In my head if Mary Gaitskill’s writing and Philip Roth’s writing were to meet, have sex, and create a baby, that baby would be Gina Frangello’s writing. I choose Gaitskill because, like Frangello, she writes about women dealing with their sexuality and the power/control issues that go with it, and Roth because of the anal sex.
It’s also no coincidence that I’ve chosen two of my all-time favorite writers as the imaginary parents of Frangello’s writing, because after finishing her latest short story collection Slut Lullabies she’s reserved herself a spot on the list. That’s only because the official rules and bylaws of favorite author lists clearly states that you must read at least three books by an author before they can be granted favorite writer status.
Oh, you want to know about the book rather than the made up book stuff I have in my head?
Sometimes writing about short story collections feels a little like writing about records. By which I mean it’s really difficult. I’m not a good music reviewer. I have a hard time taking a collection of things that are similar and yet still different and providing a larger context for them. However, I can write about individual songs, or in this case stories, and explain what makes them so fucking awesome.
For instance this collection includes a story called “How to Marry a WASP,” about Miguel a gay Latino man in the midst of planning an elaborate commitment ceremony to his partner, a rich white WASP. Miguel’s family is not so keen on his homosexuality, specifically the older sister who raised him. Throughout the story Miguel struggles with his fractured family, the abusive childhood they survived, and organizing this crazy event in an old, dilapidated and yet still grand theater.
There’s one moment in the story between Miguel and his future mother-in-law that manages to be pretty funny and touching at the same time. And then there’s a moment near the end that is so sweet and unexpected that when I read the paragraph my eyes began to water and I said, out loud, “oh my.”
Come on! How awesome is that? It’s not very many books that can elicit that kind of reaction from readers, at least not for me.
Best of all, that’s just one story! There’s nine others that are just as good. From “What You See” about the inner and outer lives of an Intelligent Woman and a Beautiful Woman to “Saving Crystal” where a young girl blackmails her teacher to earn money to save her unborn step-sibling from their abusive father, there’s a lot of goodness packed into these 204 pages.
P.S. If you need further convincing, go read Frangello’s Largeheartedboy Book Notes essay for Slut Lullabies. If that doesn’t make you want to read this book, nothing will. And I pity you.