Natural History: Stories
Finalist for the 2022 Story Prize
Longlisted for the 2023 Carol Shields Prize for Fiction
Named Among the Best Fiction of 2022 by BookPage and Kirkus Reviews
A masterful new collection of interconnected stories, from the renowned National Book Award–winning author.
In Natural History, Andrea Barrett completes the beautiful arc of intertwined lives of a family of scientists, teachers, and innovators that she has been weaving through multiple books since her National Book Award–winning collection, Ship Fever. The six exquisite stories in Natural History are set largely in a small community in central New York state and portray some of her most beloved characters, spanning the decades between the Civil War to the present day. In “Henrietta and Her Moths,” a woman tends to an insect nursery as her sister’s life follows a different path. In “Open House,” a young man grapples with a choice between a thrilling life spent discovering fossils and a desire to remain close to home. And in the magnificent title novella, “Natural History,” Barrett deepens the connection between her characters, bringing us through to the present day and providing an unforgettable capstone.
Told with Barrett’s characteristic elegance, passion for science, and wonderful eye for the natural world, the psychologically astute and moving stories gathered in this collection evoke the ways women’s lives and expectations—in families, in work, and in love—have shifted across a century and more. Building upon one another, these tales brilliantly culminate to reveal how the smallest events of the past can have large reverberations across the generations, and how potent, wondrous, and strange the relationship between history and memory can be.
Praise for Natural History: Stories
[A] confident, quiet, richly imagined collection…Barrett is bold yet deft in handling timelines, lifetimes, and points of view. Each individual story feels complete, even as the connections between them…reinforce the collection’s central conviction that there is no such thing in nature as self-containment; everything is part of something bigger than itself.
— Justin Taylor - New York Times Book Review
An imaginative miracle woven of complexly connected stories…Immersing oneself in Natural History is an experience both bracing and magical… [T]he blurring of distinctions, of past and present, reality and fiction, is enhanced by a narrative consciousness that doesn’t hover over the characters so much as live in between them, switching at will from one perspective to the next, allowing us to see the world through Henrietta’s eyes as well as look at her the way others do.
— Christoph Irmscher - Wall Street Journal
Each story here offers [Barrett's] signature gifts: lyrical distillation of scientific complexity, artful wonder at the natural world, exquisitely observed details, and prose as precise and inevitable as a mathematical proof…With their kaleidoscopic interconnectedness, the overlapping circles of Barrett's stories, from this collection as well as her earlier works, add up to something large and delightful.
— L.A. Taggart - San Francisco Chronicle
[E]xhibits a shrewd understanding of the fragility and resilience of the human heart and how that intersects with our bold dreams of discovery, scientific or otherwise…Barrett revisits her themes with a scientist’s precision and a poet’s grace.
— Connie Ogle - Star Tribune
The elegant linked-story collection Natural History returns the National Book Award-winner to familiar characters—drawn to natural wonders, searching for their own place in science—from her celebrated Ship Fever.
— Chicago Tribune
Andrea Barrett’s rewarding short story collection spans the Civil War era to the present day. Women’s roles evolve, as succeeding generations explore science, writing, teaching, and even flying, while still finding room for love and community.
— Christian Science Monitor
Telling the untold story is the heart of Natural History…The two stories merge, a kind of palimpsest in which the past is visible through the present and then shaded, artfully, by another hand. The effect is at once familiar and fresh, like being reminded of something half-forgotten and all the more treasured in the recollection, which has been the enduring feeling of all of these stories Andrea Barrett has written, across all these years.
— Holly M. Wendt - Ploughshares
[A] beautiful new collection.
— St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Barrett depicts the natural world and the human heart with wonder, tenderness, and deep understanding. More superb work from an American master.
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Barrett transforms deep knowledge of history, science, and human nature into gorgeously vital and insightful stories in which every element is richly brewed, mulled, and redolent.
— Booklist (starred review)
You need not have read earlier stories to be informed and dazzled by Natural History…Barrett demonstrates that while history organizes and distills events, fiction brings messy humanity gloriously to life.
— Bookpage (starred review)
A finely crafted linked collection…This offers rich rewards.
— Publishers Weekly