Saturday, August 4, 2012

Blueprints for Building Better Girls by Elissa Schappell

Young women are jarringly disappointed by society’s expectations

Much like last week’s book, Richard Lange's Dead Boys, the emotional and geographic landscape of this book felt insular, almost claustrophobic. These stories, however, were not about tough guys, but about their opposite: upper middle class neurotic white women. The problems these women faced were very recognizable to me, and the writing was often hilarious. But unlike in Lange’s book, the stakes here felt middling to low, so some of the stories dragged. Schappell’s heroines confront anorexia, date rape, Grampa’s Alzheimer’s and the realization that this whole marriage/motherhood thing may not make you feel fulfilled but rather imprisoned. The women address the problems with wisecracks, but only a few of the stories moved me. Many of them felt like a series of sharply written comic paragraphs that never ignited into a real story.

The story I liked best was Aren’t You Dead Yet? in which the narrator, a seemingly unconfident young woman, turns out to be quite the cold blooded artist who gets annoyed her dickhead artist ex boyfriend, slated to die young, and therefore the perfect subject for a play, apparently is going to get better and live. The story worked, I think, because the narrator was active instead of passive or passive aggressive. 

These stories were linked, tentatively but skillfully, not intrusively. I didn’t feel like this collection was claiming to be a novel under false pretenses.

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