27 December 2012

Elizabeth Stuckey-French: The First Paper Girl in Red Oak, Iowa (2000)

In 'Leufredus', one of the short stories in Elizabeth Stuckey-French's The First Paper Girl in Red Oak, Iowa, the narrator is working as a rehab counselor because, she says: 'I thought it would expose me to fascinating pathologies while at the same time reassuring me that I was normal, sort of an innoculation.' She is wrong, of course, although Stuckey-French's stories have that effect on me: they plunge us into a world of such eccentricity that we can only walk away with the feeling that at least we must be normal.
There are a number of dualities in these stories: truth versus fiction, reality versus fantasy, youth versus adulthood/old age, the spoken versus the unspoken, although there can be many stages between those dualities, there are times when they merge or become the opposites of themselves, such as the young being more mature than their parents, the unspoken more eloquent than the spoken, etc. Automatic verbal responses can hurt, but so can thinking too much before you speak.

The absurd lurks, such as when, in 'Scavenger Hunt', Francine Brick (divorced, living alone) finds a cigarette lighter (Peter the Pelican) in her kitchen, and goes to various places sleuthing down the reason for it, even inventing a name for herself as she piles fantasy on fantasy to emerge at the prosaic truth: her prodigal son (who's nothing like as rogueish as she thinks, or really as she would prefer) has visited and left it there. And another example of absurdity is (the thirtysomething?) Cherry paying for the 19-year-old Nick (who is in some ways the older person) to keep her company and join her and her children in a car journey to her husband at Virginia Beach, although on the way (after a little flirting) thinks they should push further, to Florida: impulse is a common trait in Stuckey-French's world.

And families are crucial to this world, which is peopled by mothers and fathers and their children in frequent conflict with each other. In the end, in general the young appear to come off as better people in this fictional world, slicing through the egotism, the self-deception and the arrogance of the grownup world. They may not be too diplomatic, and sometimes they're rude, but they have an honesty and a frankness that triumphs, such as when Jane, in 'Famous Poets', insults Miss X, a self-obsessed, self-defined 'famous poet', at the dinner table.

In 'Electric Wizard' the narrator says: 'Our conversation had become completely unmoored.' That seems to sum up The First Paper Girl in Red Oak, Iowa quite well.

Quirky, human, slightly insane, delightful. And that title isn't really significant, or rather, its just a fine title, so therein lies the significance.


Elizabeth Stuckey-French said...

Thanks so much for the thoughtful and kind review of my stories!

Dr Tony Shaw said...

Thank you for reading it, and for your comment!