Blueprints for Building Better Girls by Elissa Schappell
Simon & Schuster • $24 • on sale September 6, 2011
Elissa Schappell’s story collection Blueprints for Building Better Girls is BookPage’s top pick in fiction for the month of September. Last week, I decided to pick up the book myself to see what all the fuss was about. All I have to say is . . . thank goodness we had a three-day weekend and it was rainy in Nashville, because I did not feel bad one bit when I spent the entirety of Monday lounging on my couch and laughing (and weeping) through the pages.
Abby Plesser describes the collection as a “multifaceted portrait of modern womanhood” in her review for BookPage; she praises Schappell’s “piercing insight and good humor.” I’ll go ahead and add that I love Schappell’s snappy (and often painful-in-a-good-way) dialogue . . . especially when a character is thinking one thing and saying another. For example, here’s a passage from The Joy of Cooking:
I was halfway out the door when the phone rang. Another person would have let the machine pick up, but you know how it is when you’re a mother.
“Thank God you’re there,” my daughter Emily said, sounding out of breath.
“I am, but sweetie,” I said, “I’m in a bit of a rush . . . ” [ . . . ]
Emily cleared her throat theatrically. “Well, you’ll just have to wait a minute, as I have an announcement to make. Today,” she paused, “I became a woman.”
Emily was twenty-four.
“I bought a chicken. I did. With legs and everything.”
Emily didn’t cook. She chopped salads, sliced fruit, and poured brewer’s yeast on popcorn. She went to restaurants where she tortured the waiters with special orders, everything steamed or boiled, sauce on the side, then ultimately returned half of it. Emily had been anorexic for almost half her life.
I assumed she meant a dead chicken.
“I have a suitor!”
It sounded like she said: suture. Slap a steak on a black eye, a chicken breast with stitches. I wish I didn’t think this way.
“A suitor, Mommy. A gentleman caller,” She sighed as if she might faint with the mere pleasure of saying the word. Emily had often lectured her sister, Paige, and me on the subject of love, saying, “When Percy Shelley, the poet, drowned, Mary Shelley carried his burnt-up heart in her handbag for the rest of her life. In her handbag! That’s real love. That’s what I’m waiting for.”
I wondered, How long before that heart started to stink?
Do you want to read Blueprints for Building Better Girls? What are you reading today?