Just three girls, actually, all of them tall and hard-edged, bound together by kinship and stubbornness.
Slezak’s short, eloquent collection, Last Year’s Jesus (2001), evinced a powerful sense of place, most specifically the old ethnic Catholic neighborhoods of Detroit and the Upper Midwest. That’s still evident in her first novel, so it doesn’t matter a lot that she doesn’t have much of a story to tell. The triumvirate of gloomy “girls” who make up Slezak’s tale are Candy, a plucky high-school basketball prodigy; her aunt Elizabeth, a perennially depressed serial divorcée and increasingly lousy guidance counselor; and Elizabeth’s aunt Glo, far more religious than either her niece or grandniece and not happy about that fact. Elizabeth has run off to LA, widowed Glo lives alone in Chicago, and Candy’s back in Detroit; the event that stitches them all back together is the sudden death of Candy’s mother Melissa, who had not long before wrested her life from debilitating alcoholism. Since neither Glo nor Elizabeth takes up the slack after the funeral, Candy goes to live with a best friend and her control-freak mother. Events come to a crisis when the school’s basketball coach takes off for northern Michigan after being accused on flimsy evidence of sleeping with Candy, who quits the team. Elizabeth is enticed back to the Midwest by Glo, and the two of them pick up Candy to take the Michigan version of a Wisconsin Death Trip: a pilgrimage to a shrine north of Detroit called Cross in the Woods. Slezak doesn’t move things along with any sense of hurry, taking plenty of time to bat around inside the neurotic, unhappy minds of her women. While her perceptions are undoubtedly sharp, and in Candy at least she creates a memorable and unusual portrait of angered adolescence, the novel as a whole is moribund and static.
Well-crafted and intelligent, but strains the reader’s patience.