Two promising young writers–both debuting new work—team up for a joint reading at Powell's.
Before You She Was a Pit Bull The six stories in Elizabeth Ellen's debut collection, Before You She Was a Pit Bull, are all about women and girls: women sleeping with the wrong men, girls suffering at the hands of their mothers. It's a 52-page catalog of the vagrancies of the female heart—but while seven or eight pages is just long enough for a woman to make a bad decision, it's not long enough to convince a reader to invest in the characters. There's a writing-workshop quality to the way these stories are structured, dwelling briefly in a house, in a moment, in the recesses of someone's emotions, only to be summarily concluded with a vague parting line: "I watch him and wait and he doesn't disappear." "Luck didn't have a thing to do with it."
The most frustrating thing about Pit Bull is that Ellen is an undeniably good writer, with an ear for mood, detail, and a well-constructed sentence. I'd like to see her try her hand at a novel, where her strengths could lend texture to a longer narrative, instead of throwing them away on stories about feelings that never quite succeed in making the reader feel.
Dahlia Season Dahlia Season is about a gothy Chicana lesbian schizophrenic with Tourette's Syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The stunning thing about this novella is that author Myriam Gurba creates from this near-ludicrous list of descriptors a character the reader can relate to, in the form of Desiree Garcia, a teenager who is struggling to control a disease she doesn't understand. Desiree's existence is circumscribed by the rituals and rules she's developed for coping with her undiagnosed OCD and Tourette's, even as she struggles with friendship and crushes just like any other high schooler. Gurba can't write dialogue for the life of her, but this weakness hardly gets in the way of her frank, moody prose: She manages to take an almost ludicrously specific set of circumstances and make them feel universal.