A collection of 42 stories about the complexities of girlhood, womanhood, love, longing, and grief.
Cross-Smith (Whiskey & Ribbons, 2018, etc.) uses many forms—from more traditional first- and third-person narratives to email and text exchanges, plays, and recipes—to explore these themes. Most of the stories are quite short and feature vivid sensory detail; the author has a gift for describing smells in particular and using them to conjure emotion. But the stories tend to lack layers; they are beginnings without middles and endings, as if they were drafted from writing prompts and then polished, by a skilled author, without further development. The story “Girlheart Cake With Glitter Frosting” mimics a recipe. It begins, “POSSIBLE INGREDIENTS: Too much black eyeliner. Roses. Champagne from a can, champagne in a bottle. 'Music to Watch Boys To' by Lana Del Rey,” and then lists more singers, authors, celebrities, songs, movies, and objects for another two pages. “You Should Love the Right Things” reads, in its entirety, “Not how it hurts when you press down on a yellowish-blue, purple-black bruise, but the feeling you get when you lift up. Let go.” The language is rich and rhythmic, the sentiment fresh, but devoid of context, it resonates only so deeply. Even the more traditional stories read like vignettes, constellations of pretty images and ideas that make for scenes, not stories. Sometimes characters recur or side characters from one story emerge as main characters in another. But too often characters who are supposed to be close family, friends, or partners explain things to each other for the benefit of the reader. The book includes some promising characters and premises as well as flashes of brilliant writing and insight, but ultimately, the individual stories and their cumulative effect don’t live up to these moments.
Pithy turns of phrase and wordplay can't carry a whole collection.