If gender is a performance, then the Irish women in Flattery's disarming debut collection veer wildly off script.
In "Not the End Yet," a hilarious look at dating at the end of the world, middle-aged Angela commits one faux pas after another: She admits that she dates all the time, loves superficial connections, and, worst of all, doesn't judge the men who claim they could pursue much younger women: "It's a grand historical tradition," she remarks. The young woman in "Parrot" who falls in love with an older man and tries to parent his son is paralyzed by the cliché she's become. Two college students in "Abortion, A Love Story" stage a play of the same title in which they raucously refuse to perform the self-loathing and penitence expected of women who make certain choices. Plot is not the engine here. Instead, Flattery's prose—absurd, painfully funny, and bracingly original—slingshots the stories forward. These female characters never say what you're expecting, and their insights are always incisive. As the teenage narrator of "Sweet Talk" gets a ride home from an older man whom she likes, for example, she imagines different pamphlets designed to keep girls safe, including "the greatest pamphlet never written: a warning of the romantic danger of being left alone in a car with someone you're attracted to." Though Flattery's characters are often recovering from bad boyfriends, abuse, and even prostitution, they maintain self-deprecating resilience: "Usually when he was halfway through hitting me," the narrator of "Show Them a Good Time" explains about her ex-boyfriend, "it would occur to him just how obvious he was. Then he would curl up, say sorry, baby....Baby this, baby that...It was possible that this person who owned me didn't even know my name."
Nervy, audacious stories in which women finally get to speak their minds.