April 2011

Laura Tharp

fiction

The Girl with the Brown Fur: Tales & Stories by Stacey Levine

A pageant of misfits parade through Stacey Levine’s newest collection, The Girl with the Brown Fur: Tales & Stories. The book arrived on my doorstep amidst a particularly bleak spell of rain and cold and wind, just as winter seemed to be giving way to spring. The cherry blossoms, just arrived, shrugged beneath the weight of the rain and shook with the wind, resigning their newly opened buds prematurely. The sidewalks were filled with them, little pink clouds dancing in turbulent pools. I spent two days in my pajamas reading, then re-reading, Levine's collection while the cherry blossoms outside my window tossed their petals to the wind. And, really, I can’t imagine a better setting for settling down with this bunch.

I first encountered Levine’s fiction in 2005, when I happened upon a copy of her just-released second novel, Frances Johnson. The title conjured Carson McCullers’s Frances Addams, from The Member of the Wedding, and delivered. Like McCullers's gutsy, ambitious heroine, Frances is a lonely Southerner (if you can, in good conscience, consider Florida a province of the South) trapped in a small town where she doesn’t belong. Loneliness and alienation are key here in Levine’s world, but they are not without comic relief. Revealed in coy increments, her characters wield their wit with an exact precision -- in “And You Are?”, the longest story in this collection, the narrator confides, “In 1999, when many people said that a crisis might be, but that it might not be, Janice-Katie took some prescription pills and felt a bit better.”

Most of the stories in this collection are shocking brief vignettes of alienation, perversion and delusion felt by characters in revolt. “Uppsala,” the first story, begins “We come from a bad family and we are disgraced.” In the following piece, “The Cats,” we are introduced to Brook, a lonely woman in love with her only confidant and friend, a partially tamed cat whose mortality Brook finds intolerable. The only logical response to this looming loss is to have her best friend -- “Your boyfriend is a cat!” the school children shout -- replicated. Levine’s characters are enraptured with cats. Towards the end of the collection, we find another story titled simply “The Cat.” The lonely, middle-aged narrator, recently spurned by the young girl who lives in the apartment next door, laments, “The cat bothered her with its unwillingness to leave, its preference for solitude, its orange leg, its brain of indifference.”

Levine has aptly identified this work a collection of tales and stories. A tale is a cautionary story, or it's a story hidden, set away, misplaced, within a larger narrative. Some of Levine’s stories -- tales -- adhere to the folkloric moral tradition, as in “The Bean,” a tale of an anthropomorphized sad green bean who bears no relation to his bee mother; but it is the latter realm of the tale to which this collection belongs. And it is here that Levine has built a solid foundation for her work. This is a collection meant to be discovered -- found.

The Girl with the Brown Fur: Tales & Stories by Stacey Levine
Starcherone Books
ISBN: 0984213341
175 Pages