Monday, July 8, 2013

Story of A Girl by Sara Zarr

"One of the things Darren and me have in common is that we both let Mom and Dad down.  Him because of having a kid so young, not to mention getting busted for pot when he was sixteen and having to go through this whole court thing.  And me because, well, no one wants the school slut for a daughter.  Technically, I'm not a slut, because there was only ever Tommy, but it's hard to defend myself on a technicality when things happened the way they did.  It's not like I could get on the school PA system and issue a rebuttal.  Page 42

"This is my life, I thought.  This is it.  When I'm thirty-five years old picking up tampons and a loaf of bread at the store and I run into Jolene Hancock in the express line, she'll look at me and when she gets home she'll tell her husband, 'I saw Deanna Lambert at the store.  She's this girl I knew in high school.  Kind of skanky.  Slept with this gross junior when she was only thirteen.' "  Page 90

In terms of character, Zarr's debut novel establishes the foundation that serves as a template for at least two of her other novels.  While I feel she is a writer who has gotten better which each new book all of her signature power and visceral reality is present in Story of a Girl.

Deanna started having sex at thirteen; a year after she started smoking cigarettes; the same year she started smoking pot.  Now, years later, she still struggles to redefine her identity in the eyes of her contemporaries and her family.  

Deanna's parents never addressed her having sex with Tommy past her father catching them in the act and her mother--assuming Deanne is was a hyper sexually active person--buying condoms and getting her on the pilll.  As time passes her mother ignores the issue; acts as if it never happened.  While her father feels, and makes Deanna feel, as if it happened yesterday, everyday of their lives.  Her only positive family relationship is with her older brother Darren who, fortunately for Deanna, still lives in the house with his daughter and girlfriend.  Darren and Tommy were drug buddies and it was Deanna who had to call Darren off from regularly beating Tommy's ass.

Tommy has his version of what happened the night he and Deanna hooked up and he felt the urge to tell this story to everyone he knew and in the smallest of small towns in California rumor and gossip quickly become true.  Deanna struggles with being comfortable with who she is and where she is, and her dreams of escape and starting over.  It was nice to see the subtly in which she mirrored her father who sees his children as defined by their past and how Deanna struggles to not do the same with her friends and herself.  

Outside of Darren her male relationships are all borderline disastrous   She's more than a little bit in love with her best and only friend Jason, who has a girlfriend he's more than a little bit in love with.  Deanna is also starting to spend time with Tommy again so many years after he has ruined so much in her life.  It's through potentially epic conflict with Jason and Tommy that Deanna finds acceptance of herself and of everyone around her.

Zarr's language isn't as beautiful or well controlled as in Once was Lost; the presentation is different--more mature--than the tragically named Sweethearts; but the narrative voice is still the same and instantly recognizable as hers.  Another aspect of Zarr's that I immediately picked up on was her depiction of 'blurry sex.'  In a book where no language is spared--and the very crux of every aspect of Deanna's personality is the fact that she was sexually active at thirteen--from an author who clearly has control of language and subtly; I'm continually surprised at how she can put two people in a sexual situation and I can't follow what is happening between them.  I don't need explicit details but Zarr has a tendency to be so vague as to be confusing.  The harsh bluntness of Zarr clearly saying what happens in these moments would not only clear things up for me but would powerfully contrast with her otherwise beautiful prose in what would be some of the most tense moments of the story.

I think it's because Zarr is a writer that I enjoy so much that always want more from every book she writes.  That, would be my problem as there is certainly nothing wrong or wanting in Story of Girl or anything else Zarr has written.  It's good enough to make me curious about reading what won the nation book award in 2007 as Story of a Girl was a finalist but not chosen.  It's good enough for me to say--as I've said many times before--that Zarr is worth reading, and this being her first book is as good a place to start as any.               

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