Maya C. James Reviews All the Hometowns You Can’t Stay Away From by Izzy Wasserstein
All the Hometowns You Can’t Stay Away From, Izzy Wasserstein (Neon Hemlock 978-1-952086-42-7, $18.99, 204 pp, tp) July 2022. Cover by Vivian Magaña.
Izzy Wasserstein’s All the Hometowns You Can’t Stay Away From opens with a story of the same name. Set in a second person point of view, readers follow a multiverse traveler who keeps returning to different variations of their hometown. Each version is slightly different, but their aversion to returning remains the same. Readers aren’t clued into exactly why they are traveling throughout the multiverse, but they do know that every version of home is complicated, especially as they relate to the character’s relationships with others. It’s a heartfelt look at the complexity of homecomings from a queer lens, and a fantastic start to a strong collection about home, queerness, and fighting against evil, powerful systems.
Split into three parts, each section of All the Hometowns You Can’t Stay Away From opens with gorgeous artwork of unnamed specters floating in strange landscapes. The artwork elevates the strangeness of each story while also leaving enough ambiguity for the reader. Genre-wise, Wasserstein’s stories include time-traveling, shape-shifting, and anti-authoritarian tales, among many others. Character-wise, there are many similarities among the divergent tales: most are not a part of systems or the status quo, and often rely on smaller close-knit communities to survive. There’s also a fairly diverse range of worlds that Wasserstein has built, but a unifying theme among all of them are intimacy against an unforgiving world.
One of the many striking things about All the Hometowns You Can’t Stay Away From is how similar the stories are in atmosphere. Each story had a similar feeling of unknowing and complications of home among them all. The people who make home, what emptiness feels like – all these covert and strong emotions were encapsulated in each tale. I felt like I was traveling through a liminal space with little protection but tremendous wonder and hope. I felt satisfied with each ending, even if I was not entirely sure exactly what happened in each story. I also get the impression that many of the stories could be set in a similar universe, or world. Many were fully built out, complete with political uprisings, systems of governance, and technologies. The vastness of the worlds creates a sense of wonder while reading – I had no idea if a story would provide a parallel to the upheavals of 2020, or take place in a dystopian, decaying world.
Of all the stories, “Five Reasons for the Sign Above Her Door, One of Them Unspoken” was most clear and decisive in its purpose. Focusing on chimeras, transgender people, and the cisgender gaze, Wasserstein offers an elegant tale about the discomfort that trans people face when fetishized by the cisgender gaze, and the danger that kind of attention and obsession brings to the often-endangered community. It has a cheeky yet sinister warning for dangerous voyeurs but remains focused on the spaces that trans people make for themselves, rather than the people that isolate them.
Not every story is as clear in its purpose as this one. However, for readers who are not comfortable with ambiguity, Wasserstein offers some notes about her stories in the last pages of the volume. I didn’t quite pick up on the anti-fascism themes present in some stories as Wasserstein claimed they did, but some readers may appreciate a more subtle approach to such a complex topic.
I had quite a bit of trouble selecting a favorite story here – I enjoyed most of them, but “Everything the Sea Takes, It Returns” was a standout for its emotional appeal. Set in a post-apocalyptic ocean-side setting, its allusions to horrific events are among the more terrifying than the actual events themselves. Hope is fleeting yet persistent. Among all the stories, Wasserstein’s writing style is strongest here. Passionate vignettes of a decaying world and scientists intent on salvaging it feel all the more intense. Smattered with homophobia, grief, and loss, Wasserstein’s writing evokes a deep sense of pain, trauma, and healing.
All the Hometowns You Can’t Stay Away From is a cohesive collection centering alienation, loss, and found communities. Many characters have complex relationships with home, and most define home through community and chosen families rather than a specific location. At the end of each tale, however, each character finds a way to reckon with the hometowns they cannot stay away from.
Maya C. James is a graduate of the Lannan Fellows Program at Georgetown University, and full-time student at Harvard Divinity School. Her work has appeared in Star*Line, Strange Horizons, FIYAH, Soar: For Harriet, and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center Blog, among others. She was recently long listed for the Stockholm Writers Festival First Pages Prize (2019), and featured on a feminist speculative poetry panel at the 2019 CD Wright Women Writer’s Conference. Her work focuses primarily on Afrofuturism, and imagining sustainable futures for at-risk communities. You can find more of her work here, and follow her on Twitter: @mayawritesgood.
This review and more like it in the February 2022 issue of Locus.
While you are here, please take a moment to support Locus with a one-time or recurring donation. We rely on reader donations to keep the magazine and site going, and would like to keep the site paywall free, but WE NEED YOUR FINANCIAL SUPPORT to continue quality coverage of the science fiction and fantasy field.
©Locus Magazine. Copyrighted material may not be republished without permission of LSFF.