Evie Wakefield, the sardonic heroine of Elissa Schappell’s striking literary debut, is suspended in a perpetual state of longing. From the moment we first meet her on the cusp of adolescence, Evie pines for the only person whose unyielding attention she believes can sate her hungry soul: her father, Chas.
The 10 darkly humorous interconnected stories in Use Me render a moving portrait of a young woman desperate for her cancer-stricken father’s affections. While there are other people in Evie’s life—among them, her best friend, Mary Beth, the unconscionable nymphet; Billy, the too-good-to-be-true husband; and their two young children, Annabelle and Charlie—she will not be distracted from her ferocious devotion. Unsettled by his daughter’s intense (but nonsexual) attachment, Chas tries to keep his distance, as in “The Garden of Eden,” when he breaks free of Evie’s defiantly possessive grip during a drunken stroll through Amsterdam’s red-light district. In another story,”To Smoke Perchance to Dream,” a chemotherapy-weakened Chas reluctantly allows Evie to wash his hair and then quickly defuses their intimacy with, “When did your mother say she’d be back?”
Chas ultimately loses his battle with lymphoma. Evie ingests her father’s ashes, admitting that if she were to be left alone with his urn, she “cannot trust [her]self not to eat the entire thing.” Even four years after his death, in “Here Is Comfort, Take It,” Evie refuses to let go, transferring her yearning to her three-year-old son, whom she can’t bring herself to wean because “without the protection of that pleasing, narcotizing fog, I’m irritable and anxious, always anticipating my next fix.”
Schappell evokes Evie’s most vulnerable and shameful thoughts with a fearlessness and lyrical precision that recall Mary Allen’s immensely personal memoir, The Rooms of Heaven, which chronicles a path from the psychic world to the psychiatric ward as the author contends with her fiancé’s suicide. If Evie weren’t a fictional creation, the two women would undoubtedly find much comfort in one another’s company. Schappell’s unflinching candor and mordant wit, expressed through gritty dialogue and a fully realized protagonist, breathe life into these capsules of anguish.