Certainly there is a history of the incident, going back before my time: injuries, a childhood illness, ostracism, mental disorder, loneliness, screams. A history of chance.
These stories are raw and I devoured them. They are about bleeding out, deprivation, forbidden attraction, hiding from the world, the meaning of freedom, and all the things we think and don’t say or feel and keep in the shadows. Humans are beasts, we’re fragile creatures and mean ones too. We destroy others, we destroy ourselves. We’re full of longing and disgust for our longings too. I think the most moving excerpt for me is from the story Jury, but I am only going to give a line or two from it, “They were so helpless. They cut themselves, starved themselves, got themselves killed.” Women, girls, because our reality is that dangerous, that threatening in the world we all share. He is just a father, sitting on a jury thinking he can understand a fellow juror because he notices something about her, as if labeling a thing means it is easily repaired. The line about his grown daughter too, loaded with meaning, for me anyway. “This was a girl with everything. And yet she never smiled.” Jury resonated with me, its brutal and strangely quiet at the same time. It is all the things that don’t need to be said to understand even the relationship between father and daughter. He just doesn’t really get it, he is frustrated by the helplessness women deal with and yet, angry at the ways we fail to acknowledge the danger.
All of the stories have meaning, purpose. In Rainbow Baby a mother’s grief is a specter, a bother like a living nightmare, decay in the brain. The hatred and betrayal of an old friend in Viral is so poisonous and sad, an ugly violence that isn’t far-fetched. It is born from envy, it is ‘animal hate’ of someone who ‘hasn’t known pain’. How broken our narrator of the story, and we the readers watching the transgression and knowing the horrible end, nothing you can do to stop it. Too, the manipulation at times young girls are so good at, with boys who can’t think more than “five minutes ahead”. What I think is fantastic about these characters is that they are incredibly developed for such short stories. With that line, a boy who “can’t think five minutes ahead”, it makes him such a solid mess, easily led. I can see him eager as a puppy. I feel his naive stupidity as much as I felt the father’s anger and fears in Jury. If someone is suffering in a story, they can explain it to themselves, excusing it, erasing anything others would find seedy or even criminal, when in The Brother, the youngest takes what isn’t his, violates a girl. All because he longs to connect, to have what his brother has. Just like all the people on the outside, scratching to be let in!
As a reader I measure my responses as a human being, how is it I can be horrified and yet also feel sorry for the monster lurking in others. It’s so much easier to divide ourselves in categories, well I am nothing like that, there is nothing so primitive within my soul. Of course there is… the older you get the more you are tested by time, tragedy, experiences, the more things lash against you. It’s hard being your better self, your most human self. These are stories about feelings you should force to withdraw before you make a mistake you can’t take back. They are tales of sometimes allowing your dark side to run wild, or your emotions take over. It is being hungry with need, and my God desire and need can get ugly. Some offer themselves up as sacrifice to those who would soil them, I felt that in The Lover. Other’s close themselves away from the rest of us in The Shut-In, afraid of the world when they may be more monster than the threats they cower from. The ending of that story gutted me, it is such a small act but how I howled inside much like the unmasked.
The stories all stayed with me, and moved me in wonderfully strange and terrible ways. Yes, read it! From these stories alone I decided to start following the author.
Publication Date: February 12, 2019
Farrar, Straus and Giroux