One of my first favourite short story collections was Bronwen Wallace’s People You Could Trust Your Life To and I loved it to bits because it felt so real. Like the text on its pages could have leapt up, sprouted limbs and walked into life around me. I was maybe-almost-nearly 20 and if I had discovered Aryn Kyle’s Boys and Girls Like You and Me then, I would have fallen for it even harder.
Aryn Kyle elevates awkward to an art in her debut collection. Those horrid teen years, those scrambly twenties, those years that might have come later but are still finding-yourself-losing-yourself years: these are all captured in Boys and Girls Like You and Me.
Here’s a taste from a story midway through, “Captain’s Club”:
“In the locker room after gym class, CJ and his friends waited turns for the showers and Tommy could see the shadows of hair beginning on their chests and underarms, could smell the sweat, like onion soup, rising off their naked backs. Tommy would sniff at his own armpit, pink and hairless as a pencil eraser, then creep past the showers to change clothes in the privacy of a toilet stall.”
The onion soup? The pencil eraser? They’re everyday items contributing to the kind of figurative language that feels as comfortable as the menu in a diner, as flyers advertising school supplies in September. Aryn Kyle’s language isn’t fancy, nor is the structure of her stories complicated: at the heart of her prose is an affinity for the hearts of her characters. That simple.
Here’s a glimpse of sisters, Kate and Claudia, in “Take Care”:
“How she [Kate] longed for a tragedy — a well in which to pour her sorrow — a rare blood disease or psychotic break, a doomed love affair, one in which many people would be invested and many people would get hurt. It was her great hope that something god-awful might happen in New Hampshire.
But two weeks before Kate was to leave, Claudia told a TA that she was going to kill herself, then stabbed a pair of scissors into the back of her hand. And after that, the summer belonged to Claudia.”
In another author’s hands, the scene of the stabbing with scissors could have been told very differently: more blood, less irony. It could have been much more plot-focussed, less character-focussed. But it wouldn’t have fit into this collection.
Sure, it’s angsty, but not in a tiresome-Twilight kind of way, in a squirmy-too-real kind of way: Aryn Kyle’s stories pull you through remembered moments of shame and discomfort with earlier versions of yourself, but they also remind you of those precious moments of connection, those vital relationships that nourished you in your onion soup and pencil eraser years.
Maybe you, like me, have read one of these stories before. Most of them have been published previously in literary journals and magazines (I came across “Nine” in The Atlantic Fiction issue in 2008 and it looks like it’s still available here). Or maybe it’s your first sampling of this author’s work but you find something familiar in it (a hint of Mary Gaitskill in “Sex Scenes from a Chain Bookstore”, a splash of Lorrie Moore in “Economics”, but without the wordplay).
PS Yes, Aryn Kyle is appearing at the 2010 IFOA. Follow the link for schedule and event information.