The World Doesn’t Work That Way, but It Could by Yxta Maya Murray is a collection of fourteen fiction stories based on recent social and political events. It is also a force of nature. This book began by disrupting my usual measured approach to reading a book for review and kept right on rattling my assumptions through the last line of the eponymous final story.
Usually when I read a book with an eye to writing a review, I read from my “observer mind.” I pause, make notes, and copy quotes. Not with this book, though. All efforts at a measured approach collapsed as I fell into each story, captured by perspectives that were both unexpected and intriguing, almost demanding I step outside what I thought I knew and walk for a while in these people’s shoes.
For example, in her story “Zero Tolerance” Murray imagines, with sharp-edged prose, the experiences of a senior corrections officer at the Dilley Detention Center in Texas. A powerful monologue written as a series of responses to questions, this is one of three stories in the collection that looks at the U.S. immigration policy of separating migrant children from their families at the border April through June 2018. The other two, “Option 3” and “The Hierarchy,” look at what might have been the experience of an attorney, a father, asked to write the memorandum supporting family separation, and what might be the impact on the future life and relationships of one of the separated children.
In “Acid Reign,” a foray into the EPA under Scott Pruitt, her primary character struggles with complex, warring feelings. She needs to stay employed, but knows from firsthand experience that science doesn’t support the policies she’s being asked to put into place. Staying, leaving—neither presents a solution. In the last paragraphs of the story, she rationalizes her continued compliance with phrases like, “Being a bad person, though, is different than just doing one’s job in a socially approved way with the endorsement of high government officials…”
Murray’s writing honestly and directly exposes ongoing human behaviors we rarely talk about. A quote from the slipcover notes, “These brilliantly conceived and beautifully written stories are troubling yet irresistible mirrors of our time.” This is true. Yet the fallibilities revealed, like the capacity to go numb in the face of violence and moral ambiguity, run deeper and wider across our history. The stories in this collection are a mirror of troubling human capacities and choices repeated throughout human civilization, making this book the kind of courageous, intelligent writing we need more of these days.