Earlier this week, I was chatting with my FFJ about how surprised and impressed I was by Jean Thompson’s short story collection Throw Like a Girl. FFJ was amazed that after all the reading I’ve done that I can still be surprised and impressed with a book, especially when you consider the amount of bullshit that’s published these days (cough The Boy Who Cried Freebird).
The thought that she was no longer impressed or surprised by what she read saddened me, and I considered myself lucky to still find magic in books. I felt even luckier for having found Thompson’s collection (after reading her book notes essay on Largehearted Boy).
While I found the collection a little uneven sometimes, I was so impressed by what Thompson had done that I’m willing to forgive her most anything (except a few cheesy last lines that actual left me cringing).
Her story “Lost” about a college-aged girl involved in a love triangle was one of those rare stories that is so delectable, so wonderful that I had to put the book down occasionally just so I could revel in the glory of the words.
One of the things that I learn in every writing class I take (and in the very few books on writing that I’ve read) is that writers make choices, and the beauty of “Lost” is that once I finished reading the story I saw how brilliant and masterful Thompson’s choices were.
When you take writing classes you are inevitably subjected to the psycho 20something girl story, usually written by the woman who is right out of college. Hell, I’ve written a few of my own in that little sub-genre. The problem with college-age girl stories is that 20something girls live lives that are much louder, much more important, much more dramatic, and much more total bullshit than normal lives, and the stories are often written that way.
But here is where Thompson’s brilliant choices come in. She chose to write her college-age girl story by having her narrator tell her story from many, many years after the love triangle was long since over. This allowed the narrator to tell her story minus the drama (yet the story was still dramatic) with a stark sort of matter-of-factness that was heartbreaking.
At one point, after having sex with her lover the narrator talks about they had destroyed her old threadbare sheets and she remarks about how she was “the girl you come to when you wanted to wreck things.”
Gah! That line slayed me. And then a few pages later the narrator ponders whatever happened to the girlfriend of her lover, and says, “Sometimes I wonder how her life turned out, if she kept finding people to love her.”
And as much as I loved “Lost” that wasn’t even the best story in the bunch. That would have been “Pie of the Month” (that even gets the best story accolade even though it has one of those cheesy, painful last lines something along the lines of “easy as pie.” I KNOW). This story is about these little old ladies in small-town Iowa who run a pie making business. This is one of those stories that starts in one place and you think you know where you’re going and it brings you to a totally unimagined, but wholly fantastic place.