Book Review: The Lonely Stories edited by Natalie Eve Garrett

The Lonely Stories – ed. by Natalie Eve Garrett (Catapult, 2022)

I read an Advance Reading Copy of this book. All opinions are my own. Pub date: 19 April 2022

This collection chronicles the experience of loneliness. Natalie Eve Garrett has gathered a series of essays on loneliness from writers, many of them well known. Some were written for other publications, some seem to have been created for this book. As with any sort of collection of various authors, the essays vary widely in content and quality. We all know and experience loneliness but what that feels like or what causes that can be drastically different from one person to another.

Some, like Maggie Shipstead or Lev Grossman, experience a sort of self-imposed loneliness when they move to new locations and isolate themselves from those around them. There is the loneliness of Jean Kwok in her essay “The Perpetual Foreigner” where she details her history as the child of immigrants and then her experience of moving from America to the Netherlands. There is the self-chosen celibacy of Melissa Febos in “Notes from the Midpoint of a Celibate Year” in which she learns how to be single and explore the world as an individual. And there is, of course, the loneliness of those left behind by death.

I imagine each reader will be drawn to different stories here just as I found myself sympathizing more with some essays than others. Stories like Lena Dunham’s breakup or Grossman’s choice to become a hermit through the winter elicited less understanding from me than Jesmyn Ward’s essay on her husband’s sudden death. Not all loneliness is the same, is perhaps the lesson of this collection.

Thinking on this, I can’t help wish that The Lonely Stories had a little more focus than simply the broad topic of loneliness. Perhaps the loneliness of grief or the loneliness of young adulthood, alone on your own for the first time. Or, if we want to get very timely, the loneliness of lockdowns and isolations that we’ve seen these past two years. Loneliness is a universal experience but putting such a broad variety of experiences together weakens some essays by comparison. That said, it is still valuable to share our experiences and know that we are not as alone as we might think.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: The Lonely Stories edited by Natalie Eve Garrett”

  1. Wow some big names in this collection! I can see why including all spectrums of lonliness may lessen the impact here. Someone’s husband dying is much different than holing up in an apartment when it gets cold LOL

    1. Exactly…they’re both valid experiences but it’s a lot harder to be sympathetic with one when you’re comparing the two. And I don’t imagine that the authors who wrote about self-inflicted loneliness would even want to compare that to someone else’s experience of grief. A narrower scope could have made a difference here.

  2. I remember reading that Ward’s husband suddenly died from COVID-19 in early 2020, way before any of knew what was going on. I read an essay she wrote about it and had to stop.

    1. I wonder if that’s the same essay or at least one she built off of for this. It’s gut-wrenching; it was hard to read because her grief is so clear and powerful.

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