Review: For Girls Forged by Lightning

Girls Forged by LightningIn hindsight, the title should have given me pause, as should the crows circling the cover, and the unsettling epigraph inside. But I, fooled by a giddy author photo and sweet drawings of twigs and windows, breezed by these clues to scan the Table of Contents. “Part One: Hide & Seek” it announced, in cherubic font. Titles such as “Layer Cake,” “The Three Bears,” and “Fable of the Ants” conjured thoughts of gardens and fairy tales, and momentary amnesia of what darkness lurks in both. I settled into my chair, sipping chamomile tea, ready to read a nice little book.

Fair reader, do not make the same mistake—though by all means, make yourself a cup of tea. Molly Fuller’s new book, For Girls Forged by Lightning, is as ferocious as it is lyrical. This collection of 51 short pieces of “prose and other poems” is beautiful and brutal. Remember to breathe.

The first section of the book is the most fantastical of the three—playful, yet dangerous. Flaying childlike stories of forest creatures, little girls, and lucky pennies, Fuller uses the bones and bits of flesh remaining to construct ethereal confections in which evil is worn like a bear costume, and violence abounds. Girls grow on trees to be sold at the market. They give birth to rabbits while grandmothers weep and grandfathers peel carrots for stew. Rabbits, in turn, round up the field mice, pour gasoline, and light a match. The protagonists are unnamed: she or I or—most disturbingly—we. As such, we are complicit in these dark fables, saddling up the girls and “holding their long braids like reins,” as in the story “Home Again, Home Again.”

Not all the work in this section reads like a fairy tale. Without costumes or furry creatures, “Layer Cake” still casts a chilling spell. “After they collect the empty bottles, they go to bed. She turns her face to the wall. He touches her shoulder, says, When we get married, it will always be like this. She hears only When we get married. She hears only It will always be like this.” I must have reread that paragraph a dozen times—the simplicity of it breathtaking, even as it revealed the onion layers within a relationship, the limitations of language, the intersection of mundanity and tragedy.

Most characters in the middle section have assumed human form to explore relationships desired, wrought, or ending badly. Though a little levity remains amidst their erotic fumblings, Fuller seasons these with equal parts vulnerability and foreboding, as in the story “Shelter”: “Does it scare you? His hand, stroking her cheek, calms. Her wrists, so delicate, like an egg cracked open, like fragments of shell left behind, is the fragile answer to the question he has already asked.”

The tone and flow are a bit uneven here, veering from straightforward prose—i.e., step-by-step directions for dating a doctor—to elegant, erotic poetry. And though the stories work individually, together they sit a bit uncomfortably. The best of these have a little magic still clinging to the lines, as in the story “Tumbling Up”: “This woman that I am now, feelings wrapped in layers, is calcified, hardened, cultured like a pearl. You come at me with that oyster knife drawn, sharpened, and I am wretched, open.”

No girls wade in the river or fall from the sky in the final section. Settling into schoolrooms and bars, we are clear of the fields, though the match and the gasoline remain. Disturbingly violent—and somehow still gorgeous—these are stories of broken people, broken love, black eyes, and severed limbs. Fuller may cushion the reader with poetry, but the landing will be painful nonetheless. “I will try to save you, but I cannot. We both will know this,” the narrator says in “Flame.” “I will let you down; I will let you go. We will push each other away, recoiling as if we had been burned.”

These are stories about sex, loss of innocence, hideous crime, and failed rescue. Above all, they are about what it means to be female in our world. Fuller’s view is tender but not hopeful, incriminating but not judgmental: “I wait for the girls to grow taller,” Fuller says in “Cornfields for Miles,” “to remind me how each inch decreases their chances.”

At just over three pages, I thought I might not be able to finish the devastating title piece. In it, girls giddily prepare their friend before sending her to the proverbial wolves. “We didn’t know back then about the things a boy could say to get in-between you and your ideas of what it means to save yourself. We would have warned her if we could, but if we had been her, we wouldn’t have listened either.” That line hit me like a sucker punch; I find I’m brooding still.

Consider yourself warned, but don’t listen.

By Beret Olsen

 

Molly Fuller is the author of For Girls Forged by Lightning: Prose & Other Poems (All Nations Press), two chapbooks, The Neighborhood Psycho Dreams of Love (Cutty Wren Press) and Tender the Body (Spare Change Press)Her work can be found in the following anthologies: Nothing Short Of: Selected Tales From 100 Word Story and Nothing to Declare: A Guide to the Flash Sequence.  Her prose poems and micro fictions have appeared in journals including 100 Word Story, Blue Earth Review, Dressing Room Poetry Journal, Hot Metal Bridge, Kestrel, MadHatLit, NANO Fiction, The Oklahoma Review, The Potomac, and Union Station Magazine. She has been recognized as a Finalist for the Key West Literary Seminar Emerging Writer Award and as a Semi-Finalist for The Florida Review’s Jeanne Leiby Memorial Chapbook Award.  Fuller is also the co-editor of the book Community Boundaries and Border Crossings: Critical Essays on Ethnic Women Writers and co-editor at The Raymond Carver Review. She received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and is currently a Teaching Fellow in the Literature program at Kent State University.

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