The fourteen stories in All Roads explore childhood trauma, addiction, and the reckless materialism of mainstream American culture. Set mostly in Chicago, the stories range from the perspective of a nine-year-old girl intensely observing her new stepmother to a woman trying to make sense of her body after cancer surgery. The collection offers a complex and candid view of class privilege, gender oppression, and the idiosyncratic forms of refuge we take in a culture that demands our self-objectification.
In “Charlie," a new mother tells the story of her confusing attachment to a former mentor, uncovering the deep pain that has largely defined her life. In “The Fathers," an awkward bachelor party leads to an unexpected moment of overdue connection between the bride's father and brothers. The title story tracks the drunken monologue of a nihilistic middle-aged man attempting to seduce a young woman into a threesome, while “The Deal" alternates perspectives between a cynical divorced woman and her adult son, the only person with whom she's been able to sustain a lasting relationship. Relentlessly self-revealing, these characters vacillate between vulnerability and self-protection, exposing the necessity of both. Dark, comic, and altogether unforgettable, All Roads introduces an original voice attuned to the docility of the stingray as well as the ancient spear of its tail.
The Cheesecake Factory
"Colleen O’Brien’s gaze is unflinching and brutally tender, and the stories she tells capture the jangly rhythms of lived experience. These stories are smart and piercingly observant. They are subtly, almost scarily affecting. Imagine walking into a room you’ve never been in, then feeling a jolt of recognition. That is the power of great story writing, and that’s how good All Roads is.” —Daniel Orozco, author of Orientation and Other Stories
“A compelling and exquisitely written collection about the American dream and the earnest, determined, and willfully naïve people who want what this land promised them, whether they are ready for it or not. Honest in its portrayal of life and all its foibles, heartfelt in its depiction of addiction and loss, and at times, funny as hell, All Roads is the perfect book for now and I couldn’t be more excited to see what O’Brien does next.” —Courtney Maum, author of Touch
“In these exquisitely crafted stories, Colleen O’Brien perfectly captures and chronicles the lives of lapsed Catholic, Midwestern families shattered by divorce, alcoholism, domestic violence, dysfunction, and—perhaps most destructive of all— love: earnest, flailing, and too often insufficient. And here is O’Brien, picking up the shards and piecing them together as if to suggest that it is only by regarding ourselves through the fractured prism we call ‘family’ that we can ever make sense of our past, and ever hope to envision a future.” —Thisbe Nissen, author of How Other People Make Love
“Colleen O'Brien is a writer of rare gifts. The fourteen stories collected here are honest, wry, and perceptive, and recapture the manifold, arresting quality of the everyday. Filled with humor and loss, and moments of unwilled though profound transformation, All Roads ranks among the best contemporary fiction.” —Benjamin Hedin, author of Under the Spell: A Novel (TriQuarterly Books, 2021)
“In her exquisitely written and deeply moving debut collection, Colleen O’Brien delivers hard-won truths about the long shadow that divorce can cast over the lives of both parents and their adult children—and the ways that money, sex, and art can (and can’t) compensate for what’s been lost. Wise, witty, unflinching, and unforgettable, the stories in All Roads express an expansive vision of familial love as a lifelong work-in-progress that's as harrowing as it is rewarding. I absolutely loved it.” —Mark Rader, author of The Wanting Life
“Beneath each of the stories in Colleen O’Brien’s debut collection, All Roads, pulses an insistent, often erotic, desire to see oneself and others more clearly. No matter how broken, her characters remain singular and intelligent, the worlds they inhabit, utterly absorbing. O’Brien is a generous and unflinching storyteller, and an exciting new voice in American short fiction.” —Rachel Swearingen, author of How to Walk on Water and Other Stories
“Colleen O'Brien's All Roads is a quiet marvel, a phenomenal collection of riveting short stories featuring complicated, all-too-real characters facing complex problems that feel urgent and relevant. The voices of these women and men are multifaceted and poetic, and the forms the stories take display narrative virtuosity. More than anything, these stories show people at their most flawed and most human, a decided shift away from our culture’s recent insistence on likability toward something much more complex, beautiful, nuanced, and resonant.” —Joe Meno, author of Bluebirds Used to Croon in the Choir: Stories (TriQuarterly Books, 2005)
“In this collection, O’Brien explores the hidden grit of being a resilient female with vital prose that resonates in the mind of a reader long after reading.” —Emily Strelow, author of The Wild Birds