Circling the Drain

There are few joys quite like writing that discovers new words for the mundane: the microwaved sandwich as "radiated," the "mouth [that is] a garnet slash of uneven lips," the subway that is "silver boxes...one strung to another like an enormous caterpillar."

In Amanda Davis's debut, Circling the Drain, a short story collection, there is a host of examples of such writing. With a calm tone, the sensibility of a Southern writer, and a twinge of magical realism, she probes the lives ofgirls and women for whom boys are a painfully enthralling necessity. It's amazing how deep Davis's stories run because most of them are as short as a few pages, as if the book were a literary box of assorted chocolates, each meant to be savored in a five-minute sitting. She starts quickly, plunging the reader into her stories with often impeccable opening lines: "Fat ladies floated in the sky like balloons," or "Lily was in love with a boy who chased freight trains," or "I don't know when I disappeared..."

But mostly Davis wins by employing the sort of piercing self-awareness and painful vulnerability at play in those great, emotional John Hughes films.She creates women with hearts so big they can barely see the faults of the men standing in front of them.

"When I laugh sounds come out of my throat that violate the rest of the world. My laugh causes injury: it makes people nauseous or crazy...

"The first time I laughed around him—we were sitting on my porch when a nervous frantic giggle escaped and I tried to snatch it back with my hand, to stuff it back down my throat—he just tucked a curl behind my ear and whispered, You are so beautiful.

"And like that I was putty."

Inside Davis's tightly sketched women's world, imaginary friends are fat girls scarfing down rhubarb pie and Pringles and boys are slightly insane, yet have a magnetic power; girls, in the face of love, are, tragicomically, powerless. It's their willingness to be vulnerable that makes them heroines.

 
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