The Missing Girl, a review

Jacqueline Doyle’s collection of stories The Missing Girl is beautifully written. And it is, in its own way, a harrowing look at what happens to girls–girls who go missing, girls who become women, girls who become women and are haunted by their memories of what happened, or what might have happened to them, when they were girls.

There is in many of the stories in this short collection an air of inevitability. The boys and men are predators. They are treacherous, they are duplicitous. The women, most of them just girls, have unstable identities, with names like Eula, and Early (“I just bet the boys have called you pretty, Early”), and Molly (who plans to change her name because “she has bigger things in mind”), and Nola (who prefers names associated with gemstones, like Sapphire, Ruby, Topaz, and Amber). These women will be brutalized by boys and men, and will have to reckon with the consequences, if they live to do so. Violence will happen. Like Beryl in “You Never Know,” they live close to danger, in the vicinity of disaster.

Along with inevitability, there is an air of uncertainty in many of these stories.  What really happened? Who did what? Who said what? Is that what he–or I–really said?  In “Hula,” the narrator, named Lucy, tries to sort out what actually happened in a bar in Hawaii.  “He says his name is Philip and he tells you he’s from New Jersey.” That’s what he says, but is it really true? He says he likes 25-year-old blondes. “Already you’re grossed out, thinking it’s loud in the bar, maybe that’s not what he said.” And later, when he says something infantile and coarse, “you think he says [that], but you must have misheard him.”  When she tells him her name, she’s not sure he’s heard. Lucy. Nothing is lucid, or clear, in these stories where men and girls smash together. Nothing except the cost, in unspeakable hurt.  

Eight stories, four from the female characters’ point of view, three from the male point of view, one that’s a combination. Doyle has an unfailing ear for these characters’ voices, for their yearning (“she was used to wanting things she knew she wasn’t going to get”), for their stumbling toward violence (“once you start lying you don’t know what’s going to come out”).  

This is flash fiction at is best, not a wasted word or extraneous detail. These are stories that will leave a mark.         

Half, a review

Sharon Harrigan’s Half (University of Illinois Press) is the story of twins, Artis and Paula, born into a blue collar family in Michigan. They are raised by a domineering father whose nickname is Moose (he tells the girls that living in Alaska he rode moose, “steering with the antlers”) and a submissive mother who runs a daycare center out of their house (a house that “reeked of warm milk and pureed peas, diaper rash and ear infections”). As the girls come of age, Harrigan explores the issues of identity, gender, and power in a narrative that is deft, entertaining, and satisfying on a number of levels.

The girls tell their story in one voice. “We” is the dominant point of view. The reader is taken into the mysterious interior world of twins, one of the attractions of this novel. They are essentially two halves of the same person. But each, being only a half, raises the question, Do they ever become whole in the course of the novel? Do they have a life and identity, one apart from the other?

And, similarly, do they have a life and identity apart from their family? In Moose, Harrigan presents a character who personifies male power and brutality. The girls think: “We knew to keep our family secrets.” While their father tells them: “If you tell what happens in this house, you’ll be taken away and never see your mom again.” There is love in this home, but it is love that crushes. In the course of the novel Artis and Paula learn and acquire power from their father while they also become aware of power they discover in themselves, power that is singularly female in nature–the other half of the human creature.  

The story begins in the future, Christmas 2030, at Moose’s funeral. In the minutes after the church service, one of the father’s friends, named Wild Pete, says to the girls, “You’re the ones who killed him.” That charge launches this compelling story.  For the reader, the rewards that lie ahead are rich. Sharon Harrigan has written a wonderful novel.  

What It Might Feel Like to Hope, a review

Dorene O’Brien’s collection of short stories, What It Might Feel like to Hope, surprises and delights the reader on every page. Eleven stories, whose titles are irresistible invitations–”Eight Blind Dates Later,” “Tom Hanks Wants a Story,” “Pocket Philosopher”–take the reader into the lives of characters on the threshold of change.

91H8+BYWWLL

In “Turn of the Wind” a scientist specializing in crystallography, facing the onset of dementia, leaves the lab and builds weathervanes for a hobby. A weathervane, he says, “is a story on a stick,” it “offers beauty without the hope of anything more.”  Faith, the main character in “Falling Forward,” takes responsibility for her dysfunctional neighbor, Ed, “a creased and rumpled man with doom etched on his face.” She is alone, and he is alone but for a lizard named Little Richard who figures prominently in the story’s climax, which holds out the promise of “falling forward into a new life.”   

In “Honesty Above All Else,” along with the title of the story, O’Brien deploys a skilled writer’s second device for grabbing the reader, a smart first sentence: “I’ve never told anyone this story, and I’m only telling you now because Mrs. O’Leary is dead.” These first sentences aren’t just springboards; they’re catapults.  Like this, in “A Short Distance Behind Us”: “Braelynn and I have been operating at the intersection of I love you and Fuck off for the last year.”  And like this, in “Reaping: “Her hair was pulled up into a plastic bag, and red dye trickled down her face and neck as she stood on the front porch trembling.” And here, in “Little Birds”: “May told Dina to take the chair, or she’d regret it for the rest of her life.”  

