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Death Is Not an Option: Stories Paperback – July 11, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
The female protagonists in Rivecca's debut collection have a lot in common, so much so that they at times feel like the same person, despite (slight) variations in context. They are a mostly Midwestern bunch, sassy, bookish, and Catholic (or lapsed Catholic), but it's their ambivalent relationships to victimhood that provide the collection with its real material: some refuse to be pitied, while others dabble in self-victimization for selfish purposes. In the title story, Emma bids farewell to her Sacred Heart classmates, including the popular Claire, who has spent most of their friendship trying to publicly humiliate Emma. In Yours Will Do Nicely, 21-year-old Katrina tries to maintain a relationship with a one-night stand by writing a fanciful letter to the boy she's effortlessly enchanted. Very Special Victims introduces Kath, who can't seem to convince those around her that her existence shouldn't be defined by the fact that she was molested as a child. Rivecca's a competent writer and obviously adept at mining the experiences of a certain kind of character, but the stories' provocations aren't delivered upon; instead, they feel repetitive and self-satisfied. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Rivecca's premier collection is gripping, distinctive, and altogether impressive. Her heroines are flawed and captivating, and their stories are steeped in bizarreness. Confused young women fleeing Catholic pasts are a specialty, from a high-school senior hell-bent on disliking her classmates but terrified of leaving them, to the memoirist who secretly delights in the intrusive emails she receives from a landlord. These women are smart and stoic, yet they seek out pain and hate themselves for it. A haunting account of childhood molestation is remarkable in its description of the child's psychology and the scars carried into adulthood. Another, about a woman who grows to love her father after loathing him as a child, is powerful in its tenderness and provocative in its blurring of the lines between protagonist and antagonist. Rivecca relishes that blurring, and accomplishes a lot as a storyteller via that approach. What is most unforgettable about this collection, however, is its sharp language and rich detail, signifying the arrival of a wonderful new writer. --Annie Tully --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Most of the negative comments I've read regarding this book have focused on the supposed similarity of the characters, which frankly seems like a weak concern for a literary critic. Hemingway had his code heroes, O'Connor her Southern Protestants; I don't see any reason why Rivecca shouldn't have her "disaffected Catholic midwesterners" (her words). Of course that's not even what's behind the criticism; it's the idea of victimization and its role in the lives of women that is somehow seen as being more offensively or shallowly specific than categories like "Catholic" and "Midwestern" (which are accepted as universal). The funny thing is that these stories are very sensitive to the state of identity politics in general and seem aware of how they might be perceived, in the same way that the characters themselves possess an awareness (to differing levels) of how much the details of their lives define who they are as people. The salient point being that if you don't bother to distinguish between opportunistic fiction based purely on subject matter and literary fiction that happens to make use of the same material, you are going to miss the real thing when it happens, as it is happening here.
What I was largely able to appreciate about this collection is that it was both weighty and addictive, leaving me with the overall feeling that the author really cared about what she was writing. It's brilliant character fiction that at the same time often sustains a feeling of old-school Poe-ish suspense, thereby acknowledging the reader and making the journey from beginning to end genuinely fun. As an aspiring writer myself, I appreciate the fact that there is stuff like this out there. The only detail I will offer as criticism is that the stories written in the second and first person did not seem as realized as those written in the third. However, I would ultimately not want to see them replaced; I like the way the collection fits together as a whole. I also have to applaud the risks of using the second person, as well as other stylistic and subject-based risks taken in this collection that have pitfall written all over them but never materialize as such. In fact, it's the risks that make this book exciting and worth the time to read. It makes me reflect, with relief, that writing and reading fiction is not only still relevant but extremely necessary for some.