March 10, 2020: “Strong Girls” by Donna Miscolta

Hey, there, Story366!

First things first: I have to recant what I said yesterday already about AWP, about going this week if it were to be held this week. I would not go this week. I mean, no way.

I actually wrote that I-would-go-this-week report late Sunday night, writing a bit ahead (I often do this). At that point, I wasn’t operating with all the facts. It’s true San Antonio didn’t fall last week. It’s true the virus became more disseminated, its full spread more certain. I was thinking, with faulty logic, that there’d be no reason not to be there—as opposed to here. It was a rationale that we’d been considering last week, a check in the “we should go” column. Gotta be somewhere, me and the Karen thought.

In the short time since Sunday night, however, the world has taken notice and the world is starting to react. The Ivy League canceled this week’s post-season tournaments, for one example. A friend posted that the Virginia Festival of the Book has also been canceled. Ohio State, the nation’s second-largest university system, has suspended class through March, and they’re only one of several schools doing this (Berkeley, Amherst, USC, Columbia, a constantly growing number).

So, as much as I was all like Conferences and travel for all! a couple of nights ago, that’s obviously silly at this point. If AWP were happening this week, it would most likely be canceled. I don’t think anyone’s keeping track of stupid things I say here at Story366—at least I hope not—but this might be one of the stupidest and most short-sighted. Ugh.

For today’s post, I read from Donna Miscolta‘s wonderful collection Hola and Goodbye: Una Familia in Stories. Last week here, I covered the late Jeanne Leiby’s book, a book from Carolina Wren Press. Minimal investigation led me to find that Carolina Wren Press had recently merged with John F. Blair, Publisher to become Blair. I immediately wrote the nice people at Blair and they sent me all of their remaining story collections, which I received in the mail today. Hola and Goodbye was originally on Carolina Wren, in 2017, but is now under the Blair name (that merger must have just happened). And because I was so excited to read these titles and Miscolta’s book is just so beautiful, I dove right in.

Hola and Goodbye is a novel-in-stories, more or less, or at least a collection of linked stories that’s also told sequentially … okay, that sounds like a novel-in-stories. In any case, I’m covering “Strong Girls,” here, which is later in the collection, but I started at the beginning of the book. The first story, “Lupita and the Lone Ranger,” introduces us to Lupita, the matriarch of this family, from whom everything else flows. Lupita emigrated from Mexico in the 1920s (Sidebar: I actually kinda had to specify the 19 part of that, didn’t I?). She lives with her husband, Sergio, and their children. She works at a tuna cannery with her best friend, Rosa, with whom she rides the bus every day. That story serves as a setup as much as a story, as we learn who all the main players are, what they’re about, and how Miscolta’s going to tell this story.

The next piece, “Rosa in America,” picks up almost immediately after the first story, but this time is told from Rosa’s perspective, refers to incidents from “Lupita and the Lone Ranger,” but carries them much further, seeing them mostly to an end. The stakes are a lot higher in “Rosa in America,” the story having more of a concrete conflict and plot than its predecessor. I liked it a whole lot.

I jumped ahead after that to the second section of the book—by the way, the book is split into three sections, which I think splits the overall story up into three generations. I found myself reading about Lupita’s daughter, Lyla, in “Natalie Wood’s Fake Puerto Rican Accent.” Lyla is fully grown now, recently divorced with twin eight-year-old daughters. In this story, she finds out her ex, Van, is remarrying, which Lyla claims will devastate her daughters, but really, it’s affecting her considerably more, more than she’d like.

I then skipped ahead again to the third section and read “Strong Girls,” about Lyla’s twin daughters, now in high school. The twins, Ofelia and Norma, are very large girls, it turns out, and at the outset o the story, beat up a large boy in the cafeteria after he shakes down a nerd. As it turns out, the wrestling coach is the monitor that hour, and instead of turning the girls in for fighting—for thumping that bully—he recruits them to the wrestling team (reminiscent of Harry Potter getting drafted for quidditch right after getting caught flying on his broom).

The story is told from Norma’s point of view, and reading her story, it’s easy to peg her as pragmatic. She has a mature outlook on life and the wrestling team situation. She and her sister have been mocked their whole lives—kids called them “Oafie” and “Abnorma”—but Norma’s not crying about it. She is who she is and is happier that she can easily squash some asshole than she is sad that kids make fun of her. She owns who she is. She could serve as a spokesperson for body-acceptance movements.

It’s soon clear that Ofelia and Norma are not only good enough to be on the wrestling team, but the girls are downright fierce. Originally, the coach just wanted sparring partners for his heavyweight, but when the girls easily crush him, they suit up for meets. A lot of teams forfeit those matches—no one wants to wrestle a girl—but when some kid accepts the challenge and is then quickly dealt with, the boys in their league use them as motivational tools, everyone wanting to take down the big, mean twin girls who are making a mockery of them and their sport.

Eventually, when no one can beat the twins—not fairly—the governing body in charge decides to match the girls against each other in the ultimate showdown: sister vs. sister. For the first time in their lives, Ofeilia and Norma are at odds. This, as you might guess, changes the dynamic between the two, offsetting the universal balance.

I won’t reveal how this story ends, but Donna Miscolta pulls off the perfect finale—I can’t think of how she could have done this better. I have that same feeling about every story in Hola and Goodbye. I’d not read anything by this author before tonight and boy, have I been missing out. Miscolta tells a beautiful generational story, knows exactly how to structure this long, complicated narrative, and delivers on the individual pieces. This is a great collection and I can’t recommend it enough.

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One thought on “March 10, 2020: “Strong Girls” by Donna Miscolta

  1. Pingback: June 16, 2020: “Alien Virus Love Disaster” by Abbey Mei Otis – Story366

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