April 2005

Liz Miller

fiction

Bulletproof Girl: Stories by Quinn Dalton

A young woman leaves home with a backpack full of her father's bowling shirts. A wife and mother's rage explodes in the form of a mob-style fertilizer bomb. A writer clears her home of the things men have given her. Just a sampling of the women that populate the short stories of Quinn Dalton's Bulletproof Girl.

Dalton's protagonists are a diverse bunch, all dealing with the mortal wounds of divorce, rape, pregnancy, mothers and daughters. Built of flaws and delusions, held together with an inner strength, the elegance of the prose makes the everyday calamities these women face huge, global, of great interest -- small stories, well-told. It's not the incredible diversity of the characters that proves to be a indication of Dalton's great talent, though -- it's the way that each unique person seems real, true, fully observed. Although her style manages to remain consistent, the voices of the characters and the tone of the stories shifts with each new premise, each new setting.

"How to Clean Your Apartment" sums up the restless urges of heartbreak with advice about what must go. In "Lennie Remembers the Angels," a car accident victim, abandoned by her grown son in small degrees, finds companionship instead in her strange next door neighbor, the only one who called for help. Elise's son Chris in "Endurance Tests" keeps playing dead after the passing of their beloved dog, a strange parallel with the physical trials Elise and her best friend put themselves
through as children.

Each is sharp, perfectly timed, never a beat longer than necessary, with the exception of the titular "Bulletproof Girl" -- the longest of the collection, to the point of bloat. Over-concerned with the naked form of Emery's mother, captured in photographs during a 1950s study of women's posture, its depiction of three generations of women -- Emery, her mother May, and her grandmother Celeste -- is cold, distancing, and ultimately disappointing. May, in particular, feels like a pale imitation of the other mothers in these stories -- less developed with twice as much space for it.

But then there's the life and passion found in "Dough," wherein a teenage girl takes such pleasure both in the care of her senile grandmother, a once-famous dancer, and the body of her baker lover, who always smells sweet. The gentle love threaded through all these stories, passion and pain married together into a calm, slightly heartsick world view, is inspiring; it's the sort of writing that makes details in one's own life come alive. And when fiction can make the world around you stand out more clearly? It's a good thing.

Bulletproof Girl: Stories by Quinn Dalton
Washington Square Press
ISBN: 0743470559
224 Pages