In this dazzling debut collection, Gustine shows tremendous range, empathy, and spark. In the excellent title story, Simon and Molly move back to Ohio after he has finished his degree at UC Berkeley. Molly is astounded that so many people in Ohio “still believed in God.” There are various faiths, yes, but as she notes, “diversity provided no cover”: the problem is that Simon, a philosopher, has written a book on atheism, and the couple’s two elementary school age daughters suffer from the stigma of having atheist parents. In “Prisoners Do,” Mike, a radiologist, is sleeping with a colleague from the hospital while his wife, Fawn, sits on the couch at home, incapacitated after a stroke. Everyone’s in an impossible position, and yet, in that stasis, they also provide one another with a kind of comfort. In “Coyote,” Cory is the mother of a toddler whose paranoia about keeping her son safe veers into obsession. Sarah, the 22-year-old babysitter in “Half-Life,” was taken away from her own mother as a child and placed in foster care. She’s now the nanny (intentionally) for the daughter of the judge who ruled for the circumstances of her upbringing, all of which raises complicated questions about responsibility, irresponsibility, and blame. Gustine’s language is uniformly remarkable for its clarity and forthrightness. (Feb.)
Best of 2016: 100 Recommended Books, San Francisco Chronicle
Writers to Watch Spring 2016: Anticipated Debut Fiction, Publishers Weekly
Most Anticipated Books of 2016, The Millions
One of The 27 Most Exciting Books Coming in 2016, Buzzfeed
One of 18 February Books to Light Up Your Winter, Bustle
Best Books of February 2016, Vagabomb
"In this dazzling debut collection, Gustine shows tremendous range, empathy, and spark….Gustine’s language is uniformly remarkable for its clarity and forthrightness."
Publishers Weekly, boxed starred review
"Gustine’s debut collection examines the compelling lives and struggles of people we might think of as ordinary and the pain that can come from simply trying to make it through life.... Powerful.... Gustine’s stories give the impression that in every life there is a story worth telling, of triumph and of pain, if only we take the time to look."
Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Gustine packs her short stories tightly, pitches them high and far, and they detonate on target, literary grenades of resounding impact....Gustine’s tales are bursting with startling insights, stabbing dialogue, ambushing metaphors, and stunning moments of dissonance. Her first collection aligns her with such short story stars as Joy Williams, Antonya Nelson, and Bonnie Jo Campbell."
Booklist, starred review
"Characters stretch their limits in Gustine’s affecting and wide-ranging debut....Gustine knows we are as driven by doubt and fright as by love, and overt tragedy hobbles us less than the fear of losing everything. Her sentences are swift and wise, landing often like a gentle slap in the face.... For all the suffering and dislocation experienced by her characters, for all the frequent density of her plots, Gustine casts compassionate light on her protagonists’ dark paths, delivering highly choreographed moments of humanity from the absurdly comic to the acutely moving."
The New York Times Book Review
"Amy Gustine's enormously enjoyable collection, You Should Pity Us Instead, focuses on families under siege. These 11 stories, each ambitious in scope, drop us into one nerve-racking situation after another....Gustine has a gift for inhabiting a wide range of voices."
The San Francisco Chronicle
"Incandescent....The entire collection...is a disconcerting marvel, rife with undertow and carried out in crystalline clear prose and exquisite construction."
"This carefully written collection of intense, sobering stories reminds us that the human condition is no piece of cake but once in a while there are some tasty crumbs.... The stories’ settings and plots range impressively...Gustine is particularly skilled at immersing the reader in varied scenarios while communicating what is at stake, creating an atmosphere of tension in which disaster looms."
The Miami Herald
"These stories elicit something on the border between pity and empathy – pity without the condescension, empathy with the knowledge that it can never be absolute – for lonely and anxious people. Amy Gustine writes with clarity as if simply describing what passes in front of her. That
seeming artlessness, fiction stripped of fiction’s aura, shows true mastery."
The Globe and Mail
"Despite the extraordinary breadth of landscapes and topics in You Should Pity Us Instead, every character comes alive with the emotional depth and empathy of Gustine’s writing."
Buzzfeed, "The 27 Most Exciting Books Coming in 2016"
"Every so often, a book comes along that truly has the power to make you both laugh and cry sometimes within a single page. Amy Gustine's talent for unearthing the heartbreaking beauty within the seemingly mundane comes to life in this gorgeous collection. Each story unravels complexity that lives right below the surface and compels us, in our own existences, to consider looking a little deeper."
"If you're a short story connoisseur, you'll love this collection. Gustine is a master at character relationships, showcasing captivating three dimensions to every character she writes."
"In this collection of eleven short stories, Amy Gustine shows off her ability to play with POV and the idea of narratives driven by certain conceits. Each story is cleverly set up to a what-if scenario that traverses time, race, class, religion… Many of the stories are bold and often successful experiments in POV shifts….Gustine delivers wonderfully....exquisite."
Michigan Quarterly Review
"Amy Gustine’s first collection of stories demonstrates a remarkable range, not only in situation and character, but also in the vast landscapes of human emotion and reaction.... She is willing to explore our most uncomfortable emotionshumiliation, revulsion, angeryet realistically balances them with the most admirable oneslove, empathy, understanding, and even forgiveness."
Heavy Feather Review
"Gustine's moving short stories explore the complexity of transient and familial relationships and the difficult feelings that result from love and morality."
For Books' Sake, "2016 Fiction Highlights"
"Gustine's stories are special in the way that they force you to cross all kinds of boundaries, both physical and emotional.... It is interesting to see how delicately Gustine handles and delves into the complicated ideas of familial obligations and morality."
Vagabomb "Best Books of February 2016"
"Amy Gustine displays a remarkable command of prose and narrative in her debut collection You Should Pity Us Instead.... A startling range of characters appears in Gustine’s collection: peculiar, spooky voices not often found in published fiction.... Yet as disparate as these characters and storylines might first appear, they work in bewitching concert throughout the collection, giving rise to a larger current of meaning."
The Southeast Review
Gustine's debut collection examines the compelling lives and struggles of people we might think of as ordinary and the pain that can come from simply trying to make it through life. It might be easy to mistake these stories, with their focus on the familiar, for quiet ones. The emphasis is largely on emotion and situation rather than drama, but this doesn't detract from their power. In fact, the intensity of people we might pass on the street every day—a mother whose baby will not stop crying or a father driving across the country to clean out his dead daughter's apartment—makes this collection all the more powerful. In "An Uncontaminated Soul," for example, Gustine starts with a familiar picture of a woman living alone with more than 50 cats, but rather than creating a cliché, she instead makes Lavinia sympathetic, deep, and heartbreaking—not pitiful at all. The struggle mothers face in trying to protect their children is one theme that runs throughout this collection, and it links an Israeli woman whose adult son has been kidnapped by Hamas to an Ohio woman conducting nightly vigils in her backyard, armed with a child's baseball bat against encroaching coyotes. The weakest moments come in stories that prioritize suspense, as in "Goldene Medene," in which a doctor inspects incoming immigrants at Ellis Island. He handles infectious patients with a distracted air and imagines abusing his power to take advantage of a vulnerable woman in a way that feels tired. There is no easy resolution to be found in this collection, and the fact that life will, and indeed must, go on is both a blessing and a burden for the characters. Gustine's stories give the impression that in every life there is a story worth telling, of triumph and of pain, if only we take the time to look.