Reading Barbara Sutton’s Flannery O’Connor award winning collection, The Send-Away Girl, is something akin to falling in love. At first, you might wonder about your attraction. Isn’t this voice sort of angry, strident? Should I really be liking these as much as I am? Hey, wait, this is not anger, this is not stridency. This is humor. This is intelligence. This is, above all else, empathy.
I didn’t fall in love during the first story, was worried that each one that followed would lead me farther down the path to mild like, instead I got sucked deeper and deeper into the vortex of this interesting, challenging mind–and the best thing is that the mind is challenging in a way that is accessible, i.e., the voice admits to being a fuck up. And what’s not to love about a fuck up, I ask you?
As a fuck up myself, I found great comfort in probably my favorite story of the collection, “Tenants”, which examines several layers of tenancy (an actual renter in the narrator’s sister’s property, a woodchuck under her mother’s garage, and her ex-boyfriend in her hall closet) and offers the wonderful insight into an other, younger version of myself, when I, too, had given up what I held dear:
Stopping was my default setting when it came to life. “Quitting” was probably a better word. Every activity of my current existence seemed to lead to this confession: I quit poetry. Yes, it’s true that I quit poetry, but that doesn’t mean the love was never there. I loved poetry so much, in fact, that I dind’t know what to do with it. The situation was very similar to my first encounter with that certain kind of white paste in kindergarten. I simultaneously longed to squish it between my fingers, eat it, and make love to it (though at that point I had no idea what “making love” meant). Poetry for me could never be a job; it was more like a unisex cologne that I’d want to smell on myself but also on some guy I loved–with the result that if I wore the stuff I could self-seduce. My problem, in a nutshell, is not that I didn’t love poetry. My problem is that I’m not that good at things.
Ah, sweet relief! To have a writer encapsulate several decades of your own pathetic Gen-X life in such a pure, perfect way is beyond compare.
Like the white paste, I want to squish this collection. I want to eat it, and make love to it.
It is brilliant and I hope not the last I’ll hear from Barbara Sutton.
Here’s my take in a nutshell: Buy it. Read it. You will not regret it.