While Emma Donoghue’s best-selling novel “Room” was a tale of imprisonment, her new and splendid collection, “Astray,” is all about breaking through barriers. In these 14 stories, her characters cross geographical, sexual, political, moral, and class borders. Ranging from London to North America, their adventures span 400 years. A short note at the end of each supplies its source from legal records, diaries, letters, newspaper reports, gossip, census polls, and poems. Such a lagniappe offers up not only a history lesson but also an insider’s wink: Look how I created this journey from fact to fiction.
And what a trip it is. Told with pathos and humor, from diverse points of view, in authentic-sounding vernacular, the characters capture us with their hardscrabble lives, gender-bending surprises, money-making schemes, perilous exploits, and terrible losses.