Emergency: Stories (Hardcover)
This is a potent, heartbreaking, life-affirming collection. That being said, this is not a "quick" or "light" read. Alcott's sentences are dense, intricate and complex knots of language, and yet there is never a moment when you feel she has lost control. By the end of the second story, I had declared Kathleen Alcott my short-fiction God and vowed to follow her and her characters to the ends of the earth.— From Emergency by Kathleen Alcott
One of The New Yorker's Best Books of 2023 • One of LitHub's 38 Best Books We read in 2023
"Best short stories for an instant escape."—Oprah Daily
From an “exquisite” (The New Yorker) writer, a searing volume of prizewinning stories starring women facing points of no return.
A professor finds a photograph of her deceased mother in a compromising position on the wall of a museum. A twenty-something’s lucrative remote work sparks paranoia and bigotry. A transplant to a new city must make a choice about who she trusts when her partner reveals a violent history. The summer after her divorce from an older man, an exiled painter’s former friends grapple with rumors that she attempted to pass as a teenager.
In this long-awaited debut collection, Kathleen Alcott turns her skills as a stylist on the unfreedoms of American life—as well as the guilt that stalks those who survive them. Emergency roams from European cities to scorched California towns, drug-smeared motel rooms to polished dinner parties, taking taut, surprising portraits of addiction, love, misogyny, and sexual power. Confronting the hidden perils of class ascension, the women in these stories try to pay down the psychic debts of their old lives as they search for a new happiness they can afford.
— Kate Folk - New York Times Book Review
In supple, self-assured prose, Alcott highlights the ambivalence that can come with intimacy and violence, asking whether love is merely another form of circumscription, and whether brutality can sometimes be an antidote to numbness.
— The New Yorker
[Alcott's] sentences [have] startling aphoristic strength... The demanding directness of the writing scales up the sense of unfolding crisis... [A] high point in this impressive author’s evolution.
— Sam Sacks - Wall Street Journal
'Anything can be lived around,' muses one of Alcott’s arresting narrators, 'so long as it’s only you who has to do it.'... We’d recommend reading this cunning collection with a pen in hand—you’re going to want to underline half the sentences.
— Charley Burlock - Oprah Daily
The world falls away as Kathleen Alcott’s stories unfold in her sublime collection, Emergency. The smallest moment, the briefest description, the single telling detail are given the attention a stonecutter would give a gem. Alcott’s gift is breathtaking... These stories are lovely and tart and marvelously peculiar, the product of an interesting and interested mind.
— Louise Marburg - Hudson Review
Exquisite... Each of these seven stories—about unmoored women dealing with crises of identity, creeping despair, and the psychic wounds left by corrosive men—is a small marvel: intense, cerebral, and tender.
— Dan Sheehan - LitHub
Alcott’s sentences are tightly constructed and indelible... As the best fiction does, Emergency refuses to offer simple diagnoses for today’s social and personal conditions... This is a book you must wade into, slowly immersing yourself in its murky and unsettling world.
— Margot Lee - ZYZZYVA
If Alcott has always been interested in how people bargain with forces bigger than them, then Emergency is about what happens when women bet against themselves; when women use their own autonomy as a bargaining chip in a wager that might gain them some power within a system inherently built against them. Whatever they might gain—Helen’s bourgeois life, Hannah’s coupled bliss—can never make up for what they’ve already given up.
— n + 1
Alcott twines financial and feminine anxieties to create particular women wondering who they are if they live like this. It is seductive to read about money when it is neither the obvious, suffocating focus nor shrouded in euphemism. It is arresting to read about this female experience of capitalism, where that impossible quest for identity includes the perhaps impossible calculation of social standing.
— Cleveland Review of Books
I've long loved Kathleen Alcott's novels for her whip-smart voice and her taut prose. I was delighted to discover that her collection of short stories, Emergency, is also wonderful, spiny and wry and thrumming with subversive power.
— Lauren Groff, author of Matrix
Skillfully wrought and possessed of an exquisite eye for detail, this marvel of a collection contains enough insight and wisdom to fill several books. Kathleen Alcott proves again that she is one of her generation’s sharpest and most gifted writers, with her hand over the beating heart of our complicated, crisis-ridden nation.
— Alexandra Kleeman, author of Something New Under the Sun
Kathleen Alcott’s Emergency left me windswept and altered—this is a book that reveals to us our forgotten joys and secrets, all the unexpected paths of our days. There is an abundance of the world here, a bright, haunted pulse you want to follow endlessly. Alcott is a mesmerizing writer, and this is her best book yet.
— Paul Yoon, author of Run Me to Earth
Stories that are worth reading twice.
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Alcott’s prose is precise and evocative, and the plots are consistently tight. There’s much to enjoy.
— Publishers Weekly
Deftly blending acerbic observations with tender admiration for the ways her protagonists must tackle contemporary challenges, Alcott brings an intense and unflinching presence to the worlds she creates.