Danielle Evans’s Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self is one of the best books I’ve read this year. Instead of trying to talk about the collection as a whole, I’m going to take things one story at a time.
“Robert E. Lee Is Dead,” tells the story of two young women in high school, Geena and Crystal in the South, where the demographics where they live are changing, where they are painfully aware of class and what it means to live on the wrong side of town. Geena is popular while Crystal is studious and awkward but with Geena’s influence, Crystal too becomes popular. This story spans their high school career and what it shows is how their lives converge and then diverge and then converge again and finally diverge in an irrevocable way. The ending of this story that shows how weak we all in the face of our ambitions and how easy it is to give in to that weakness when we’re 17 or 18 and having to make difficult decisions, the impact of which we are not yet capable of understanding.
What I really appreciate is how accurately Evans captures the earnest and naked ambition of Crystal who wants to be popular and worldly just as badly as she wants to be at the top of her class. She also draws out the tensions of the relationship between Crystal and Geena who are, in the end, the girl who is going somewhere and the girl who is going to be left behind. Throughout this collection, which is not perfect but which has a surplus of soul, what impressed me most was how Evans told stories that were heartbreaking in really quiet ways. It took me a while after I finished this story to feel the full impact of the ending and what it meant but when I felt it, I felt it hard. This story has stayed with me. It will stay with you too.