A debut collection of 13 stories that explores with authority the internal landscape of girls and women struggling for redemption.
Colored by the Catholic experience, the females in these pieces suffer from emotions that the nuns, despite their fervor for obedience and order, have failed to suppress. Death and sex, disappointment and disability abound. Sometimes the terror is real, as in “In Houses,” where the narrator’s face is slashed (“I have had a new face for three months now, three months since my old one was cut”), and “Nice Girl,” where the accidental drowning of an eight-year-old haunts her younger sister’s life (“My mother says I screamed . . . I lay on the edge of the pool screaming down into the water at my sister for our mother who became, that day, my mother”). But more often, that terror is as subtle as a teenaged girl contemplating her attractiveness (“Quiet”) or an abandoned woman waiting for a visit from her young son (“Here in the World”). Lancelotta, who’s published in the Threepenny Review and Glimmer Train, among other places, sets up interesting and out-of-the-box situations: a blind man taken home as a lover from a bus stop in “The Guide,” and a girl who is moved by her immigrant grandmother’s story of being molested by an uncle in “The Gift.” The pervading sense of distance and estrangement between couples, family members, and neighbors is palpable throughout the collection, with the strongest entries being those told in the first-person by nameless narrators who bare their souls in taut muscular prose. But while Lancelotta’s voice is powerful, it is also self-conscious, and the reach for literary expression more often than not obscures the tale .
A talented newcomer who, one hopes, next time out will reveal more clearly the secrets she’s kept to herself in these poetically written but ultimately aimless stories.