Thursday, November 24, 2011

On "Trouble with Girls" by Marshall Boswell *****

I suppose one could call this book lad lit. It was well received among the indie bookstore crowd. It's a collection of linked stories, in chronological order--some publishers might have even tried to call it a novel, which I think would disappoint those looking for a sustained narrative. The book is also one of my favorite reads of the past decade.

The story that first brought Boswell to my attention was published in the Yalobusha Review some eight years before the book saw light. By then Boswell had already won a context with Playboy magazine, and I couldn't help but wonder why he was submitting to the little magazine I was serving as an editor of at the time. We accepted the story in a heartbeat. That story, "Bloody Knuckles," however, seems quite unlike most of the stories in this collection. It has a kind of lyricism that Boswell's other stories only hint at. And it, along with the first story, "Ready Position," makes up the set of only two pieces that have nothing to do with "girls," the title of the collection. I suppose this makes sense--they are stories about boys.

By story three, the main character, Parker, is in high school and has discovered girls--and girls become the subject of the last eight stories. Parker is clueless and innocent and hopelessly optimistic, and it's a treat to watch him marshall his way from relationship to relationship, whether it's with a gal at a Christian camp, a too-hip-for-him punkster, or a gal who is about to be committed (literally).

The two best stories--or I should say, the two most memorable--from my first read of this book several years ago now are the two that appeared in Playboy. "Stir Crazy" is the tale of a couple of strippers who live next door, and Parker's eventual dating and dropping of one of them, with attendant bad results. "Venus/Mars" regards Parker's beautiful wingman (or rather, wingwoman) for a week and the help she lends him scoring with others--but with eventual revelations that threaten to destroy all that Parker has gained.

I also, on this read, particularly liked a story called "Between Things," which was first published in the Missouri Review. Here, Boswell, in places, returns to the kind of lyric voice he holds in "Bloody Knuckles," but in addition there's a kind of maturity of storyline and plot, complete with perhaps the best epiphany in the book, as Parker discovers something about both himself and the woman he's been sort of dating, sort of not.

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