I have just finished Kate (of Kate’s Book Blog fame) Sutherland’s collection of short stories All In Together Girls, and enjoyed it very much; the collection has 14 stories, all of them quite short, each one capturing a glimpse into the life of a female protagonist.
Many of the stories are about young girls in their early or late teens who are trying to figure out their relationships with parents and with friends and with boys; these stories describe acts of disobedience and rebellion and often also moments of humiliation and frustration. They are about trying to find one’s identity while negotiating the needs and demands of others. They tell of the desire for freedom and the uncertainty about what to do with it; the first story, for example, is about a group of friends who lie to their parents so they can spend the night hanging out, but things quickly go sour leaving them wanting nothing but to go home. In a later story a girl skips her dance lessons to hang out with friends, and in another the protagonist lies to her parents and spends the night with her friends trying, but failing, to smoke dope. In each of these stories, the promised fun times never quite materialize, and instead the protagonists are left with an air of sadness and worry.
The adult protagonists of some of the other stories seem just as lost; in “Outside the Frame,” the narrator tries to piece together her mother’s story from a photograph, seeking to understand the quality of her mother’s marriage as her own is falling apart. The story alternates between the mother’s experience, as imagined by the narrator, and the narrator’s accounting of why she is leaving her husband. In “Notes for a Documentary,” one of my favorites, the protagonist travels to Scotland to do research and to see family; she visits the places where her parents courted and ponders what to do about her own love affair. She is unsettled, positioned between an unchanging past and an uncertain future.
I enjoyed each and every one of these stories. Many of them are told in the first person, and the voices are clear and appealing, telling their stories straightfowardly, recounting hard times but not asking for pity. The language is simple and direct, drawing attention not to itself, but to the predicaments of the characters — it’s their thoughts about themselves and their lives that matter here.
This is the second collection of short stories I’ve read this year (the first was Jesus’ Son), which fulfills my short story-reading goal; I’m enjoying reading more in the genre, though, and may pick up another. I’ve got Mavis Gallant’s Paris Stories on my shelves if I get the urge.