A hard-hitting debut collection of mostly first-person narratives about the often-disappointing romantic entanglements of women in their 20s and early 30s.
The gimmick here is initially confusing: each story is preceded by an epigraph from saucy Mae West ("It's not the men in your life that counts—it's the life in your men," etc.); this device, combined with the fact that the stories are narrated by characters who sound a lot alike, suggests that they're interconnected even when they're not. Nonetheless, the collection sings. Krouse, who has had short fiction published in the Atlantic Monthly, is a masterful and elegant storyteller, and these tales are filled with narrative and stylistic surprises. "Drugs and You" begins with an anecdote about the narrator's boyfriend, quickly interrupted by a dramatic, Meghan Daum–like aside: "This story is about drugs. I'm telling you because I was surprised, too." The perfect boyfriend, it turns out, is a junkie, and the piece details the downfall of the perfect relationship. In the deliciously catty "Other People's Mothers," the narrator recounts her relationships with her friends' and boyfriends' mothers, finally explaining—with no unnecessary drama—her repulsion from her own mother, a nasty specimen who torments the narrator's blind, senile grandmother. "The Husbands" turns what could be a clichéd situation—a woman who, in her own words, "like[s] to sleep with other women's husbands"—into an exquisite anatomy of self-loathing and the destructive behavior that results from it. Virtually all these stories, in fact, explore the nature of compulsion, as in "No Universe," in which the narrator watches her friend Mona, racked with guilt after an abortion, start a family with a man she doesn't love. The bombastic style and unflinching honesty of the whole collection is reminiscent of Elissa Schappell and Emily Carter.
Dead-on dialogue, realistically drawn scenes of extreme psychological discomfort, a subtle use of metaphor, and bursts of lyric epiphany: an irresistible debut.