We gave it a B-
Maybe, hoping for extra credit in a social studies class, you once made a ”historical document,” yellowing and singeing a calligraphified sheet of paper. This is not unlike the process at work in Donoghue’s collection of stories. As she did in her Dickensian epic Slammerkin, Donoghue extrapolates her stories from bits of history. Though she’s adept at combining grim humor and nuanced pathos, the collection is marred by her attempts to create an olde time feel. The best stories (including ”The Last Rabbit,” about an Englishwoman who concocted a bunny-birthing hoax) contain descriptions like ”the ruts splashed ink on his lace cuff” — period detail for its own sake. The worst offer hilarious expository dialogue: ”’What use is it to make a will…when everything belongs to my damnable husband, who’s off whoring his way round Genoa?”’ These tales are uncomfortably trapped between unbelievable reality and credible fiction.