I finally got to my pending stack and read Half Girl. Loved it. Felt sad after finishing (as I do when fiction is especially compelling) because wonderful emotional ride over. Angelique so likable and yet so real. I enjoyed her story so much I found myself trying to swallow some passages whole because I was so taken with her plight. Had to be on guard not to do that because didn't want to miss relentlessly good metaphors.
Ted Jonathan, Curator of New York Quarterly Reading Series
The stories are additionally exposed in their weaknesses by the one exceptional work of fiction included, the searingly strong "A Lynching in Stereoscope," by Stephanie Dickinson. Told in overlapping narratives, this ferociously-written account of the during and after of a Deep South lynching is far too invested in plumbing the emotions of the characters to be diluted by self-conscious "noodling around." One looks with real anticipation for more of Dickinson's work.
Sam Sacks - New York Press - review of "Best American Nonrequired Reading Series" edited by Dave Eggers
From the very first story we can tell this will be a book full of fresh characters the likes of which you and I have never seen. To give a quick summary herein of the worlds experienced would be impossible. The people who populate Stephanie Dickinson’s Road of Five Churches include two teenaged girls (“down-winders”) running away from a fallout zone, a girl kidnapped by a traveling saleswoman, a young fundamentalist Christian mother of four who is contemplating abortion or suicide, underage prostitutes, the falsely accused informant sentenced to death, and a thieving Korean orphan, among others.
These stories, full of female protagonists and sidekicks, are feminist above all. They touch on such issues as reproductive freedom, government nuclear pollution, the war in Iraq, domestic spying, race relations and our history of lynching, Native American genocide, and the exploitative prostitution rings of young Eastern European girls. Dickinson somehow breeches all of these worlds with the effective voice of an insider, and without the didactic tone that might detract from the quality of the prose.
What works well in adjusting to the extreme shifts of location from story to story is Dickinson’s impeccable pacing within each narrative. While there is often much to see in the environments she provides, we are compelled to note and dwell more on the absences. In the desert of “Fire Maidens, ‘57” even the birds have disappeared in the wake of nearby nuclear testing. Our attention is drawn to the empty skies, to rusted automobiles and ditches at the side of the road. Everything through main character, Monarch’s eyes is seen through the lens of leaving. Anything that can’t assist her escape is left out of description. The language—as in all the stories—is mostly as spare as the landscape, with truculent dialogue and just enough back-story to see us through to an ample understanding of where the characters have come from and where they’re likely to end up.
Dickinson is at her best though when the language is unfamiliar, when there’s mystery to what a character reveals. As in the title work (somewhat reminiscent of Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People” both in subject and for it’s near Southern Gothic style) when Nia tells us, “Even if I wanted to slip into the driver’s seat and turn the key in the ignition, my hands wouldn’t do it. God would turn them backwards on my wrists” or in “Leaping Elk Shootout” when Hatchet notes that, “The room is frigid; it’s the panic blowing in.” Not only is the language and rhythm on, but the meaning is incomplete. It gives us room to work with, leaving us with the open door through which to see ourselves, a quality the best of literature has.
At times though description of things can seem overly clever—as a walk up a flight of stairs is compared to the “Lewis and Clark expedition” and a secret to “the Paramount Theater with its purple velvet curtain”—when something spare and delicate would do. These moments are admittedly rare and forgivable in an overall engaging read from an interesting and emerging writer.
This volume shows cruelty and human culpability and pulls no punches. The women here get neglected, exploited, kicked, and killed, yet stagger on, prevailing in what will prove to be the long memory of their readers.
Elizabeth J. Colen - Her Circle Ezine
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