January 2004

Kris Rothstein


Grosse Point Girl by Sarah Grace McCandless

True to the promise of the title, Grosse Pointe Girl is a collection of six stories and two prose poems about growing up in that most hoity-toity of suburbs. And while the suburbs may have been a fruitful inspiration for harsh satires by John Waters and slapstick comedies starring Tom Hanks, rarely are they the setting for a story as funny and spare as that told in these linked stories of a coming of age.

In elegant and highly readable prose, Sarah Grace McCandless selects telling episodes from a life of privilege and leisure and uses them to humanize the suburban landscape. Kids are mean, parents are clued out and the world can be a hugely scary place. There’s no shocking love affair or town tragedy that shakes the narrator’s world to the core; instead the action is languid, thoughtful and cumulative. This is a peek inside the head of a girl who knows how to fit in, popular and accepted, instead of a tale of woe from the usual teenaged loner of literature. But this particular suburban adolescent is a keen observer and is wise to danger, lies and hypocrisy at a young age. By the reunion of the final instalment, we can truly understand one girl’s Grosse Pointe childhood.

Even if you didn’t grow up in the suburbs you will be able to relate to the events in Grosse Pointe. In "War Memorial Dances," the narrator and her best friend experience the ecstasy and agony of that most brutal event, the high school dance. "Farms Pier" paints a perfect picture of the in-crowd, and the perilous, illogical tightrope of teenage popularity. Some stories probe a darker, sadder world. "The Lochmoor Moms" hints at the empty lives that await these (un)fortunate girls when they grow up to be idle vacuous wives while "What is Broken" examines the fragility and vulnerability of teenaged girls, hinting at the sexual violence which can affect them no matter how many credit cards they might have.

The final result is an incredibly realistic journey through adolescence. The emptiness of wealth and consumption are obvious but it is also clear that the teens of Grosse Pointe can’t yet conceive of an alternative to the insular and vicious microcosm of High School. And while the narrator will happily abandon this world as soon as she’s able to, there is still an element of regret and an understanding of just how central the clichés of high school are for American teens, so disconnected from adult society.

McCandless reaches beyond the straight-forward narrative of so many contemporary writers of short fiction. Her facility with language and sharp, poetic insight always zero in on just the right detail. Her stories will delight you with their witty prose and make you sigh for a lost childhood. I savoured every word.

Grosse Pointe Girl by Sarah Grace McCandless
Future Tense Books
ISBN 1892061104
68 pages