An unsettling group portrait of victimized young women whose survival on the margins of American life is its own best, or worst, reward.
Boasting three new stories and selections from Girls in the Grass (1991) and First, Body (1997), this overview captures Thon at her tough, unremittingly intense, unflinching best. In settings ranging from Native American Montana to blue-collar Boston to a Georgia plantation in the 1850s, we are ushered into a bleak world of hard backseat sex and trailer-park traumas, unreported killings and numbing Vietnam flashbacks, heartless punishments and backcountry skirmishes that wouldn't be out of place on Elmore Leonard's Kentucky-set F/X series, Justified. "You have to believe something's going to happen" says the protagonist of one of the earliest stories, Iona Moon, but what happens in this book never lives up to her vision of bright lights illuminating the night. "Father, Lover, Deadman, Dreamer" is about a teenage girl who drunkenly runs over a Native American man and is forever haunted by efforts to conceal the crime. "Heavenly Creatures" is a multipart mini-epic about three half-siblings with different fathers and a mother in prison for fencing stolen bicycles. In "Punishment," a young female slave who witnesses a rape kills the baby she is brought in to nurse. Thon writes in short, jabbing, bruising sentences, never letting up on her verbal attack. Her words can be fiercely poetic or streaked with mysticism. If there's a drawback to her stories (she also has written four novels), it's that her thin-hipped, flat-chested girls are largely interchangeable. Only the source of their psychological scarring changes, ranging from incest to drug dependence to missing and/or alcoholic fathers and mothers. But that doesn't diminish the boldness or originality of this increasingly impressive body of work.
Bluntly powerful but deeply nuanced stories from a unique voice in American fiction.