October 2009

J. T. Hill

fiction

The Creepy Girl and Other Stories by Janet Mitchell

In The Creepy Girl and Other Stories, girls remove their panties with unsavory consequences. People die -- mothers, brothers, fathers, and friends -- from natural and, more often, much less natural causes. From this description, and from the title story’s old-fashioned surprise ending a la Poe, one might assume the fifteen pieces in Janet Mitchell’s debut collection are plot-driven, but this is rarely the case.

That so many stories in the collection thrive without a traditional plot, sometimes without a non-traditional plot, is a tribute to Mitchell’s gift with language. More than the others, “The Carpentry Story” swirls rather than moves forward. Emotions are richly conveyed as she describes:

“the way the sand has of pouring around a foot, an ankle, puckering, draining a body dragged down to a solidly fitting grave...coral bitted black sand, and every woman having watched as the bent-backed men shovel out the body of her child, or her husband, or both, a child at the hand of his father, each body rising as have the others before them, as the stiff sand monsters they have become, monsters that, we like to tell children, live beneath our feet, down in the sand.”

Such elegant prose characterizes every piece in the collection, although this is hardly a representative story. If the plot of “The Carpentry Story” resists chronology, most of the others, some which do possess a beginning, middle, and end, downplay the importance of such a structure. Most often, the storyteller is the story. Death is not emphasized as much as reactions to it. Yet these are hardly sterile experiments in prose poetry. Those panties are certainly removed -- several times. In “The Down Home American Story,” a woman kills -- rather graphically. In “The Father Story,” the title character comes back to life. And in “The Unimpressive Story,” a sister’s sexual fantasies keep her brother alive in memory.But to reduce these stories to what happens in them is to swallow good wine without regard for taste. This collection will get you drunk, to be sure, but I recommend sipping.

The book is sexy and playful, particularly in darker moments. Mitchell’s dialogue crackles, so much so that I grew excited by the sight of quotation marks. But the dialogue, like the stories themselves, provides less exposition than depth. Listen as a couple mourns a friend in “The Dialogue Story.”

“She had everything.”
“She had tits.”
“She was Beatsa.”
“That was such a stupid name.”
“She had the best pool.”
“Ever.”
“Ever.”

“Let’s go swimming,” one of them suggests and, inevitably, “Let’s fuck.” Are there truer reactions to a friend’s suicide? These stories, though short, are not small. Many of them do not stand alone as self-contained stories. All the titles contain the word “Story,” and one might wonder if the author protests too much. But if a handful of the pieces might not survive outside the collection, all fifteen of them work as parts of a whole, echoing each other without circling the same ground.

 

The Creepy Girl and Other Stories by Janet Mitchell
Starcherone Books
ISBN: 0978881176
168 Pages

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