Shout Her Lovely Name
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
240 pages, $24.00
a copy of this book was provided by the publisher through TLC Book Tours
The eleven stories in Natalie Serber's first collection, Shout Her Lovely Name, are brave and elemental depictions of both the cruelty and the fierce love at the heart of family life. In the title story, a mother battles panic, fear, and rage as her daughter struggles with anorexia. "Shout Her Lovely Name" is the most striking story in the collection; Serber uses a second-person narration reminiscent of Lorrie Moore's "How to Become a Writer," and inserts photographs and other images into her story. What causes this story to succeed, though, is the combination of devastating emotional honesty and pitch-perfect craft. The story opens: "In the beginning, don't talk to your daughter, because anything you say she will refute." The primal struggle between mother and pubescent daughter is played out over the battleground of the kitchen. The narrator lurches between despair and rage: "Be amazed and frightened by the false stability you've been living with your whole life. If this can happen to you, anything can happen to anybody."
While "Shout Her Lovely Name" is structurally innovative, the core of this collection is a linked series of stories about Ruby Hargrove and her daughter Nora. In "Ruby Jewel," Ruby is a college freshman home for a visit with her hard-drinking, unfaithful father and her long-suffering mother. In an unconscious act of cruelty, Ruby goes to a bar with her father and comes home drunk, long after her mother has given up waiting for her. It is an unexpected form of betrayal, and Serber captures Ruby's guilt, remorse, resentment and love for her parents in tiny gestures. The eight stories with Ruby and her daughter at their center are my favorite stories in this collection. Ruby herself is maddening, smart, and real. She accepts the unacceptable, and, like her mother, learns to shift her expectations. In "Free to a Good Home" Ruby chooses to keep and love her daughter, an act that causes her selfish lover to abandon both mother and child.
In "Manx," Ruby's daughter longs for a fluffy white kitten to name Candi. Instead, she gets a stray cat named Phil Donohue. In "Take Your Daughter to Work," a powerful and gripping story, Nora glimpses the threshold of womanhood through her mother's students. And "Rate My Life" brings the cycle full circle, as Ruby visits Nora the home Nora shares with her boyfriend.
The final story in the collection, "Developmental Blah Blah," begins with confectionary mini-cupcakes, and ends with a drunken, blue-haired teenage girl singing "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" at her father's fiftieth birthday party. The "twin-edged power and vulnerability" of girls and women, the double-edged bonds between mother and daughter, are expertly laid bare in these stories. Shout Her Lovely Name is an impressive debut for Natalie Serber. These are stories I will read again and again.
Natalie Serber has a web page at http://www.natalieserber.com/
The publisher is offering a copy of Shout Her Lovely Name for a giveaway--if you are interested, leave a comment and I will choose a lucky winner at random. * Sorry, you must live in the United States for the giveaway....