UNKEMPT by Courtney Eldridge


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By turns engaging and tedious, Eldridge’s first collection—seven stories and a novella—requires the patience of a friendly reader to yield its loopy neurotic charm.

The opener, “Fits and Stars,” is a case in point. It begins, “What happens is I write a first sentence, then I read the sentence that I’ve just written, and then I immediately erase that sentence; then I begin anew by writing another first sentence for a completely different story.” It goes like that for another 23 pages. The title of the story the narrator conceives at the end of that first story is the same as that of the novella that ends the collection, though the first sentence has changed. That novella, “The Former World Record Holder Settles Down,” is a not-too-convincing narrative from the point of view of a woman who once held the world record for sex, having had sex with 197 men at one time. “Unkempt” is the most powerful of the lot. This time the narrator is an unsophisticated alcoholic woman who is always embarrassing her daughter (at Jenna’s college graduation Peg gets drunk and makes a spectacle of herself). Peg’s rationalizing tone is dead-on. Other stories are substantially slighter. “Becky” is a series of increasingly hostile phone messages left by a girl in a wheelchair to a pretty member of her food-addiction program. In “Thieves,” a saleswoman writes a long letter to the VISA merchant services claims department explaining why she made a $400 charge to a customer without a credit card in hand (the customer was having a nervous breakdown in the store). In “Sharks,” a phone conversation between best friends reveals that one of them has a phobia about sharks in swimming pools, and the narrator of “Summer of the Mopeds” obsesses about a visit to her accountant.

So far, Eldridge, who published three of these tales in McSweeney’s, is stronger on voice than story.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-15-101084-6
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2004