Tuesday, October 18, 2011
REVIEW: Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, by Danielle Evans
Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, Danielle Evans' debut collection, knocked my socks off, spun them around in the laundry and hung them out to dry.
Need to know more? Evans' book is a collection of eight stand-alone stories told by very different people in very different walks of African-American life. "Virgins" is about teenage girls playing with their fire of their burgeoning sexuality and getting themselves mixed up in dangerous territory; it's as scary and thrilling as the girls' own adventures. In "Harvest" we get to know undergraduate who envies her white friend Laura, who makes a lot of money selling her eggs. "Snakes" is about Tara, nine years old and mixed-race, visiting her white grandmother for the first time. Her grandmother favors Tara's cousin Allison and scares Tara with stories about giant snakes running loose through the woods.
But the story I'll always think of when I think about this collection is "Someone Ought to Tell Her There's Nowhere to Go," about Georgie, a veteran returning from overseas to an ex-girlfriend and her little girl named Esther, not his, but whom he loves like she was. He starts taking care of her- taking her to the mall mostly- while her mother is working. They're poor but Esther wants to go to a tween pop star's concert, a ticket to which costs over two hundred dollars. Georgie enters her in a contest under false pretenses, with disastrous results.
Reading Before You Suffocate wasn't like reading stories- it was like reading eight miniature novels. Words like "vivid" and "detailed" are often used to describe well-crafted short stories and these are both, but what really makes this collection stand out is the emotional immediacy that Evans creates, the way she makes such believable, relate-able and sympathetic people often in very difficult-to-fathom situations. As appalling as Georgie's actions are, they're also completely understandable; I pitied him but I could see exactly how he ends up where he does, and why Esther's mother reacts the way she does, too. All of the stories have these flawed, richly drawn characters struggling alone through some kind of morass, mostly of their own making. It's an incredible collection, highly recommended. You can bet I'll be first in line for her novel. If you read just one volume of short stories this year, better make it this one.
Also, please check out my friend King Rat's review here. His review sold me on the book.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Penguin.