Janet Mitchell - Avant-gothic cosmos: wonderfully strange and disquieting, very funny when you least expect it, and chock-full of complexities to mine

Janet Mitchell, The Creepy Girl and Other Stories (Starcherone Books, 2009)

«At turns funny, heartfelt, and wise, The Creepy Girl gives us 15 stories, remarkable in their variety, about families and childhood, small towns and prophets, boys and girls, life and death. In every story, the exuberant, playful language of Janet Mitchell's debut continually surprises.»

"Janet Mitchell writes sudden, severe, disturbing stories that capture the reader in a kind of choke hold, and The Creepy Girl, her debut collection, is a work of outrageous, much-needed literary ambition. Mitchell is hell-bent on extracting every last drop of sadness and pain from her sentences."- Ben Marcus

"These energizing, sparklingly imaginative, at time visionary stories — one about a woman who wants her mother stuffed and made pretty when she dies; others about mysterious metalogical creatures — form a necklace of deceptively childlike voices moving through an avant-gothic cosmos. But they are as much, if not more, about the beauties of surprising, rhythmic prose, as well, the syllabic stuff you can taste on the tongue." - Lance Olsen

"These stories are a lot like dreams: wonderfully strange and disquieting, very funny when you least expect it, and chock-full of complexities to mine. They are also beautifully rendered, highly entertaining, and original. The Creepy Girl and other stories is an exciting debut collection, and Janet Mitchell is a laudable writer." - Binnie Kirschenbaum

"In The Creepy Girl and Other Stories, girls remove their panties with unsavory consequences. People die - mothers, brothers, fathers, and friends -- from natural and, more often, much less natural causes. From this description, and from the title story’s old-fashioned surprise ending a la Poe, one might assume the fifteen pieces in Janet Mitchell’s debut collection are plot-driven, but this is rarely the case.

That so many stories in the collection thrive without a traditional plot, sometimes without a non-traditional plot, is a tribute to Mitchell’s gift with language. More than the others, “The Carpentry Story” swirls rather than moves forward. Emotions are richly conveyed as she describes:
“the way the sand has of pouring around a foot, an ankle, puckering, draining a body dragged down to a solidly fitting grave... coral bitted black sand, and every woman having watched as the bent-backed men shovel out the body of her child, or her husband, or both, a child at the hand of his father, each body rising as have the others before them, as the stiff sand monsters they have become, monsters that, we like to tell children, live beneath our feet, down in the sand.”
Such elegant prose characterizes every piece in the collection, although this is hardly a representative story. If the plot of “The Carpentry Story” resists chronology, most of the others, some which do possess a beginning, middle, and end, downplay the importance of such a structure. Most often, the storyteller is the story. Death is not emphasized as much as reactions to it. Yet these are hardly sterile experiments in prose poetry. Those panties are certainly removed -- several times. In “The Down Home American Story,” a woman kills -- rather graphically. In “The Father Story,” the title character comes back to life. And in “The Unimpressive Story,” a sister’s sexual fantasies keep her brother alive in memory.But to reduce these stories to what happens in them is to swallow good wine without regard for taste. This collection will get you drunk, to be sure, but I recommend sipping.
The book is sexy and playful, particularly in darker moments. Mitchell’s dialogue crackles, so much so that I grew excited by the sight of quotation marks. But the dialogue, like the stories themselves, provides less exposition than depth. Listen as a couple mourns a friend in “The Dialogue Story.”
“She had everything.”
“She had tits.”
“She was Beatsa.”
“That was such a stupid name.”
“She had the best pool.”
“Ever.”
“Ever.”
“Let’s go swimming,” one of them suggests and, inevitably, “Let’s fuck.” Are there truer reactions to a friend’s suicide? These stories, though short, are not small. Many of them do not stand alone as self-contained stories. All the titles contain the word “Story,” and one might wonder if the author protests too much. But if a handful of the pieces might not survive outside the collection, all fifteen of them work as parts of a whole, echoing each other without circling the same ground." - J. T. Hill

“Creepy” really does describe these short stories, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. The title story begins as the creepy girl's father brings home a pair of cement lawn ornament statues of Chinese kids. The nameless daughter, a preadolescent, yearns for her single father's attention and soon goes to some very bizarre lengths to secure it. In “The Unimpressive Story,” Mitchell offers up a Flowers in the Attic–style brother-sister love story; as the narrator recounts memories of her now-dead brother, she weaves truth and sexual fantasy into the narrative of her turbulent childhood. “The Carpentry Story” reads like a free verse poem, as the narration flows together without beginning, middle or end. Discomfiting themes of absence, mental illness, incest and not-right familial relationships permeate the collection. It's rare for a compilation to get under your skin the way this one does." - Publishers Weekly

"Families in this debut collection can only hope to be dysfunctional-and that would be on a good day. In the title story a young girl acts seductively toward two workmen when her father neglects her and pays far more attention to his other kids, "Chink twins imported from China." At the end she literally becomes what she's already metaphorically been to her father, an object. This tale's unsettling tone spills over into a number of the other short narratives; family relationships in Mitchell's world tend to be eccentric bordering on outlandish, sometimes proceeding without a hitch to nightmarish. The narrator of "The Momma Story" arranges with her friend George, an amateur taxidermist who's already stuffed a rabbit, to have her momma treated in a similar way. They negotiate issues most of us will never have to face: what position to put momma in, how to arrange her hair, the expression on her face. In a companion piece, "The Father Story," a progenitor's ashes are fed to the family dog. "The Down Home American Story" shows a woman with cliched and even trendy modern opinions ("water should, at all costs to the consumer, be conserved"; "handguns should be regulated by the federal government and should not be kept in the homes of private citizens") poisoning her son, then dismembering and boxing up his body before embarking with her husband on a second honeymoon. "The Dialogue Story" introduces us to two characters we come to know only through what they say to each other (think "Hills Like White Elephants"); the subjects of their banter include having sex, playing miniature golf, going skinny dipping . . . and discussing a friend who'd committed suicide the week before. The titularadjective is well-chosen-creepy indeed." - Kirkus Reviews

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