“Daughters of Monsters” by Melissa Goodrich

Hello, Story366! I suppose this is officially AWP week, ‘cause AWP is this week, and I’m headed that way myself. Last year, the big Story366 year, I wisely chose to do a short-short week this week, meaning I didn’t have to spend nearly as much time concentrating on any particular piece, which is hard to do at a book fair table. It was a hectic but rewarding week—I sure do like shorts—and I made my deadlines every day. As I’m no longer facing the daily challenge of the blog, I’m certainly not going to be crouched in some lobby, frantically stabbing at keys so I can make it to readings and dinner dates. I do want to do at least one entry during the conference—after today—just to check in. I mean, this is still a writer’s blog, right? And AWP is still the major writers’ conference, right? Seems like I should say a few thing while I’m there, read a book while I’m at it.

Right now, though, I still have to get there, and as I type this, I’m on a plane, en route to DC. Karen and I are in the third-to-last row, our luggage is stowed several rows ahead of us, and the guy in front of me has put the seat back all the way and is tossing and turning as he tries to sleep. I have the window seat and my ears have shut. I’m trying hard to forget I’m high-end claustrophobic, that I sorta want to get up, do some, some jumping jacks, then walk out the side door of the plane to more open spaces. So far, meh, but if either of my legs falls asleep, Karen and the nice lady on the aisle might have to get up and out of my way and quick.

For today’s entry, I read a bunch of stories from Melissa Goodrich’s collection Daughters of Monsters, out from Jellyfish Highway Press. Another JHP author, Dana Diehl, recommended this book to me, as the two of them are friends and often collaborate together. I liked Diehl’s book a lot and have enjoyed Goodrich’s collection just as much, even though each writer has a completely different style. Diehl’s stories, if I recall, seemed like realism, while Goodrich could easily be pegged as a fabulist, if I were into pegging writing in  that way (note: Goodrich has some nonfiction writing, I’ve noticed, specifically on fabulism). Still, there’s some magical realism, some absurdism, and some retold fairy tales among her stories, so, yeah, that’s what she does.

By the way, cut ahead a bit, like twelve hours. The plane started its descent right as I typed that last paragraph and I had to put my computer away. Since, we deboarded, got to the train station, got to the convention center, registered, found our room, got a shit-ton of boxes onto the Moon City Press table (125-T!) at the book fair, showered, ate some Tapas, went to a reading for Newfound, Waxwing, and As/US, went to my reading where I read for Ninth Letter at the Monster Mags of the Midwest reading (which I used to organized, years back), walked back to our hotel, running into 478 people we knew. So, that’s the last twelve hours. And the conference hasn’t officially started yet.

Back to Goodrich. I certainly read some fabulist-type stories, including the title story, “Daughters of Monsters,” which I’ll focus on today. “Daughters of Monsters” is about a fourteen-year-old girl who is the daughter of a monster—a platypus-seeming thing that lays eggs and has fur and such—who is also the daughter of a monster. Goodrich has poet-level skills in both decription and lyricism, and in “Daughters of Monsters,” she unloads image after image of what these so-called monsters look like, from their beaks to their feathers to the slimy aftertrails. So, this term “monster” comes off as quite literal, as it seems like some half-human, half-animal creatures populate an otherwise contemporary landscape, with school, boyfriends, cooking and other everyday challenges.

Goodrich also includes some very contemporary themes in the lives of her daughters and monsters, mainly the kinds of things that pester and haunt most fourteen-year-old girls, things like sex, pregnancy, and personal appearance anxiety. The protagonist here, whose name we never get, is worried about her wings coming in like a normal human girl might consider her breasts, full monsterdom arriving with puberty. How terrifying it is—for girls and boys—to go through these changes, and I think that’s what Goodrich is getting at. They’re confused, basically, and horrified. At the end of the first paragraph of the story, Goodrich conflates her hero’s worries with the line “You don’t have to eat the chicken bones while your mother eats the meat,  you’re fourteen years old still, what is sex,” everything jumbled together in one mind-meandering sentence.

The comparisons to adolescence don’t stop at the physical, however, as Goodrich’s monster-daughter faces social fears as well, such as her boyfriend pressuring her for sex, her boyfriend being more attracted to her fully developed mother than to her, and a baby sister usurping all the attention; all three of these scenarios make for weird and wonderful scenes in the story, reminding me of David Lynch’s anxious father in Eraserhead. So, Goodrich makes her hero like any other fourteen-year-old, in body and in mind, only this young woman has wings and fangs and such.

Overall, the metaphoric value of this character perceiving herself as a monster doesn’t take away from what’s really on the page and that’s a really intense, lyrical story about a family of monsters interacting with each other in strange ways. I was riveted to every part of this, surprised over and over again, and read the story three times, finding something new each pass.

Most of the stories I read in Daughters of Monsters had the same effect on me as the title piece, daring, innovative pieces of fiction that introduced me to a strong and distinct new voice. I really liked everything I read in this collection, making it an impressive debut, an impressive book in general. Check it out.

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