Not Oprah’s Book Club: Blueprints for Building Better Girls

The girls and women who animate the stories of Elissa Schappell are so real, so familiar, that there were times that reading her work almost frightened me. It wasn’t so much a clever turn of phrase–although there’s no question that Schappell can write her ass off; it was more the texture and aliveness of her characters that stunned me. I found myself reading about a scene at a college party and flashing back to long forgotten moments of my own, stories of girls I’ve known that I had long buried under the bureacracy of my real world life. All the sudden, there we all were, lost, self-destructive, euphoric, hungry.

And it wasn’t just the characters in isolation that struck me as painfully real, but the characters in relationship. The young artists, snobby with their own possibility, disdainful of anything ordinary, even when it feels good, especially when it feels good. The best friends, bordering on erotic while not being sexual at all, desperate, secretive, false with one another. The mother and her son, playing out the oldest, most loaded story in human history–messy separation, love so strong it makes one stupid, betrayal, in the end, growth.

These are stories of people I’ve known, people I will know. These are stories of me and those I love. The ordinariness of that might lull some readers into thinking it’s too easy, maybe even dull. To me it’s surprising in the most powerful, intimate way.

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