Print Reviews
Unkempt
by Courtney Eldridge
Harvest Books (2005)
Unkempt
7 / 10
Reading Courtney Eldridge's collection of short fiction, Unkempt, I'm struck by the same old dilemma--do I review the book as a whole, or examine each story as an end in itself? As a whole product, it's short (seven stories and one novella), and terribly unwieldy. Eldridge writes in a single voice, one punctuated with "like" and "you know," whether that character is a middle-aged Midwesterner or a narcissistic New York writer; the pieces can run together when taken in over a few sittings.

Yet, each story is funny, real, and sharp. "Sharks" is the kind of story you want to drop everything and read out loud to someone. The narrator describes a meandering phone call to her best friend, who has a debilitating fear of sharks. They argue over the logic of this fear, each one stubbornly refusing to back down until they're seriously discussing how mutated sharks could get into a public swimming pool. ("Well, basically, scientists," is the answer.) It's hilarious, and a fun exploration of the time we spend worrying about things that will never get us, and whether those fears still exist if they can be disproven.

The standout stories here hit you in the gut seemingly without trying. "Becky," a series of answering machine messages from the title character to a woman in her 12-step program, builds in intensity as Becky moves through cycles of loneliness and hopefulness. When she finally hints that she may be more aware of her own frustrations than she lets on, it's chilling. Likewise, in the standout novella, "The Former World Record Holder Settle Down," the moment that the narrator suggests her own unreliability comes deliciously late, and leaves you reeling. Not much happens in Eldridge's stories--"Thieves" is about a strange woman hanging around a store at closing time, for example--but these subtle depictions of human complexities are the reward for sticking with her through her Valley Girl narratives.
Posted by: Christie Church

Print Reviews (December 28th, 2006)