Monday, February 12, 2007

Before You She was a Pit Bull

I like the way Elizabeth Ellen writes. But it isn't her style, which is unique, or her ability to mold believable charaters within the confines of a single paragraph, which she can. She understands the most important (I believe) rule of writing which so many writers ignore; that it is imperative to start out strong and hook the reader from the first sentence.

We're halfway across the field when I realize the weed we're smoking is laced.

Her technique is more than simple shock value. From the first story, "Trucker," in Ellen's collection, Before You She was a Pit Bull, I was hooked. She's got me wanting to know more, what weed? what field? how did the character get in this position in the first place? I read on. And before you know it I'm investing an entire afternoon when I should be working to read all her first sentences, all of her stories.

The stories of Before You She was a Pit Bull have a confessional feel and all consist of the same thematic element, what little girls with drunk, philandering mothers grow up to be and do. In "Trucker," it means attempting over and over to cheat on her husband with a man that has no interest in her. In "Breathing Lessons," it means getting involved with a man who has a fetish for choking.

Only after I'd felt him inch his way up inside me did he release his grip on my hands. He let go and they remained where they'd fallen on either side of my head. His hand moved the to my neck, encircling it first gently with his fingertips before closing completely around it. My back arched, offering up more of my nech to his hand, as though I was familar with this technique, as though I knew what I was doing. I didn't. Slowly, in gentle increments, he excerted more and more pressure on my throat until I felt as though I were being submerged deeper and deeper into a pool or warm water. Finally my body succumbed to a series of epileptic shudders that outlasted any I'd previoulsy experienced.

Although the characters of Before You She was a Pit Bull do hold similar backgrounds, personalities, penchant for drug use and a taste for the bizarre, there is a toned down matter-of -factness to her storytelling that makes the events and situations feel as normal as brushing your teeth.

My mother will tell me these things in the morning as she walks from the bathroom to the kitchen naked and smoking. She will talk to me as I wipe the crumbs and smears of grape jelly from the counter and she stands in front of the fridge, drinking juice from the pitcher. She will kiss me goodbye and pitter-patter back to her bed with the pianist while I walk down our drive singing to myself and wondering if it will ever snow.

Before You She was a Pit Bull may only be a chapbook, Ellen's first, however, it packs the same wallop as a double Jack neat. Here's to seeing more of this talented writer in the future.

Before You She was a Pit Bull
Elizabeth Ellen
Future Tense Press

What I'm reading next: Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler

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