My Date With Satan: Stories
Stacey Richter
(Scribner)

"She smiled when she saw me coming, the Bitch, she smiled and stuck her fingers in her mouth like she was plucking gum out of her dental work. Then, with a little pout, like a kiss, I saw a line of silver slide toward my face. I swear to God, I thought she'd pried off her braces... The next thing I know there's blood all over my J. Crew linen fitted blouse in edelweiss-- a very delicate, almost ecru shade of white, ruined now."

There's a way of using language that reflects a uniquely inexperienced and American teenage girl type of voice. It's the voice of the mall-goer, the credit card dependent. It's the voice of the groupie, proclaiming every band as "fucking awesome." On the page, this language can be a ready-made parody, revealing the character as tedious, superficial, and self absorbed, chasing vapid trends in a futile effort to gain personal recognition.

In her collection, My Date With Satan, Stacey Richter has harnessed this voice and opened it up just a little bit further, to find an awkward and raw humanity. Her characters are often emotionally ill-equipped, but they're creating a way to live; they're accommodating and adapting to a world that doesn't work.

Each story is brilliant and complicated, from the tale of the dog that becomes a site-specific artist to the title story, of internet dating brought into the realm of the physical world. In the story "My Date With Satan," the character of Satan is beautifully deconstructed. He first appears as mysterious and otherworldly as his name, Satan, implies. Within the short span of the date, he dissolves into a nice boy with a computer job and a room in his mom's house. His real name is Ferris. He wants to be loved. The narrator leaves Ferris tied to his bed.

In these stories, the desire to be loved often translates into the desire to be hip, famous, or at least ingratiated to somebody famous--to know a member of the band, any band--and smoking is still believed, in a small town way, to indicate some sort of sophistication. The story, "A Groupie, A Rock Star," is a chilling, funny, and nightmarish slow-motion dissection of what the rock and roll world of love means in the face of death, or perhaps what death means in light of fame.

The roadie is dead in the swimming pool, the rock star takes no action, and the groupie thinks, "She'd always wanted a rock star; the particulars of the man hadn't mattered. She had just longed to be part of something vast, golden, and vaguely male. She had an empty slot in her life, or her heart, or pussy, or something, and it seemed like some really cool rocker could fill it up...She loved rock and roll in the first place because it made her feel like she'd live forever as a beautiful creature, complete and fabulous. The plan had been to get a rocker boyfriend who'd immortalize her with a great song like 'Brown-Eyed Girl.'"

In "Rats Eat Cats," the title character strives to turn herself into a living piece of performance art, as a lonely old "cat lady," filling her apartment with an excessive number of cats. These characters are caught trying to define themselves within a world of superficial social signifiers and Richter finds the humor, humanity, and tragedy there. MONICA DRAKE