Monday, September 24, 2012

"Shout Her Lovely Name" by Natalie Serber

I've recently begun teaching at an all-boys school after being at a coed school for five years. When I tell people about the change, they often suggest that I must be happy to be free of the "drama" that girls cause. Truthfully, I'm not sure what to make of that. On the one hand, I know there's certainly "drama" in female relationships and experiences (I used to have my students write narrative essays, and I always got a few about giant, overblown showdowns between friends or parents.), but at the same time, I didn't feel that bled too much into the classroom. The vast majority of teenage girls I worked with were pleasant, engaged, and friendly--with me and the other students.

This introduction serves as a segue into my attitude toward Shout Her Lovely Name, a collection of short stories primarily about the relationships between mothers and teenage daughters. In every story, these relationships are tense and fraught. The daughters hate their mothers and refuse to engage in any manner; the mothers feel helpless and lost. Though, again, I know these types of difficult relationships are commonplace, I guess they just felt too utterly pessimistic for my experiences. Not only did I see plenty of female students with positive mother-daughter relationships as a teacher, but I myself had a happy and loving relationship with my mother as a teenager. It wasn't perfect, of course, but all in all we got along. Even my sister, who went through significantly more "drama" than me and thus had several fraught parent-child moments, still didn't hate my mom and scream terrible names at her.

There's nothing wrong with depicting these challenging relationships, but I almost feel that Serber is presenting them as an inevitability of women rather than the experiences of some. This theme so bothered me that I couldn't enjoy the book as much as I'd like to. After all, the pieces and characters are interesting, and I like that multiple stories follow Ruby and Nora (a mother-daughter pair, though the mother's the terror in these) over the years.

The book is quick, and I'd give Serber another go if she wrote about a different topic.

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