Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Old Kentucky home

Book: Girl Trouble

Author: Holly Goddard Jones

Publication: 2009 (HarperCollins)

Pages: 322

You shouldn’t look to literary fiction to cheer you up about the human condition; it’s not going to work. Jones’s stories, all set in the fictional Kentucky town of Roma, pile common yet life-shattering pains onto regular people and make them work things out for themselves. Just like in the real world.

A high school coach has to deal with getting one of his players pregnant, a divorced woman has to deal with her husband rebuilding on the land they use to live (where she got raped in their cheap starter house), a young college-bound man has to deal with loving his buddy’s girl and not his own girlfriend, a young girl has to deal with her budding sexuality around a couple who lost their own child. There’s a trend of violence and sexuality playing off each other, on purpose but mostly accidentally, and a trend of the town elders being just as clueless, only in different ways, as their children.  

I like how ordinary her characters are. It makes them feel like real people and gives the circumstances universality they wouldn’t have if she wrote about what she calls the two Kentucky stereotypes: rich mint-julep-sipping horse breeders or feral hillbillies. I have no empathy for either of those, but I can identify really well with young people who are trying to get out of town without screwing up enough to keep them home all their lives. They fail, and it breaks my heart a little. Their parents help the best they can or know how to, and most of the time it’s not enough.

Taken individually, each story feels slightly generic in its treatment of conflict that’s been dealt with so much before in fiction. Taken together, it all gets a little heavy in a This Could Happen to You and You Would Have No Idea How to Handle It Any Better way.

These are depressing stories told well.

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