Stacey Richter’s newest collection, Twin Study (out last week from Counterpoint) is comprised of twelve short stories so relentlessly original (but not merely for the sake of originality), excellently constructed (but never precious), and goddamn funny (in that Ha-ha-ha-oh-maybe-I-should-kill-myself kind of way) that I was tempted on several occasions to literally gnaw on its pages in delight. Richter’s first collection, My Date With Satan (Scribner, 1999), had a similar effect. (The highest compliment I can imagine is the one-star Amazon review by someone with the username “chicbookfiend”. ‘Nuf said, right?). I can’t give you any tidy little plot summaries, though, because the stories in Twin Study are rarely about what they’re, you know, about. They transcend. They burrow. They transform ho-hum expectations into an alternate, hysterical reality. Just some story titles: “The Cavemen in the Hedges”. “The Long Hall”. “Christ, Their Lord”. “My Mother the Rock Star”. “Young People Today”. None of these is about anything you’d imagine. (Well, okay, “My Mother The Rock Star” is, and I couldn’t help thinking of lil’ Frances Bean throughout.) A fun writer-dork drinking game: flip to any random page of a Richter story and try to find a bad passage. Impossible. Drunken word revelry ensues. Here:
Now is the hour when citizens on talk shows tell their tragic stories in the second person, saying you, you, you about all the bad, traumatic, unfortunate experiences in their lives (“You just feel so betrayed when you see that little panda pulling a gun”) as though they have a genetic defect that prevents them from using the pronoun “I”. This is sloppy and angers the grammar and usage thug in you. You’ve concluded that citizens telling their tales of adversity find the second person compelling because “you” is impersonal and removed, yet somehow includes everyone in its scope (“It could be you staring down the barrel of that panda bear next, sweetheart!”) whereas “I” is an orphaned baby doe blinking in a dark forest. “You are always in pain”, for example, is a more manageable utterance than the direct, final “I am always in pain.”
I mean, Jesus. The fact that she’s got enough Pushcarts for a soccer team is pretty cool. Her thoughts on writing in the book klatch were certainly illuminating. And the Q&A on her website is awesome, too. Also worth noting? Richter falls into that nebulous category of Writers-Who-Are-Jewish-But-Not-Constantly-Ghettoized-As-Jewish-Writers (WWAJBNCGAJW). Lethem, where you at? Aimee Bender, can I get a what what? All I’m saying is I’m sad that she’ll never in a million years get booked on a panel with me at the Akron JCC. And! I’m saying buy her book. Now.