I Have a Dream

This weekend–the first in I don’t remember how long where I didn’t have a horrible deadline for a book hanging over my head–has been enormously relaxing and peaceful. The US Figure Skating Championships are going on, and so is the Australian Open, so Paul is on a total sports overload. I greatly enjoyed seeing the pictures and posts all over social media and the news about the Women’s Marches all over the world, and am extremely proud of all my friends who participated.

It gave me hope.

Ironically, having a free weekend with no book deadline has me feeling enormously guilty for doing nothing. WHY CAN’T I EVER JUST RELAX? Madness, seriously. But my kitchen is a mess, and there’s a load of laundry I need to fluff in the dryer–it’s been there since Friday morning–and I kind of would like to work on my cabinets and filing some. Seriously, I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but i just am not comfortable not doing anything. I hate that.

Okay, so I took a break and cleaned out the top drawer of the filing cabinet (huzzah!), did the dishes, put yesterday’s away, and did a load of laundry, currently drying. I also curled up in my easy chair with Scooter and read Megan Abbott’s Edgar nominated short story, “Oxford Girl,” and Laura Lippman’s “Pony Girl.”

Wow.

I have been an advocate for women crime writers for a very long time, and will continue shouting to the rooftops about the amazing women writers of our time even after my voice has gone hoarse and my throat hurts. These two examples from two of the best writers of our time, bar none, regardless of genre, are pristine in their beauty and delicious in their darkness.

Megan’s story is from Mississippi Noir, edited by Tom Franklin, and is part of Akashic’s amazing City/Place Noir series. If you’re a fan of great writing and stories that will punch you in the face before reaching inside your body and squeezing your heart until you wince, you really need to check out these books.

Two a.m., you slid one of your Kappa Sig T-shirts over my head, fluorescent green XXL with a bleach stain on the right shoulder blade, soft and smelling like old sheets.

I feigned sleep, your big brother Keith snoring lustily across the room, and you, arms clutched about me until the sun started to squeak behind the Rebels pennant across the window. Watching the hump of your Adam’s apple, I tried to will you to wake up.

But I couldn’t wait forever, due for first shift at the Inn. Who else would stir those big tanks of grits for the game-weekend early arrivals, parents and grandparents, all manner of snowy-haired alumni in searing red swarming into the cafe for their continental-plus, six thirty sharp?

God, what a beginning.

This story, about an ill-fated romance between a sorority girl (Chi Omega) and a fraternity boy (Kappa Sigma), hits on every cylinder. The best writers–and Abbott definitely counts in that number–manage to layer their work with unsuspected subtleties and subtexts that may not be immediately obvious, but resonate nonetheless and continue to do so once you’ve finished reading it. Abbott takes a traditional, tired trope–pointless college hook-up that means more to the girl than the guy, turns into a relationship that means more to the girl than the girl, oops she’s pregnant–and, like the master she is, turns it inside out and makes it fresh and new again. She managed to do, in a short story, what Theodore Dreiser took a thousand pages to do with An American Tragedy, and she does it with minimal language, well-chosen words that, in combination with her other words, sing like an aria. And so real–this college noir tragedy was so real it flashed me back to my own college fraternity days, so long long ago. Wow.

Laura Lippman’s “Pony Girl” was originally published in New Orleans Noir, which Constant Reader should remember also included a story by our own Gregalicious. I read the story back when the book came out ten (!) years ago, but revisited it for Short Story Month since it was included in her collection Hardly Knew Her…and it’s just as chilling as I remembered it.

She was looking for trouble and she was definitely going to find it. What was the girl thinking when she got dressed this morning? When she decided–days, weeks maybe even months ago–that this was how she wanted to go out on Mardi Gras day? And not just out, but all the way up to the Interstate and Ernie K-Doe’s, where this kind of costume didn’t play. There were skeletons and Mardi Gras Indians and baby dolls, but it wasn’t a place where you saw a lot of people going for sexy or clever. That kind of thing was for back in the Quarter, maybe outside Cafe Brasil. It’s hard to find a line to cross on Mardi Gras day, much less cross it, but this girl had gone and done it. In all my years–I was nineteen then, but a hard nineteen–I’d seen only one more disturbing sight on a Mardi Gras day and that was a white boy who too a Magic Marker, a thick one, and stuck it through a piercing in his earlobe. Nothing more to his costume than that, a Magic Marker through his ear, street clothes, and a wild gaze. Even in the middle of a crowd, people granted him some distance, let me tell you.

Another great opening! The story itself, which seems simple on its face, a girl dressed incredibly provocatively on Fat Tuesday and going into a bar with a friend which puts her in danger of being sexually assaulting, and calling attention to herself over and over again, is yet filled with twists and turns and surprises. As the story begins and gains momentum, there is a very strong undercurrent of slut-shaming to it, which kind of surprised me, coming from Lippman; but then again, she is also telling the story from the point of view of a nineteen year old male…so in order for the voice to work he has to be real. And as the story gets going, as the ‘uh oh, she’s going to get raped or assaulted or something’–she masterfully flips the script and the story takes a turn for the macabre. Genius.

And in honor of this terrific Mardi Gras story, here are some hot guys on Fat Tuesday.

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