All In Together Girls

b1.gif I have just finished Kate (of Kate’s Book Blog fame) Sutherland’s collection of short stories All In Together Girls, and enjoyed it very much; the collection has 14 stories, all of them quite short, each one capturing a glimpse into the life of a female protagonist.

Many of the stories are about young girls in their early or late teens who are trying to figure out their relationships with parents and with friends and with boys; these stories describe acts of disobedience and rebellion and often also moments of humiliation and frustration. They are about trying to find one’s identity while negotiating the needs and demands of others. They tell of the desire for freedom and the uncertainty about what to do with it; the first story, for example, is about a group of friends who lie to their parents so they can spend the night hanging out, but things quickly go sour leaving them wanting nothing but to go home. In a later story a girl skips her dance lessons to hang out with friends, and in another the protagonist lies to her parents and spends the night with her friends trying, but failing, to smoke dope. In each of these stories, the promised fun times never quite materialize, and instead the protagonists are left with an air of sadness and worry.

The adult protagonists of some of the other stories seem just as lost; in “Outside the Frame,” the narrator tries to piece together her mother’s story from a photograph, seeking to understand the quality of her mother’s marriage as her own is falling apart. The story alternates between the mother’s experience, as imagined by the narrator, and the narrator’s accounting of why she is leaving her husband. In “Notes for a Documentary,” one of my favorites, the protagonist travels to Scotland to do research and to see family; she visits the places where her parents courted and ponders what to do about her own love affair. She is unsettled, positioned between an unchanging past and an uncertain future.

I enjoyed each and every one of these stories. Many of them are told in the first person, and the voices are clear and appealing, telling their stories straightfowardly, recounting hard times but not asking for pity. The language is simple and direct, drawing attention not to itself, but to the predicaments of the characters — it’s their thoughts about themselves and their lives that matter here.

This is the second collection of short stories I’ve read this year (the first was Jesus’ Son), which fulfills my short story-reading goal; I’m enjoying reading more in the genre, though, and may pick up another. I’ve got Mavis Gallant’s Paris Stories on my shelves if I get the urge.

8 Comments

Filed under Books, Short stories

8 responses to “All In Together Girls

  1. Yay for Kate’s book! I’m glad to hear it is so good. Now to figure out how I can fit it in with all the other books I want to read…

  2. I mentally placed the book under the To Check Out list. Your post is a timely reminder to go “Check It Out.” Thanks.

    Ah, Mavis Gallant, another author under my “To Check Out” List. Alberto Manguel and Michael Ondaatje both have high praise for her, which made me curious.

    I need to quit my job to find time to read all those books.

  3. I had wanted to read more short stories this year than I have. This collection sounds very appealing! I may have to break down and place an Amazon order soon (one small book order can’t hurt too much, can it?). It’s nice to hear you enjoyed it so much.

  4. I so want to read these but they’re still not out yet in the UK. I’m keeping patient – by the end of the month a copy will be mine! Wonderful review, Dorothy – I’m even more keen to get hold of them now!

  5. I’ve just read this too. I enjoyed it very much; I think my favourite story was the one about the girl who goes to a rock concert, sleeps over in a house of teens and then calls her dad to pick her up in the morning because she doesn’t want to be late for church. It made me laugh with recognition.

  6. Edd

    Dorothy W.,

    Sorry being late in commenting but I’ve had a few medical problems it’s good to see that you and your husband now have Muttboy home and doing well.

  7. Stefanie — it’s a quick read, not to hard to squeeze in there some where! :)

    Orpheus — I’d love to quit my job to find time to read all the books I want to read! Great idea!

    Danielle — I think this book would be an excellent way to add some short stories to your reading; I think you’d like it.

    Litlove — how annoying that you don’t have access to it! That’s one problem with reading international blogs, isn’t it?

    Melanie — yes! That was a great moment, wasn’t it?

    Edd — thank you; we are doing quite well, and I hope everything is okay with you.

  8. hepzibah

    wow — this book of short stories sounds really great! I will have to pick up a copy sometime soon, I will add it to my list.

    I just loved it when you said her “unchanging past and an uncertain future” — what a perfect way of expression :)

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