Families in this debut collection can only hope to be dysfunctional—and that would be on a good day.
In the title story a young girl acts seductively toward two workmen when her father neglects her and pays far more attention to his other kids, “Chink twins imported from China.” At the end she literally becomes what she’s already metaphorically been to her father, an object. This tale’s unsettling tone spills over into a number of the other short narratives; family relationships in Mitchell’s world tend to be eccentric bordering on outlandish, sometimes proceeding without a hitch to nightmarish. The narrator of “The Momma Story” arranges with her friend George, an amateur taxidermist who’s already stuffed a rabbit, to have her momma treated in a similar way. They negotiate issues most of us will never have to face: what position to put momma in, how to arrange her hair, the expression on her face. In a companion piece, “The Father Story,” a progenitor’s ashes are fed to the family dog. “The Down Home American Story” shows a woman with clichéd and even trendy modern opinions (“water should, at all costs to the consumer, be conserved”; “handguns should be regulated by the federal government and should not be kept in the homes of private citizens”) poisoning her son, then dismembering and boxing up his body before embarking with her husband on a second honeymoon. “The Dialogue Story” introduces us to two characters we come to know only through what they say to each other (think “Hills Like White Elephants”); the subjects of their banter include having sex, playing miniature golf, going skinny dipping…and discussing a friend who’d committed suicide the week before.
The titular adjective is well-chosen—creepy indeed.