|Apr/May 2009 Reviews & Interviews|
So New Books. 2008. 98 pp.
There is somethingterrible and hard at the core of Jackie Corley's sad suburban universe. This is not your suburbia of spoiled comfort and ease, this is your suburbia of "dead garden snakes and dried-up slugs," of empty parking lots and sad diners and cemeteries where kids gather to drink, fight and hurt one another, sometimes badly. That initial image of the dead garden snake, with its overtones of a broken Eden, reappears in the title story of Corley's collection Suburban Swindle. An older sister, college age, is home for a brief visit, and tries to connect with her beloved younger brother. At the end of the story the boy keeps rolling the wheel of his bicycle back and forth over a dead garden snake.
"You can't hurt it," I say. "It's dead." The kid keeps methodically pressing his tire down onto the crackling corpse.
This story is suffused with a tenderness and longing that are almost palpable. The boy's rawness, his innocence, his fear are all beautifully delineated with the sparest of means. As the sister imagines the young man he is about to become, she's reminded of her own love for a boy and how it all went wrong when "we saw that all I'd built up was voodoo and shadows." That kind of blatant honesty is typical of Corley's voice.
The second half of the book is devoted to two longer stories. In the first, "At the Slaughter," the viewpoint shifts in ways that don't quite add up, though it mostly seems to come from the point of view of a young man caught between two girls, one from the wrong side of the tracks, the other, very much from the right. She "has this long, slender neck, an indecent curve to it like a raw, medieval Madonna." So far, so good, but then he continues:
"There's an unnatural smoothness to her face, as if it never bore the wrath of puberty. A lot of girls must have hated her for that. Her wavy dark-blond hair shrouds her shoulders and tickles the edge of her green v-neck collar where the fabric meets the skin."
An eloquent description that says much with little, but I couldn't help thinking, no boy ever thought that. Boys don't notice things like v-neck collars. But the dynamic between the two girls is terrific, with its echoes of larger, class tensions in the world beyond the narrow circle of the narrative. The last story, "Fine Creature," gives a glimpse into a hellish sado/maso couple's grim life, where it seems there is never enough pain to go round. On the whole this is a fine, distinctive collection, well worth the reader's attention, and I look forward to hearing more from Jackie Corley.