Uneven first collection, another Flannery O’Connor Award winner (see Fincke, above): ten stories about underachievers, losers, and girls “endlessly seeking security.”
In the strongest piece, “Rabbit Punch,” a bipolar Virginia Woolf scholar recognizes a teenaged boy whose face is in the morning paper for committing a sensational crime. She’d been his babysitter years before, at a time when she was taking medication after being fired from a teaching job, drinking too much, sleeping too little and painting trompe l’oeil murals on the walls of her apartment. He was an out-of-control nine-year-old. Even his parents disliked him, but, in a small way, she’d found a way to connect, if not to like him. Now his potential for violence has been realized. The vaguely comic “The Rest of Esther” is about a naïve girl in the development department of a seminary who’s sent to convince a nonagenarian to leave her millions to the institution—and instead influences the legacy in ways none could have predicted. In the sketchy “Maybe, Maybe Not,” a woman has just married the boy next door from 31 years before, discovering that each recalls a pie-throwing incident as a most vivid childhood memory. Too often, Sutton’s stories are just unclear. The title story opens: “The afternoon’s snow still had the lift of an infant’s blanket—or teased hair, maybe a spongy Orlon sweater, the bed of cotton under jewelry. Jewelry. The girl couldn’t even think the word jewelry anymore without feeling the lot of the hopelessly cheap crawl into bed with her, every last scallop of ‘let’s pretend’—let’s pretend at midnight trysts, at cabs from here to there, at ocelot clutch bags with their own matching lighters.” On the next page, we learn that the narrator was once a gofer for a jeweler (as in “Send the girl”), and the story is about the scrapes she got into working at various jobs, including as secretary to a man with an unhappy marriage.
Dark stories, sometimes downright murky.