Five of these stories are first person narrative, five are third person, and one, the Tom Hanks piece, subtitled “An Anatomy of a Tale” (it might also be subtitled “What It Might Feel like to Write”) is at times first, second, and third.  

Technically accomplished, emotionally taut, always captivating, these vivid stories are little worlds of conflict, pain, beauty, and hope. They are richly imagined and deeply satisfying.  Dorene O’Brien has written a truly beautiful book. 

 

Read This Book

Still+Come+Home+by+Katey+Schultz-3

What a satisfying and haunting reading experience Katey Schultz provides in her new novel. Still Come Home is set in Afghanistan and takes the reader into the experience of four main characters, each of whom negotiates the terror and loss of that endless conflict. Summing up the harsh landscape and the muddle of that war, one character observes, “The only way to win is to survive.”   Continue reading “Read This Book”

Food Notes for My October 2020 Excursion, Romagna, Part I.

Last night we went to Ro e Buni, in Villa Verucchio. (That’s Boo-NEE.) It’s a pasta-meat place. I had cappelletti al ragu. Sort of like tortellini, a folded pasta with a filling, cappelletti are usually served in broth. It’s a delicious soup when there’s a chill in the air. I like cappelletti with ragu at Ro e Buni.  Here they are:

cappelletti in ragu

In addition, we had passatelli in broth (another fantastic soup), swisschard, squaquerone (a soft spreadable cheese), grilled sausage, and piada. And a half liter of red wine. 

For dessert, because we’re taking it easy, we had just a tiny bit of crostata with nutella.

nutella crostata   

Today for lunch we went to Nud e Crud, in Rimini. This place gets it done. It will definitely be on our itinerary. In the interest of sampling as many different kinds of pasta as I can (and I’m doing this for you) I had strozzopreti with salsiccia, pendolini, stridoli, e fossa.  Strozzopreti is the pasta, meaning “choke the priest,” with sausage, pear tomatos, a wild herb I don’t have a name for in English, and a local cheese that matures in a cave. This dish was mind-blowing:

strozzopreti-salsiccia-pendolini-stridoli-e-fossa.jpg

In addition, we had piada, swisschard, baby artichokes, and a half a liter of red wine. For dessert: Zuppa Inglese and Crema della Nonna. (Idiot! I didn’t take their picture).

carciofi saltati

 Note: there will be recurring menu items in these reviews–swisschard and piada, especially.  And red wine. I’m eager for you to try to local Sangiovese.  

I’m thinking about how to organize this food adventure so you can try as many things as possible. Eat widely (without becoming wide). With your permission, I will order for the table, indicating in advance: Tonight is a great pasta place. Or today we’ll have three soups for lunch. Or next up: a seafood meal. Or at this place we’ll concentrate on meats. Always, of course, with an assortment of sides.

My preference is to order for the table–because it saves time and because I can direct you to local specialties. Often servers will have recommendations. Today’s special at Nud e Crud, for example, was the strozzopreti. I would have been a fool to miss it. 

That’s yesterday and today. We’re taking the night off.  It was a heavy lunch. Which raises an important issue.  Is he nuts? How much does he expect us to eat? Only as much as you want.  I’ll be thinking light vs heavy, when we need to take our feet off the accelerator and coast. When we need to coast and take a breather, we will.  

Tomorrow for lunch I expect to have rabbit–at another great place in the area. Also, they usually have ravioli (probably with a stridoli sauce) that are delicate and, well, exquisite.   

 

Veal Feathers

calves

On the package it says “Plume de veau.” I read that as “veal feathers.” Thinking: Now what have they done to those poor animals?

It’s hard not to feel guilty. The don’t-eat-the-veal campaign in the 1980’s just about ruined osso buco for me. The Wall Street Journal reports that per capita consumption of veal in the US fell from 2.3 pounds in 1986 to just 0.3 pounds in 2014. But now, early in the 21st century, veal has been rehabilitated. Continue reading “Veal Feathers”

Two Restaurants in Romagna

1

“This is not hunger,” my wife says.

We are bent over two dishes of pasta that are, well, a religious experience. She ordered the ravioli burro e salvia; I have cappelletti with ragu. We’ve come for lunch, and we go away not satisfied so much as transported. Continue reading “Two Restaurants in Romagna”

Dalla Maria, Best Overall

12

I’ll have the tagliatelle with beans, please.

If you’ve made it to Pesaro, you are in the land of good eating. In the old town you will eat well at Zongo, Pasqualon, La Guercia, and Il Moletto. Venture out of town, to Il Sentiero, for example, or to Gennaro, and you will experience both extraordinary natural beauty and culinary excellence. Continue reading “Dalla Maria, Best Overall”