Saturday, August 20, 2011

On "Girls in the Grass" by Melanie Rae Thon ***

I came across Thon's writing years ago in literary journals and loved it, but I'd never gotten around to actually reading a collection of her until now. Here, in this set of stories, many of Thon's talents are on display, and some of the stories have a kind of sneaky power that left me wondering, "How'd she do that?" Perhaps, my long anticipation is what led me to be slightly disappointed with the collection as a whole--all the stories are competent, but only a few really stood out to me.

One of the best, as is typical of collections, is the very first. It's a simple piece, recounting a sleepover among girls who are just about to enter those years when boys means something to them. They wander around town, score a few drinks, find some boys and try to discover what all the fuss is about.

In "The Spanish Boy," Pauline is having man trouble. She's tired of her relationship with Nick, and the guys at her lousy job at a restaurant treat her with a disrespect reserved usually for women of low morals. Low morals also forge the basis for the story "Iona Moon," about a girl who gives sex out to her hot boyfriend, thinking she has love. And perhaps, in a way, she does, as we discover in another story, "Snake River," later in the collection. In fact, several of the stories here link with one another. I suspect that the sisters in "Sisters" are related somehow to the boyfriend, "Jay," in the previous two mentioned stories. "Sisters" is a fine story itself--one that seemed vaguely familiar and thus may have been one I'd read in a journal. It's about a "good" sister and a very "bad" sister and how they learn to cope with one another. Will they both be brought down by the bad sister's drug habits and profligate ways, or can the good sister somehow saver her? Or is it really about saving anyone at all?

Another set of linked stories involves a family who has just moved to Arizona from Montana: "Chances of Survival" and "Lizards." Of the two, I found "Lizards" the more compelling and moving. In it, a boy finally begins to enjoy school because of the gift of a great teacher, only to have her taken away for reasons unclear to him.

Random stories include "Small Crimes," about a college professor trying to seduce a student of his (not a very likeable character) and the sneakily powerful "Repentance." The latter story recounts the life of a child who has to grow old before her time because her grandmother requires her assistance, but sometimes, we aren't capable of growing old early, and the consequences can be devastating.

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