death is not an option
Rivecca is a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Creative Writing at Stanford University. She thanks Tobias Wolff in her acknowledgements. Now you know, like I did before starting to read her anthology of short stories.
Not that it matters. It's just a purely personal thing for me to fixate on that because I've been looking up MFA programs, and since the first story in the anthology features a smart-ass senior clearly geared towards English, the fact that she's a Stegner fellow just wouldn't get out my head throughout the entire anthology. But I digress.
(Also, for extra fun, look up Tablo.)
The other one thing I fixated on: Narration.
This anthology taught me that short stories rely so much on narration. Not that there aren't action-heavy, dialogue-heavy short stories that blow our minds. Not that narration-heavy short stories never go wrong. In writing there's never a way to it, no way of the world to follow.
But the power of her stories comes from the narration, or at least so I felt. She showed me that worrying about the silliness of plot is silly. What's the one-sentence summary of the first story of the anthology, "Death Is Not An Option"? "A cynical girl from a devout Catholic school finally breaks down at farewell senior camp."
Oh, how quaint, you say. Oh, how plain. Then you read the story. And you're blushing scarlet, you're scratching furiously at that itch inside your temples because she has started it somewhere deep in your marrows, and you're shouting oh, how - how did she - oh, my god.
And it's all in the power of the narration.
Some gritty dialogues and characters with disturbing past and present also abound, but it's in that tautness of the narrator's voice, that internal monologue and revelation that actually interests the reader more than the action, that really shines in her stories.
Note: I'm not really meaning to "review" these books, or to critique or even analyse them. My real purpose, actually, is to learn from these books. So I will be commenting more on the books' use of language and the characterization, etc., instead of from a literary point of view, and as something that I felt when I was reading. This is all personal stuff.