The stories in Courtney Eldridge’s collection, Unkempt, are breathless 1st person narratives, documenting the lifestyles of the neurotic and the damaged. Often, I had to put the book down and take a break from the voice, the monologue, the anxiety (perhaps one should not read it when one is experiencing daily panic attacks).

This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the book or that it lacks cleverness or intrigue, because it has all of these things. It also has a sort of meanness of spirit in which the writer seems to not only pick on herself but others as well. Now, while I do appreciate the writer’s unflinching honesty, sometimes I wanted a bit more artifice.

Of the many clever stories in this collection, the two I liked best were “Unkempt” and “The Summer of the Mopeds.” They are all raw emotion. They are humane and they are heartbreaking.

“Unkempt” is the story of the relationship between an alcoholic mother and her daughter. It is a painful story and one is completely sucked into the mother’s voice (except for those times when she shows her red neckness). I felt tender for her and hated her ungrateful, whining daugher. How dare she treat her mother so meanly? Okay, but at the end you learn why. You learn in a very clever way how the mother’s actions have traumatized the daughter. And when the daughter apologizes, your heart sort of breaks.

“The Summer of the Mopeds” is told through repetitive scenes all leading up to the final revelation of childhood sexual abuse. It, too, ends with an “I’m sorry” but from someone totally unexpected. This story is raw and angry and brutally honest. I was completely taken by it.

Be prepared for this collection–it will not go easy on you. It will poke at you and sometimes you will find yourself exasperated but in the end you will likely feel glad you read it.

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