From Publishers Weekly
Cummins is less circus ringleader than freak-show barker in this debut collection of 12 stories, as she entices patrons to peek at the secret lives and survival skills of the downtrodden and disenchanted. Her dark, offbeat style and ability to make the reader uncomfortable are on full display in the title story, in which two loner neighborhood girls-one scrawny and homely, the other mouthy and mean-form an alliance and plan to strip naked for money. Cummins often perches kids in peril, with unreliable guardians who are as ineffective as the mumbling, rarely seen adults in a Peanuts cartoon. In her more accessible tales, the enemy is visible: Karen, a white girl living with her family on an Indian reservation, is tormented by a Navajo girl, Purple, in "Trapeze." In "Crazy Yellow," unsupervised eight-year-old Pete meets his new neighbor, an off-kilter man who is "not in control of his circumstances." And in "Headhunter," a drunk driver on a steep mountain pass forces Ginny into a dangerous game of chicken. In her more surreal stories, fear is less tangible, lurking somewhere between dream and reality: a supernatural force weighs down on a young brother and sister in "Blue Fly"; a sinister hypnotist begs his client to "give me something you truly value" as he eyes her teenage daughter in "The Hypnotist's Trailer." Cummins doesn't always create convincing alternate universes-her deliberately off-kilter prose sometimes falters and her attempts at interior logic aren't always consistent-but these are mostly clever and entertaining experiments.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
In her debut short story collection, Cummins details the lives of characters that exist on the periphery, whether it be geographically, socially, or economically. An unpopular student at an Indian reservation school joins the gymnastics team to become more outgoing, only to forge a combative relationship with her spotter; a torn dress predicates the end of childhood for turn-of-the century siblings; an anonymous factory piece worker details the events of her day. Cummins clearly relishes taking the reader into the unfamiliar, and we get glimpses into the unknown worlds of an antelope reserve, the mysterious interior of a hypnotist's trailer, and the thought process of a young girl as she waits to meet the sexual predator who has been calling her. Throughout, Cummins refuses to condescend to her characters, instead creating full-blooded portrayals despite their unsympathetic actions or the bleak circumstances in which they find themselves. Her work has gathered praise in previous appearances in the New Yorker
, and Cummins will deservedly gain more appreciative fans with this finely wrought collection. Brendan DowlingCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved