How does one live a good life? If you’re Pat Graves, you change your name to Cecile Collette, move to Cleveland, and join three churches and the Rotary Club. For Cecile, who will reinvent herself again before the story ends, it may be possible to make Michigan and everything else she touches beautiful, but she’ll come to grief when she tries to redesign another human being. In the title story, Mackenzie, a girl without looks or potential, builds a full life in Paris, based on the sketchy belief that she had an ancestor renowned for being dauntless. College freshman Adam, holding a fantasy of his newly discovered father, finds the man broke and foolish; still he does all he can to rescue his dad from a disastrous contract. Kate, convinced she’s doing the right thing, helps her cousin gain full custody of his daughter, only realizing years later the truth of what happened. Watching CNN, a grandmother recalls a date she once had with a man now giving advice on foreign policy. Whether set in Scandinavia, America, France, England, Australia, or Nepal, these stories champion those who are tenacious in the face of life’s surprises.
“These exquisite stories showcase Eileen O’Leary’s prodigious talent and singular voice. Ancestry is rich with humor and pathos, and features some of the sharpest dialogue I’ve ever read. An absolute delight.”—Kirstin Chen, author, Bury What We Cannot Take
“Ancestry takes us on a dazzlingly eclectic ride alongside a cast of human beings trying, with varying degrees of desperation, to simply live lives worth living. One hears hints of George Saunders here, but also Deborah Eisenberg and Ann Beattie: narratives with the clarity of a ringing bell simultaneously garbed in a complexity that feels imminent and irreversible. O’Leary is a talent not to be missed.”—Christian Kiefer, author, Phantoms
“‘He would adjust,’ Eileen O’Leary writes of a grieving newcomer to Nepal, in this compassionate and continent-spanning collection. ‘He would learn the customs and some words and a way to get around. Wasn’t that what people did?’ It’s what O’Leary’s people do; confronted with the gulf between dreams and reality, they bend but for the most part don’t break.”—Tom Drury, judge, John Simmons Short Fiction Award
“Witty yet tender, Ancestry is a remarkable collection. It subtly explores the dark matter at the center of every life, asking the wicked and important questions. The answers startle and uplift—they remind us how large every human heart is.”—Derek Palacio, author, The Mortifications
“Eileen O’Leary is a connoisseur of the endlessly clever, endlessly futile ways we try to escape ourselves. With wit as crisp as a dry martini, she sees right through us—parents and children, divorces and dinner parties, paper-thin identities, the giddy free-fall of psychic disintegration—and surgically extracts these elegant and companionable reports of private apocalypse.”—Brian Conn, author, The Fixed Stars