposition makes for complexities that are needed for well-rounded characters. There is no such thing as a token character in this book, because they all ring true. No one is a stereotype there for the benefit of checking an imaginary box. It’s a rarity that you’ll read a book and every character and their actions coincide with reality so seamlessly, but Hudson achieves this with ease. These characters are the people they inhabit. Nothing about them is a defining attribute, and that is impressive. A lesser writer would have used them as a way to hit marginalized demographics, but that’s not the case here. Hudson is able to give us the mosaic of emotion every human being deserves in these short stories.
Place plays a major factor in Pretend We Live Here. It is another character in the background setting the tone for the stories. Whether they are stories told from people living abroad in Amsterdam, or underprivileged kids in America, we can see where these people’s emotional lives overlap and connect in the overarching theme Hudson has showcased. Simply because someone is fortunate enough to be living in a different country doesn’t take away from the fact that they’re still looking for a deeper connection in the same way a poor kid trying to fit in with a skateboard does. The relativity of pain we see in these stories is humbling and not only makes me want to read more of what Hudson has written, but also makes me want to be a better person in my day-to-day life.
Pretend We Live Here is an amazing feat, but Genevieve Hudson makes it looks so effortless. When writing comes off as simply as this, people assume it must have been easy to write; and while I don’t know what her process is, I’d wager she sat with every moment in the stories included. I’m sure she meditated on every single sentence and word because nothing is out of place. This might be the closest thing to a perfect book that I’ve read in quite a while. It doesn’t matter who you are, I’m confident you’ll find something worthwhile in Pretend We Live Here.