Mothers and daughters ride the familial tide of joy, regret, loathing, and love in these stories of resilient and flawed women. In a battle between a teenage daughter and her mother, wheat bread and plain yogurt become weapons. An aimless college student, married to her much older professor, sneaks cigarettes while caring for their newborn son. On the eve of her husband’s fiftieth birthday, a pilfered fifth of rum, an unexpected tattoo, and rogue teenagers leave a woman questioning her place. And in a suite of stories, we follow capricious, ambitious single mother Ruby and her cautious, steadfast daughter Nora through their tumultuous life—stray men, stray cats, and psychedelic drugs—in 1970s California.
Gimlet-eyed and emotionally generous, achingly real and beautifully written, these unforgettable stories lay bare the connection and conflict in families. Shout Her Lovely Name heralds the arrival of a powerful new writer.
–synopsis from Amazon.
Natalie Serber took me by surprise and sent me on a heartfelt journey of family ties in her debut short story collection, Shout Her Lovely Name. Serber’s prose reads like beautiful poetry, inviting the reader to fill in the story with its clues. Through these eleven character-driven, poignant short stories about mothers and their children, Serber displays versatility, humor, and tears. I am fully enamored with her writing, and pleasantly surprised that this is only her debut.
Serber experiments with writing structure in her first story about a mother struggling to help her daughter fight an eating disorder while her husband is in denial; it is written almost like an instructional manual combined with a monthly journal. I could imagine a mother documenting her exhausting journey with her anorexic daughter, whom she wants to hold on to. It is one of the brightest highlights, and one that I plan to reread.
Ruby and Nora
Throughout the book, we also encounter recurring characters, Ruby and her daughter Nora. Ruby is a teacher and single mother, and not the best mother since she often leaves Nora home alone while she seduces men for dates and gifts. Nora admires her mother and we see their relationship grow as she becomes an adult through figments. I liked reading their stories because they are the characters I feel most developed. I found myself reading the other stories slightly faster, just so I can meet Ruby and Nora again. Plus, Ruby is kinda funny–even when she isn’t sober half the time.
At the stop sign, Ruby tooted her horn, called a final “Bye, Beanie.” Then she turned the wrong way. Nora cried out, “Right, go right!,” but her mother with her terrible sense of direction was gone.
-page 179 of Shout Her Lovely Name (uncorrected proof)
Oh, and there’s also this artist who has a crush on Nora and spews nonsense like he is the word’s deepest person. I couldn’t help smiling at his behavior.
And this satire class, it’s so–lower division. It’s like meta. Self-parody. My next piece is coming from that reductio ad absurdum talk. You know; like the lecture hall and the professorial professor, and you, so coed, and I’m this, like, visionary.
-page 180 of Shout Her Lovely Name (uncorrected proof)
Since Shout Her Lovely Name is a collection of stories, it ends with the story Developmental Blah Blah, which I felt was the book’s lowest point. I have to say that this was one of the hardest books for me to finish because Developmental Blah Blah, just felt neverending. Every time I thought the story reaching its denouement I would turn the page to find more and more pages that seem to dwell on the minutiae. The tight, poetic prose I adored in the throughout the book backfired, and I felt the story dragging, pulling my energy down with it. I couldn’t hold my interest in the characters either, forgetting who each one was as soon as they were introduced. Cassie, the mother, sounded like a paranoid train wreck: she feels her husband doesn’t appreciate her, her children are growing up too fast, and she has romantic intentions towards her shrink. Every time I feel like I can grasp Cassie’s character, she loses me on another tangent. Perhaps it was because it was the last story that made me want to race to the end, but I felt Developmental Blah Blah could’ve been better placed towards the beginning; it just ended the novel on a sour note.
In many short story collections, the main problems I run into as a reader is the indistinguishable blur of under-developed characters and awkwardly abrupt endings, both of which were (to my pleasure) not found in Serber’s work. In the short span of a chapter, I could feel these characters beside me and their stories flow with every word. Surprisingly, each story seemed to be obliquely tied to next giving the reading an unexpected transition: a story that ended on a mother giving birth would lead to a story about a mother bringing her newborn son on an airplane, and a girl who liked baking in one story would lead to a scene about buying cupcakes in the next. It made me wonder if there was a hidden agenda in story order. Shout Her Lovely Name is one thought-provoking collection filled with complex, yet flawed characters waiting to be understood. It’s a book I will soon be revisiting.
Want to know what others thought of Natalie Serber’s Shout Her Lovely Name (and maybe even win a print copy + cute tote bag!)? Check out these other TLC tour stops:
Tuesday, June 26th: Bibliophiliac
Wednesday, June 27th: she treads softly
Thursday, June 28th: Book Him Danno!
Monday, July 2nd: A Bookish Way of Life
Tuesday, July 3rd: The Betty and Boo Chronicles
Thursday, July 5th: lit*chick
Friday, July 6th: The Feminist Texican [Reads]
Monday, July 9th: Book Reviews, Fiction Reflections, ‘n More!
Tuesday, July 10th: Kritters Ramblings
Wednesday, July 11th: a novel toybox
Thursday, July 12th: Bookstack
Friday, July 13th: West Metro Mommy
Monday, July 16th: A Worn Path