Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Blueprints for Building Better Girls, by Elissa Schappell

Ironically titled after an etiquette book of decades past, Blueprints for Building Better Girls is a collection of short stories, some linked, about young women with wide ranging problems. One is a high school student with an undeserved reputation as a slut, an alcoholic father, and a depressed mother; she forges a relationship with a formerly fat wrestler and is devastated when he ignores her in order to impress some of the "mean girls" who make her life miserable. In a later story, we learn that she has married and has a son, who she is now trying to dissuade from a romance with an older woman by telling him about a tragic event in her college years (although she pretends it happened to a friend rather than to her). Another character is suffering a nervous breakdown after being raped; her mother delegates her the responsibility for checking in with her grandfather, who has dementia, and the results are darkly humorous...but not good. Yet another character is a college student whose out-of-control drinking, drug use, and sexual behavior cause increasing isolation.

Short stories are not my favorite genre. While Schappell's characters are well-drawn, I think I am too old to gain much from these stories except a deep sense of sadness. If I'm going to get depressed about the state of young women, I guess I'd rather do it via a novel.

Favorite passage:
Then I forgot about it. I rarely ever dreamed about Ray. When I did, the dreams felt like gifts. I wasn't sad or angry anymore; what I felt was tenderness for the girl I'd been in the dream, the first self I'd ever really liked.

No comments:

Post a Comment