BookBrowse Reviews The Souvenir Museum by Elizabeth McCracken

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The Souvenir Museum

by Elizabeth McCracken

The Souvenir Museum by Elizabeth McCracken X
The Souvenir Museum by Elizabeth McCracken
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2021, 256 pages

    Jan 2022, 384 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Daniela Schofield
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About this Book



A clever and touching collection of stories for any reader who has ever loved.

Elizabeth McCracken's book The Souvenir Museum is composed of 12 short stories populated by otherwise unremarkable characters who are made intriguing through an engaging and intimate narration of moments in their everyday lives.

The book opens and closes with stories that feature weddings. Marriage, parenting, childhood and family relationships run throughout the collection, with tensions and incongruities between family members, as well as their disappointments in one another, featuring frequently. Familial relationships are linked with travel; as McCracken's characters are rarely content in a single location, they are often in transit or associated with multiple places, as is captured in this passage of the story "Mistress Mickle All at Sea":

Expatriation was the family disease, hereditary: thanks to an immigrant ancestor, they all had Irish passports. The world was their oyster. An oyster was not enough to sustain anyone.

There are some recurring characters across stories, which gives the collection a sense of consistency. Encountering them in different locations and at different ages results in a greater degree of development than could be achieved in a single short story, but this is done in a way that still allows each piece to read as a self-contained standalone. The chief recurring character, Jack, is the American-born son of English parents, "a sort of Englishman, sort of American." The collection opens with Jack bringing his American girlfriend, Sadie, to a family wedding in Ireland. Both Sadie and Jack crop up throughout the book, every time in a new stage of their lives, and their relationship serves as a continuing backdrop for McCracken's recurring themes of love, family, loss and longing.

In "The Get-Go," we are told that "[a]ll his life Jack had felt like an interloper." This sense of not belonging suits the transatlantic settings and aesthetic that underpin the collection; stories take place across the British Isles, Denmark, the United States and the Netherlands. Just as there is overlap between characters, the influence of disparate locations is woven together magnificently, in a tone that can be British in its self-effacing wryness while simultaneously American in its self-determination. Geographies and experiences blend with a sense of buoyancy that links to the collection's water imagery; oceans, canals, islands and boats feature heavily.

Just as enjoyable as the subject matter of the stories is the artful way in which McCracken has constructed each. The narratives move quickly, ensuring the transition between plots is smooth. Every story completes a satisfying arc that frequently includes an unexpected turn or surprise, and readers may find it only becomes apparent at the end that the author has packed in quite a lot of detail and action. McCracken truly shines in her use of dialogue and sumptuous prose, as in her description of one character with "a beef bourguignon voice."

The Souvenir Museum is a skillful and understated presentation of the emotional complexities in everyday life and relationships. With this collection, McCracken transforms mundane experiences into compelling, enthralling stories in a beautiful style that will delight readers.

Reviewed by Daniela Schofield

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in April 2021, and has been updated for the February 2022 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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