I just finished tonight a book of short stories by Amy Jones, What Boys Like. This was one of the books I picked up at Drawn + Quarterly when I went for a reading by Metcalf-Rooke award winners. There are 15 stories in this 223 page book, and the majority of them have young women or teen girls as the protagonist.
This past December was the first time I didn’t make the trip back to my hometown for the holidays. Christmas night a Twitter acquaintance invited me down to the bar where he works so I wouldn’t have to be alone. So I was sitting alone in a bar (and a gay one at that) on Christmas night and Jones’ book was what I chose to accompany me with my Christmas burrito supper.
Fittingly I was at the story “Places outside to drink in Halifax” while sitting at the bar getting drunk, on my own. Not that I was in Halifax or outside, but I was drinking. Abby and her friend Norah are experiencing their first year in high school. Do you remember what that’s like? Trying to both keep your old friends and make new ones? Figure out which kids are the ones you want to hang out with and which you want to stay away from? Realizing that high school isn’t as cool as you thought it was going to be? Abby is a bit envious of Norah because Norah is fitting in and becoming popular. Via Norah, Abby gets invited to go to the local cemetery to drink at Alexander Keith’s grave site and of course antics ensue. One passage that struck me was when Abby compares herself to Norah: “She looks down at her legs, stick-thin and knobby-kneed, and suddenly thinks some day she will be beautiful…. Not like Norah…who will always be short and squat. This thought comforts Abby.” (p. 66) I was sort of like that in high school. I was stick thin and had red hair, so I kept telling myself I’d be pretty when I got older despite getting teased regularly for being ugly. Of course I gained a truckload of weight and never did get braces to fix my horrible overbite, but I think I still made out okay. It’s odd how just the hope that one day I’d grow out of being an ugly duckling helped relieve some pressure of trying to “fit in” (though I’m not sure I ever actually tried to fit in). This story did have a feel good ending, kind of, unlike some of the others in this collection.
“Where you are” is a story from a woman’s perspective, Anna, talking to her never-to-be-born child. “If you had been born, Natalie, I would have had a reason to make my life better.” (p. 170). The narrator describes what life would be like for Natalie and herself, if Natalie had been born. We aren’t told how Anna may have lost the baby or if she was even pregnant at all, but Anna has obviously spent many hours thinking about her life before and now, and how having a child may or may not have changed things. I felt that this story was filled with sorrow yet a tinge of happiness too.
Almost all of these stories managed to elicit an emotional response (maybe I’m just being sappy lately), and a lot of them made me think about relationships (friends, family, lovers) past and present. I know I’m not the best at describing written works, so maybe you’d like to read another blogger’s review too.