The Woods: Stories (Iowa Short Fiction Award) (Paperback)
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The Woods explores the lives of people in a small Vermont college town and its surrounding areas—a place at the edge of the bucolic, where the land begins to shift into something untamed. In the tradition of Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge and Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, these stories follow people who carry private griefs but search for contentment. As they try to make sense of their worlds, grappling with problems—worried about their careers, their marriages, their children, their ambitions—they also sift through the happiness they have, and often find deep solace in the landscape.
What do we find in the woods? An uplifting of spirit or a quieting of sorrow. A sense of being haunted by the past. Sometimes rougher, more violent things: abandoned quarries and feral cats, black bears, brothers caught up in an escalating war, a ghost who wishes to pass on her despair, monsters who boom with hollow ecstatic laughter. But also songbirds: the hermit thrush and the winter wren. Rushing rivers glossy with froth. A nineteenth-century inn that’s somehow gotten by all these years. And far within, a vegetal twilight and constant dusk that feels outside of time. This remarkable debut illuminates the ways we all carry within ourselves aspects stark, beautiful, wild, and unknowable.
About the Author
Janice Obuchowski’s fiction has appeared in Gettysburg Review, Crazyhorse,Alaska Quarterly Review, Story, Conjunctions online, and LitHub. Previously a fiction editor at New England Review, she lives in Middlebury, Vermont.
“In Janice Obuchowski’s stories, the woods surrounding a Vermont college town are as suffused with mystery and dread as any forest found in the Brothers Grimm. The characters adrift in these woods are viscerally alive and heartbreakingly real as they search for a route back to the world they knew. By situating the universal experience of bewilderment within one specifically observed woods, Obuchowski has crafted a genuine work of art.”—Anthony Marra, judge, John Simmons Short Fiction Award
“The Woods is a smart, moving collection—descriptive, evocative—with rich and believable worlds for readers to immerse themselves in.”—Megan Mayhew Bergman, author, How Strange a Season
“I was happy to be lost in the shadows, clearings, and tangled vines of these stories—each is generous, funny, and beautifully precise, and together they make something gorgeous. I am Janice Obuchowski’s great big fan.”—Ramona Ausubel, author, Awayland
“Janice Obuchowski’s stories place us in a very particular world, the world of college town Vermont, where intellect rules but The Woods summon, her narrators like woodland sirens. We meet people at both ends of life—young academics and those looking back from retirement—as well as locals making sense of their changing communities, all of them lured to the liminal space of the woods. In beautiful, compelling, precise prose, Obuchowski observes the human ability to go on in the face of the unknown, the regretted, the unexpected, and, perhaps most important, the unchangeable. As with all the best fables, one thinks: don’t go into the woods. But of course you must.”—Lori Ostlund, author, After the Parade
“Janice Obuchowski’s voice—deliberate, lucid, arrestingly authoritative—is a pleasure; with a careful eye and generous measured style she renders a Vermont landscape and its inhabitants. With its cast of recurring characters, and exquisite attention to place, this collection calls to mind Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio and Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge.”—Amanda Coplin, author, The Orchardist
“These are such richly inhabited storyworlds, tottering between the wild and the civilized, peeking into places made stunningly lucid with language but still mysterious in the way the natural world is mysterious. What a thrilling debut!”—Aimee Bender, author, The Butterfly Lampshade
"Obuchowski’s lucid debut collection digs into the isolation and complexities of her characters’ inner worlds... evocative interior descriptions and subtle revelations about the characters’ relationships to place.”—Publishers Weekly
“When you look closely enough at a place, you might begin noticing things that don’t quite mesh with your understanding of the world. Think most folk horror; think Twin Peaks. Janice Obuchowski’s new collection The Woods heads into a suburban Gothic space, with some of its stories populated by ghosts and strange creatures.”—Tor.com
“Each story in The Woods, carefully paced and keenly observed, takes a close and compassionate look at the supposedly bucolic lifestyles of those living in a quaint town and unearths the emotional fault lines that undergird ordinary life… With hints of dark fairy tales and grim truths that are unable to be faced, these stories marry unsettled imaginings to those that are heart-wrenchingly real.”
— Shelf Awareness
"Juxtaposing folkloric history against a contemporary college town, The Woods taps into the strange dichotomy of the bookish and the bucolic, as well as what used to be versus what is now. . . . offer[ing] not so much sylvan ghost stories as an unsettling disquiet, à la Shirley Jackson, exploring the interiority of loneliness, hope, imposter syndrome, jealousy, rage, grief, and COVID-driven panic. . . . The setting is uniquely Vermont—old churches, old taverns, rustic mountains, and cabins—yet the situations are ubiquitously accessible. The woods is a synecdoche of a far-reaching world of we well acquainted with the grueling work-life of higher education, creators struggling to reconcile their artistic identities with a lack of production, families struggling at the fray, communities still smarting from the confines of 2020. Obuchowski’s The Woods offers both us and characters the landscape to negotiate past and present, surviving and thriving, an invitation to an expanse larger than ourselves."
— Heavy Feather Review
“Eloquent, erudite, inherently engaging, thought-provoking and fun, The Woods is an impressive collection of eleven original short stories by a master of this difficult literary format.”
— Midwest Book Review