One of the most award-winning, critically acclaimed story writers working today, Antonya Nelson has a list of accolades that is astonishing for any writer, but especially for one as young as she. With her newest collection, Nelson once again proves herself worthy of her stellar reputation, delivering seven taut, striking stories and a brilliant novella, all exploring the tensions of troubled family relations.
Nelson is an extraordinary chronicler of the fraught relationships between parents and children and husbands and wives. With her particular understanding of the threats and vulnerabilities of wild adolescence, as well as the complicated, persistent love that often lies dormant beneath the drama of rebellion, she illuminates the hidden corners of her characters' lives.
The shy, shoplifting sixteen-year-old protagonist in the title novella is trying to understand how to become an adult while going through a year of family disaster. We watch as she dabbles in the same adult behaviors that so repulse her about her parents (binge drinking, sex) while maintaining so much of her adolescent insecurity and confusion. "Dick" is a moving story about a mother who, having lost her daughter to the vicissitudes of adolescence, has a compulsion to protect her innocent, preadolescent son from the aggressive and encroaching post-9/11 adult world. The homeless teen at the heart of "Eminent Domain" is a pampered Houston rich girl who has, for her own reasons, taken to the streets.
Radiating an emotional intensity that unifies the entire collection, each of Nelson's stories both captivates and unnerves. As her characters run the gauntlet of often bewildering family tensions and trauma, she alternates hope and despair, resentment and love, in perfectly recognizable proportions.
Weaving wonderful observation with quick wit and striking insight, Some Fun is a timely and provocative inventory of the state of family in America -- and proof of why Nelson is one of the most important writers at work today.
Adults consider but rarely do the right thing, while damaged children instinctively persevere in Nelson's skillful collection of seven stories and a novella, set in wide-open, arid Western states. Growing restless and resentful in her middle age, the mother in the poignant first story, "Dick," uproots her reluctant family from Los Angeles to Colorado, separating her 11-year-old son from his best friend, the title character, with tragic results. Nelson shapes several stories around hard-drinking, restless women, as in "Rear View," about a 33-year-old Colorado woman who tries to get pregnant by either her hospitalized, mentally ill husband, or another lover, hoping a baby will solve the "jittery limbo" of her life. In the bleak, episodic title novella, a mother's alcoholism corrodes her family, including 15-year-old Claire, shouldered with adult responsibilities, six-year-old taciturn Sam, four-year-old Beano, still in diapers, and the children's father, who abandons them all for a yoga teacher. Though Nelson captures Claire's sad co-dependency and truncated adolescence, she reaches for too many resonant metaphors in her closely observed details-vultures roosting in the family's El Paso, Tex., backyard, skin cancer marring the father's face. While not every story achieves perfect pitch, Nelson again (Female Trouble) shows empathy for psychologically complex, deeply flawed characters. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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March 06, 2006
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Excerpt from Some Fun by Antonya Nelson
The evening sun was a giant peach in the rearview mirror, apocalyptic and gaseous as it burned toward the horizon behind Ann Ponders. The daily L.A. paradox: toxic beauty. She was grateful for a polluted day on which to move; it capped an argument she had been making for months. For clean air, she told herself, they were leaving the only home her children had ever known. Her husband and son had taken the first car early in the morning. But then the cat had escaped, moments before Ann was to drive the family's second car away, and she and her daughter had spent the day in the empty, hot house, waiting for the fickle creature to return.
"You know," said Ann to her eighteen-year-old, trying not to sound as furious and exasperated as she felt, "I can't get used to the new reliable you. The girl who left keys hanging in the door and burners burning. The girl who forgot her brother at Von's."
"You told me to cancel the utilities, I canceled the utilities." Lizzie's voice said she was innocent; over from her apartment in Westwood to help, she had left no margin for error. All day they'd sat on the tiled floor in the vacant dining room, or on the countertops in the kitchen, air-conditioning disabled, refrigerator door hanging open, fan inoperable. "And I told Cole he had to meet me at the checkout or, guess what? I'd leave him." Lizzie removed a pack of cigarettes from her waistband, free, in her father's absence, to be a person with bad habits. Ann had sworn not to tell him, but she wouldn't have, anyway.
Ann hauled herself up from her slump on the floor, ready to make another useless perimeter sweep. "Kitty kitty kitty?" one or the other of them had been calling for hours, circling the yard, culvert, street. Neither cared for the cat -- it peed on pillows, sharpened its claws on pants legs, licked itself neurotically -- but the boy, the eleven-year-old who'd ridden away with his father at dawn, needed Winky. Taking Winky fifteen hundred miles east to their new home, their hideout in the mountains, was non-negotiable.
"Hate that fucking cat," murmured Ann; the image saving the animal was of it curled in the armpit of her sleeping son. She hated a few other things, such as the way she looked in shorts and a sleeveless shirt, especially when compared with her daughter, who looked beautiful in whatever she wore. What consolation did age provide? Ann wondered. Bragging rights for having arrived at forty-five or sixty or ninety-nine? You didn't come through intact, that much was clear. Moreover, the interesting things happened early, a piece of information Ann was consciously, uncharitably, withholding from her daughter. Packing away their belongings, she'd found crayoned pictures addressed to her from Lizzie, pledging exclamatory, boundless love, filled with hearts and a round-headed tribe of people grinning their drunken smiley faces. The toddler who'd given herself to those drawings was gone, her features turned angular, her smile caustic, her thoughts sour and secret. Easy to love little children, harder to love grown-ups. Ann had been shocked to discover that, at fourteen, her daughter had shaved her pubic hair. When she was fifteen, Lizzie's notebook had been full of stick figures having scary sex, not to mention the sickening song lyrics pulsing from her bedroom stereo, or the Fuck Me and Cunt she'd markered onto her own shoes. Now, unbidden and often, Ann would be visited by one or the other of these images, a slide show starring her sunny child who had become an alarming adult.