March 4th, 2017
Despite it coming highly recommended from a close friend, I found myself feeling sort of resistant to this book of 19 short stories at first. I think partly it was that I’d just read another collection of stories (Public Library and Other Stories by Ali Smith) and had very much enjoyed their mostly-first-person narratives, and the fact that this book is narrated in the third person initially felt flat, especially in the first story, where I found myself impatient with reading about what the characters looked like. Also, this book felt quite bleak: we see its characters in a whole lot of moments of self-hate and sadness and stasis, and I was feeling bleak enough myself before I started reading. But as I kept making my way through it, Core’s style grew on me. I can see why she has a back-cover blurb from Marie Calloway; these stories and the ones in Calloway’s what purpose did i serve in your life feel like they inhabit a similar sort of space populated by characters struggling with self-doubt and insecurity and want/need and the dynamics of dealing with other people. When I finished the book I read it again, and I liked it more on my second read—maybe because I knew what I was in for.
There is a lot in this book about being young and feeling stuck in your circumstances, and also a lot about being a writer and feeling stuck in your work, and also a lot about being human and feeling stuck in your self/in your desires, but there are also stories with a sense of possibility. In my favorite story, Historic Tree Nurseries, a queer couple consisting of a younger woman and an older woman drive to Ohio to adopt a dog: there is a lot of tension, but the ending is a moment of something like grace.
Even in the stories I liked less, there were a whole lot of good sentences/phrases: someone asks a character what it’s like being a teenager, and her response is that “Everyone wants what you have so they try to control you” (17). Another character is “addicted to her own charm” (29). Someone thinks about how she “hates the way people in her neighborhood seem to lecture each other on dates” (78). When two characters get on a plane after a series of stressful experiences, there’s this, which I like a whole lot:
And it was a surprising relief to enter the familiar capsule, to know that now nothing was expected of them. Even the lift-off was pleasant, easy to succumb to. They simply sat there, letting the rumbling machine have them, then the sky. (102-103)
And there is something really satisfying about a lot of the dialogue, which feels very funny and true, like this conversation between a pair of best friends in “Another Breed”:
Cory could have smiled or sobbed but did neither. “Am I a needy person?”
“Am I the neediest person in your life?
“No. You’re just the most willing to express it.” (48)