Big Bad: Stories by Whitney Collins

They’re like worms on a summer sidewalk, child. They don’t stand a chance in the heat of this world.

I have a new favorite author and whether Whitney Collins writes another short story collection or a full novel, I’m first in line to buy it. The attitudes, thoughts, and emotional states of the characters rush at you with full force from the very first story. In The Nest, Frankie is confronted with the cruelty of life when she is introduced to her newborn brothers at the hospital. It is when her father leaves her with his blind mother at the nursing home that she discovers how refreshing adult honesty can be. About to turn seven, she’s thinking about sins, and the impossibility of keeping herself out of hell. Family relationships are strained and all the adults appear to be broken. Frankie knows some people just don’t stand a chance.

Sunday– Paul Lemon tells the story of he how lost his son, his arms and why he married Pauline, ‘a marathon mouth’. Big Bad-Helen gives birth to different versions of herself- too thin, too quiet, always busy, tough, weak, young, middle aged, and so old people question the soundness of her mind. Helen who tries to please, Helen who has had enough of the world, all the Helen’s on their way to something else. Drawers– Lawrence is a widower lost without his wife Anne, haunted by the horrible things in the world. Now that Anne is no longer alive, a glimpse of who he was before another death changed him, is trying to remind him. His life, in her care, has always been orderly but now as he travels to attend his grandson’s circumcision he hits a horse on the road. He can’t control his endless, wretched thoughts.

In The Entertainer, Rachel accompanies two spoiled girls and their family to the beach for two weeks. Her mother sees this as a window into a lucky life, a chance to make the right acquaintances. It’s the perfect life study on how the better half behaves, a chance to try a different life on for size and learn how to mold herself in their form. Rachel forgets who she is meant to be, and learns it’s all about doing ‘whatever it takes’. Daddy-O is impossible to tie down, coming and going with the seasons. Mabel’s mother is irritated that her ex-husband is always so “inexcusably happy” while Mabel wishes for a far more reserved father. Now that she’s in her sophomore year of high school he is just embarrassing but does he have something worth teaching her?

The Pupil– Mikey is a fatherless boy since his dad’s death, but his Uncle Drake has come to be the male influence in his life that his mother thinks he needs. To Mikey’s way of thinking, all his mother’s brother does is plop his butt down on his dead father’s recliner and simmer with anger. He wants to make him tough, see that he ‘grows a pair’. Maybe this isn’t the sort of manhood he wants to learn but what does a fake eye have to do with anything? Stone Fruit introduces readers to Marta and Dean at a couple’s retreat, Marta’s mind on his cold, stony love and wondering if she’ll ever locate his warmth. Three Couches– Spencer craves emptiness as his lover when he decides to leave his family. Who needs the never-ending circus family creates?

Lonelyhearts– Lenora houses a collection of hearts, twitchy and veined, attending to them with tenderness, while her own is ‘muscular with longing’. Then she meets Ready. Good Guys– Leonard has come from Illinois to live at the cooperative dorm at his college and soon becomes an easy target for Teddy to tease. Before long, his unique hobby makes him interesting, rather than just someone to break. But how much of a good guy is Teddy capable of being, uncomfortable in the warm glow of Leonard’s friendship? The Horse Lamp– Jarrod is on a call to fix a satellite, but the customer is a girl who seems both brave and dumb, and doesn’t actually have a satellite. What, then, is she about to propose he do for her? Last is Bjorn, a story about a girl named Bianca and a cyst on her forehead that becomes her mother’s obsession and later, a story that grows and grows. How can she resist poking and prodding her mother’s fears?

I love this collection and all the characters that populate it. It’s filled with people who are sometimes mean and rotten without reason they can find, clever and brave, or bursting to escape their life. There is darkness in the corners of some minds, even when they try their best to be better. Some are calamities while others cause them. There is also a little bit of magical realism within. The writing was great and the subjects fascinating though they mostly live in ordinary worlds. Worms on a summer sidewalk… what a line! Can’t wait for the next book!

Publication Date: March 16, 2021

Sarabande Books

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