Tag Archives: Danielle Evans

One Story At a Time: Wherever You Go, There You Are

31 Dec

I love stories about women who are embroiled in complex relationships with ex-lovers because sometimes a relationship is never over no matter who you move on to or why you are moving on in the first place. In “Wherever You Go, There You Are,” the narrator, who’s staying with family in Delaware while escaping a failed relationship, takes her cousin Chrissie, a teenager, to see her ex-boyfriend Brian play a gig in North Carolina. Brian and the narrator are one of those couples who will never be over and the intensity of their connection is palpable throughout the story. As with all of Danielle Evans’s stories, there’s a lot going on in “Wherever You Go, There You Are,” including a tangled family history, a dying grandfather, Chrissie’s rebellious nature as is the wont of girls who are fourteen, and the narrator trying to make sense of her relationship with Brian while dealing with his relationship with his new fiancée.

This story has some of my favorite lines. When the narrator describes Chrissie, she says, “She’s the wrong kind of pretty, the kind that’s soft but not fragile, the kind that inspires the impulse to touch.”  She describes Vegas as a city she has, “always loved for its ability to be at once shameless about its fantasy self and honest about its real one, which is the only reason I’ve ever loved anything.”

Even with all the subplots in this story, the one story that matters most is the story of the relationship between Brian and the narrator, the story of the gravity holding them to one another despite the people and the history in their way. There is so much subtext to everything this couple shares. There are conversations within their conversations as they exchange words on a frequency only the two of them can hear. When the story ends, nothing has been resolved between these two and what interests me most of all is how they are still not over. We don’t know where they are going but we do know where they are.

One Story At a Time: Harvest

15 Dec

Whenever I see ads by infertile couples looking to buy the healthy eggs of a young woman, I wonder what that must be like, as a woman, to have your eggs harvested and used by someone else. In “Harvest,” the third story in Danielle Evans’s Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, a group of black girls attending Columbia University watch from the sidelines as their white peers sell their eggs and live lavish lifestyles for college students. These girls are confronted with the frustrating reality that their eggs, their children, are largely unwanted and lacking in value on the proverbial open market. As with most of the stories in this collection, there is a real elegance to how Evans approaches the complicated issue of race and class without overwhelming the story with a social agenda.

One of the highlights for me was the narrator’s voice—a young woman coming of age and still very young in some ways. For example, in describing herself and her friends, she says, “What we wanted was to be a doctor, a lawyer, a spy, and happy.”

There is an interesting tension in this story as the narrator, Angel, and her friends grow apart from Laura Kelso, one of their white friends, a girl who was working class, but by selling her eggs quickly found herself distanced from the girls with whom she could once relate.

I don’t want to give the story away but the ending of “Harvest” is quite powerful and in its way, a bit shocking. As with Crystal in “Robert E. Lee is Dead,” Angel is forced to make difficult choices in difficult circumstances before she can truly understand the consequences. And yet, there’s something in this story, an undercurrent, that gives me the sense Angel understands the consequences of her choices at the end of the story quite perfectly and that possibility, is all the more chilling and that possibility makes this story all the more interesting.

One Story at a Time: Robert E. Lee Is Dead

5 Dec

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.