marginalia || Girl Trouble, by Holly Goddard Jones

Have read Girl Trouble, debut collection of short stories by Holly Goddard Jones. Stories set in small town in Kentucky and oh-so-Southern — but that didn’t really come across strongly for me; that is, what I know of the American South’s already been filtered through. And, well, I’m one of those unenlightened ones who are yet to discover the gravity, the necessity, of setting. So.

It’s a confident first collection of short stories. First of all, Jones displays such mastery of the craft; she knows just how to manipulate the elements of the form. That just-right handling of chronology, of points of view, of revelations. It’s refreshing to read someone who’s obviously taken upon herself to study fiction, and excel at it — and I love that it’s palpable how she respects it so.

Does this make the stories conventional? Safe? To most people, I suppose so. But I found them really solid. Refreshing, in a Dear god, finally kind of way. It makes the stories fine examples of what a confident and learned writer can do with the craft, without needing to subject the reader to hoop-jumping, without the text appearing stale in the process.

And that’s another thing: the stories are fluid, a joy to read. Never mind that the shortest stories are 25 pages long, and the longest span more than sixty. She packs whole lives into these pages — choice triumphs and disappointments. Just the right details to mention.  It’s quite Munro-esque.

And I love how it’s a conscious decision to write in the short story form: There’s no need for the novel’s length, because she could say what she wanted to in the short story. There’s not even that feeling that she’s shortchanging the characters — on the contrary, she has this admirable investment in her characters, both emotionally, and how she devotes the narratives to them. Wahoo.

One of my favorites — the most memorable to me — is “Parts.” The story traces the development of a mother’s grief following the brutal murder of her daughter, and how this grief stalls her life. It was gripping, and it was visceral, and it’s ridiculously biased. I mean, hats off to the first-person POV: it was the best choice to present the most honest reactions, given the context, and it was always juxtaposed with other people looking in, the possibility that these might not be true after all. An unreliable character, out of necessity. One of the best stories I’ve read. It begs emulation.

However. The mmm-hmmm-ness of this story was jeopardized with the last story: “Proof of God,” which is a freaking tell-all, revealing what really happened with Felicia’s murder, but in the point of view of one of the suspects. Normally, it’d be all and good to humanize this Simon, to inform us of the “real” events that occurred that night. BUT, it was so off-putting in its very presence in the collection, I really felt that it was a bad decision to include it in the collection.

I mean, what made “Parts” work was my surrender to the unreliability of the narrator. And now I’m being urged to let go of that? It gets all hokey and corny now. And although both stories are good in their own ways, I wish Goddard Jones — and her editor — had sacrificed one of them. I felt that it was of the utmost importance to let one go. [I vote for “Proof of God,” because “Parts” is too awesome.] Because, well, as evidenced in my experience, one story negates the other. And it’s not the kind of, Ooh, I like you better now, no, wait, the other kind of negation. It’s the Yech, you had me, now I might just not like anything at all. See? Shit’s just counter-productive.

Ahem. So. In my lurking through the book blogosphere’s posts on the short story, and prevailing attitudes, one of the most common things I’ve encountered is that, well, short stories are too short. For character development, for emotional investment, for satisfaction. Aside from my gut reaction to scream Fuck no! at all the nay-sayers [because, well, a lot of the nay-sayers are friends, hahaha], I do urge you guys to try out Goddard Jones’ book, among others — they’re longer stories, for one, and she just respects the short story form so much, confident that the story she wants to say can be crystallized in so-and-so pages.

Besides, why is it such a bad thing to feel But I want more with short stories? Yes, there’s the whole This is unsatisfying because the writer wasn’t capable to make the story whole. But there are partial wholenesses to the short form, written by really good writers, and I hope people would appreciate more of those kinds of stories.

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