Sunday, December 11, 2016

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer

Young women try to figure out where they fit in

These eight stories provide a glimpse of young characters moving into the larger alien world and then trying to reconcile their reality with this larger world. From Brownies molded to excel, but then quite publicly not excelling, to a nerdy girl attempting her own lunch counter sit in, the characters are surprised by how the world actually works. A number of the stories deal with the structure and vocabulary of the African American church. The characters in one story, “Geeses,” are all underemployed young people scrounging for food and shelter in alien Japan. The insecure young high teacher in “Our Lady of Peace” has trouble controlling her class of urban youth until Sheba, a statuesque young girl, a leader who lives in a shelter, joins the class.

When I started this collection, I was expecting the expected. And that was not the case. The stories were surprising. The prose was quietly satirical, the dialogue deadpan. I’m not sure this completely worked as a collection, however; there was a certain sameness to the stories, and I didn’t feel that the collection had an arc. The final story, Doris is Coming, did end on a punch to the gut.

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