“Lost Girls: Short Stories”
Author: Ellen Birkett Morris
Publisher: TouchPoint Press
Price: $13.99 (Paper)
“Lost Girls” is a debut volume of 17 stories, about 7 pages each, with each one an examination of a particular turning point or crisis in the life of a female protagonist. Some stories are of childhood. In others, the protagonist might be in her seventies.
All the stories are set either in Kentucky or just across the river in or near Cincinnati.
They are not experimental or avant-garde. Each story is realistic, entirely accessible. Some come perilously close to being merely anecdotes, recordings of remembered events. The best involve a moment of acceptance, illumination or even revenge.
Many are painful. The reader is not likely to leave this volume with much envy for the lives and predicaments of the characters.
The title story concerns abduction. The protagonist, 18 years old when her 13-year-old neighbor is abducted, becomes obsessed, sure she will be next. The maniac could be one aisle over in the store. Time passes. Her parents quarrel and divorce, she goes on to college and her first job, and she tells us, “As time passed I realized I was just too old to be kidnapped anymore,” but the abduction remains the defining event of her life.
Aging is also the center of the story “Harvest.’
Abby Linder, now in her 70s, had been a beautiful girl. On a bus she sees reflected in the window “an old crone with a face that had grown square with age.” She removes all the mirrors from her house. She tells her friends what they already know: “when you get old, it’s like you’re invisible.”
BUT, when visiting her life-long friend Tony Conti in the nursing home, they share a memory of when they were kids and picking berries together, and she realizes that, even if only for a second, “She still felt like that sixteen-year old, no matter how much time had passed.”
In the volume’s first story, set in fictional Slocum, Kentucky, the poor are exploited, body and soul.
The girl’s father, desperate, sells her to rich Daniel Cabot at 50 cents per visit.
When the local grande dame Mrs. Cabot, his mother, dies, the family pays the young narrator to be dead Mrs. Cabot’s “sin eater.” She sits by the corpse which is laid out on the Duncan Phyfe dining room table, eats the symbolic “corpse cake” from the dead lady’s bosom and says, “I pledge my soul for your sins and ask that God Almighty remove those sins from you and place them upon me, and I eat this food to show that I have taken your sins upon me. If I lie may God strike me dead.”
How might the rich possibly exploit more from the poor?
Less horrible but still odd is the story “Religion” which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Alice has taken up decoupage and is looking for the crafts meeting but accidentally joins the La Leche League meeting. Embarrassed by her mistake, the 30-year-old virgin sits silently and becomes intrigued and envious as the women all tell about breast feeding their children.
She gets a breast pump, visits her health food store for blessed thistle, brewer’s yeast and fenugreek. No luck until, while babysitting, her milk comes and she feeds the baby. The feeling is marvelous but, we are told, she quits the lactation circle and joins a decoupage group after all.
“Lost Girls” is highly readable. The stories are varied—not all painful or grotesque and the book deserves a readership.
Don Noble’s newest book is Alabama Noir, a collection of original stories by Winston Groom, Ace Atkins, Carolyn Haines, Brad Watson, and eleven other Alabama authors.