by Ellen Birkett Morris
Publication Date: June 26, 2020
Review by Kelly Fordon
word count: 513
The sixteen astounding stories in Ellen Birkett Morris’ debut collection, “Lost Girls,” include a cornucopia of tales about love and loss and longing infused with a richness of detail and empathy that prompted the renowned writer, Jenny Offill, to pronounce this “a dazzling collection.”
Each story showcases Morris’ abundant compassion and brilliance of vision even while providing a piercing, unflinching depiction of life. These are ingenious stories suffused with wit, prodigious intelligence, and sometimes even magical overtones.
On the fairy tale front, one example is “Religion,” a story about a woman who works as a bookkeeper. When she goes out to lunch with her coworkers and the talks turn to husband and children, she feels “I have nothing to contribute,” so she pretends to be a mother in order to join the church lactation group. “I was not much of a joiner, but lately I’d been feeling lonely, eager to change my routine.”
“Inheritance,” another stunning, fable-like, tale of class and misogyny, is the first-person account of a girl who works as a sin eater pledging her soul as recompense for her wealthy neighbors.
“Harvest” brings into stark relief the ravages of aging. “The old crone with a face that had grown square with age looked vaguely familiar. She raised her hand to her mouth at exactly the same time Abby did. The woman in the glass shuddered and turned away.”
“Harvest” is followed later in the collection by an even more moving companion story, “Fear of Heights,” about the title character from “Harvest” named Tony whose wife, Allison, left him for her female coworker. In “Fear of Heights” Allison returns to town years later with her partner, Lydia, for Tony’s funeral.
A couple of the stories feature mothers mourning their children as does “Life After,” where a woman grieves for her dead son by playing video games with his best friend Ethan. In “A Rumor of Fire,” a young girl’s Nancy Drew-style investigations around her apartment complex uncover secrets she would rather not know about her own family. “Helter Skelter” is a heartbreaking story about another young girl who thinks that the boy pushing up against her older sister in the park is actually attacking her.
One of the most affecting stories, “Like I Miss Not Being a Ballerina,” tells the tale of a young girl named Charlotte whose own mother has been dead for years. Charlotte is being bullied for her weight, but still wants to comfort her friend Sheila through her own trauma: “I pat her back and say, “there, there,” which is something I got from Alice the maid on The Brady Bunch who always seemed to be comforting someone.”
According to Morris, the title story of this collection was inspired by the kidnapping of a local girl in her community when she was eighteen. Morris hoped that this collection would “reflect the range of women’s experiences and get close to touching the truth about the challenges and joy of being a woman, chief among them being seen, acknowledged, remembered, and heard.”
Author: Kelly Fordon
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