From Publishers Weekly
This sure-to-please collection by Kyle (The God of Animals
) probes the frequently wrongheaded choices girls and young women make to feel happy and loved. Girls growing up with fathers whose wives have vanished, girls perilously desirous of acceptance, young women enthralled by unsuitable men: these are the characters inhabiting Kyle's low-key tales. In Nine, the young protagonist tells elaborate lies to deflect the pain of her mother's absence, though her attempts at befriending her father's new girlfriend go terribly awry. Allegiance depicts the ruthless extent the new girl will go to get invited to a sleepover party held by the popular girls, especially as her mother offers suggestions for tormenting the weak. Similarly, in Brides, the new girl in the high school play learns how to ingratiate herself with the lead and the pervy theater teacher. Meanwhile, dallying with married men only brings grief to smart women, as in Sex Scenes from a Chain Bookstore and the moving title story. There's no shortage of heartache, and Kyle's varied approaches to it consistently reveals new ways of feeling bad. (Apr.)
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Kyle, whose first novel, The God of Animals (2007), was selected as an Alex Award winner, turns her creative energy and dark imagination to shorter fiction in her second book, producing 11 stories that are irresistibly readable in the same way that a goiter or a carbuncle demands careful scrutiny. The girls, young women, and, in one case, 12-year-old boy who serve as protagonists are or soon will be unrelievedly miserable, disappointed by life, betrayed by love, and convinced—like Lilly in “Company of Strangers”—that they they will “die horribly.” As she did in her novel, Kyle reinforces the bleakness of mood and tone with loving descriptions of unsavory settings (a school is “a dirty scab of a place”; skies are “the color of concrete”; and air smells like “grease and diesel fumes”). There is an almost perverse artistry at work here, however, and at least two of the stories—“Nine” and “A Lot like Fun”—are near-perfect exercises in persuading readers that the hallmark of human nature is imperfectability and that truth is its ultimate falsehood. --Michael Cart