Girl Trouble by Holly Goddard Jones

Girl TroubleNever mind the title — this most definitely is not chick lit. In fact, it would be hard to imagine writing that is further from it. Girl Trouble is a collection of stories that take place in the fictional town in western Kentucky, Roma, which one character aptly says “was so small and useless that its teenagers had to make up phony rivalries just to have something to do.” The stories are dark with characters who struggle to find significance in otherwise small lives.

The collection is beautifully written, with wise compassion for the kinds of people we pass everyday without a second glance. Author Holly Goddard Jones shows us beauty among a string of failed expectations and dreams; stories of families and friends held loosely together by sometimes nothing more than sheer survival. We are shown in these stories a loss of innocence — too often without the redeeming gain of a more mature hope, and often with a grudging and fatalistic acceptance.

In one story, for example, we share the unspeakable loss of a daughter (an only child) by her mother, a loss that is as hideous and beyond redemption as it is tragic. The pain of this loss leaves the mother utterly incapable of moving on, and that pain is made even more acute by a husband who can… and has. In trying to understand her inability to recover, the mother likens shedding her feelings to molting. She says, “Felicia’s birth was the first such moment for me: in the weeks after my labor I understood that my body wasn’t the only thing that would always be different, that my soul changed, too…When she [Felicia] died, I had to molt again, but I did it badly and never fully finished the job.”

The final story is Simon’s story. Simon is the boy who raped and then killed Felicia. We are taken through the story to learn about a damaged boy, one who lives with perpetual sadness and a longing for a love he can barely understand and knows he’ll never have. Through Jones’ empathetic eye, the reader begins to see the horrible act vaguely, and awfully, as not entirely beyond redemption. A sense that is wholly wrong, but somehow right, too — reflecting the same glimmer of compassion and understanding with which all these lives are drawn.

Harper Perennial/HarperCollins; ISBN 978-0-06177-630-4; $14.99.
Girl Trouble: Reading Guide

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